Tag Archives: music

The Mojo Man

When I was young I lived in a small town in the deep south. Occasionally my father would walk me down the long, winding path to a back-woods shack that served as the area’s juke joint. As I watched my father dance and drink his troubles away with his friends, it must have presented a funny picture to anyone that cared to look – a four-year-old white boy sitting in the corner watching his dad and a room full of black men & women dancing to a blues band. This may not exactly be Norman Rockwell’s picture of the early 1950’s, but it was my picture.

The reality of this is that I remember very little of it. Although my mother filled in the details many years later, my memories of those occasions were of the music itself.

Even to a four-year old the blues was as seductive as it was sad. In spite of its sad name this predictable and stylized American music form remains for me a source of optimism. I think this is its seduction. Its only purpose is to make people feel good by creating courage from helplessness.

In 1976 – more than twenty years after my juke joint experiences – I revisited the blues as I photographed Muddy Waters at one of his last concerts. He, Pinetop Perkins – currently the oldest performing bluesman at 96 – and their band at the time held a concert in a small park in Water’s hometown of Westmont, Illinois.

Although “The Mojo Man” needed the help of fans and friends to get off the stage after the concert, his voice was strong and clear as he sang most of the songs that made him an inspiration to not only several generations of rock & roll performers, but to a young photographer.


Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters with his band

Muddy Waters and his band

Pinetop Perkins

Westmont, IL crowd enjoying Muddy Waters and his band

The Mojo Man, Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters' hand and guitar

Muddy Waters

Crowd enjoying Muddy Waters in Westmont, IL

Getting help from friends and fans after Muddy Waters concert

Muddy Waters talks with friends and fans after concert

Holiday Inn

Pinetop Perkins

Posted in black & white photography, old photo assignment, portraits Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

A Chicago Minute or Two

By most measures, this is a rather ordinary photograph of an extraordinary orchestra.

The plan was for me to arrive with my equipment during the intermission of a Saturday concert. After their concert I would photograph the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. What could go wrong?

I was told by the Orchestra’s marketing representative that I could do a test shoot at their practice two days before the concert. That way I could adjust the lighting at Orchestra Hall the way I needed it for the shoot. I could also establish my shooting position. I could shoot a few sheets of 4×5 film using the same emulsion batch – and exposure – that I would use for the final shoot. This would allow me to run the film to Gamma Photo Labs, wait for the film to be processed and assess the results.

The test film looked the way I had hoped and allowed me to be confident in the entire process that would be repeated for the real shoot.

Upon arrival at Orchestra Hall I was met by the marketing person who told me that it was imperative that the photo session end at 10:30 P.M. Because of union regulations, each orchestra member left posing for a picture even one second past 10:30 would cost the Orchestra significant overtime fees.

After coordinating our watches to “Orchestra time” we both nervously listened to the remainder of the concert. When it ended at 10:15 I was really getting nervous. I still had to wait for the hall to empty, go to the second floor balcony I had used for the test shoot, position my tripod, focus the camera and take the photos.

With the Hall empty I ran up the two flights of stairs and opened the doors to the balcony. At that moment I summoned the courage to glance at my watch. EXACTLY 10:28. As I adjusted the camera and loaded the first film holder, I shouted out a greeting – and a few orders in the same sentence. I exposed three sheets each of color transparency and negative film. With the last shot I said, “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. We are now finished.” A glance at my watch – and a thumbs up from the marketing person told me that it was exactly 10:30.

Sometimes even the most mundane assignments require meticulous preparation.


Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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