A sense of discovery


Jenny GoldenWhat makes a good photograph?  For me the image has to be in black and white to invoke emotion, a sense of discovery, a mood and the need to find the story behind the photograph.

A black and white image is also about longevity. The colour photograph will fade with time, losing that vital piece of history and memory.

Jazz, both old and new, lends itself to the medium of black and white photography.  The images of the early blues singers tell a story of lives led beyond the actual performances.

The facial expressions invoke both optimism and hardship. The images from the mid-century, the big band era, remind us that jazz cuts across race. It is a unifier. The later innovators are photographed often in dark, smoky, tiny venues in which the mood is captured wonderfully.

As a former picture researcher in book publishing, when I was offered the chance of working at the National Jazz Archive on a photographic collection, I jumped at the chance. The Archive had received a sizeable bequest from the estate of Brian Foskett who died in 2014. Brian’s archive is mainly in black and white although he did dabble in colour toward the end of his life. 

Brian, a musician himself, was a talented photographer whose career ran from 1959 to 2012. Because of his own musical background, he had a passport to photographing all the greats in jazz as well as the backing musicians who often get overlooked.

He could get behind the scenes and produce candid images such as Louis Armstrong in a barber’s shop in Hammersmith or Ella cooling off in her dressing room.  He was at the birth of Ronnie Scott’s, never missed a North Sea Jazz Festival, and travelled to Florida to photograph Flip Phillips at his birthday party with many of his fellow performers.

Brian was equally at home at a jazz event in a local pub in Cambridge, his home town.  His archive is remarkable in terms of its coverage and its story telling.

Cataloguing Brian’s work has not always been easy.  To say he didn’t have a filing system is an under-statement. When my co-worker Jackie Pam and I open a new folder, it is always full of surprise.

We have to research who the subject is (not always apparent), the venue and the year. This in turn leads us to on-line research including the viewing of perhaps too many You-Tube concerts as we get carried away.

It has taken just over a year to catalogue the larger prints.  Boxes of smaller photographs await us. When complete, Brian’s work will be available world-wide through Heritage Images for reproduction, which will provide a much needed income stream for the Archive.

So thank you to the National Jazz Archive for the opportunity to volunteer and to be handling precious material.  The experience brightens up my week and has allowed me to make my own journey of discovery into the world of jazz.


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