Gaetano Pezzella (on Flickr, on Tumblr) is a photographer from Rome, Italy. Pezzella’s work involves a vast amount of travel; from the places he visits, he includes fragments of children at play, posters and street signs, people in everyday situations, sculptures and architectural structures. A smaller part of his vocation involves photographing musicians.
Music photography presents quite a challenge to a photographer. There is no way of knowing the scenario before setting up the camera or other equipment. There are many unknowns to capturing an image while someone is moving, especially in a setting where light might be scarce. In music photography, live shots are crucial to showing the audience and musicians’ energy during the performance; a perfect example would be the work of Kyle Gustafson. Gaetano Pezzella’s images of musicians are in a different kind of category—between the composition and framing, the photograph appears intimate and still, the same kind of stillness that one finds in the famous photographs by Lee Friedlander of John Coltrane playing his instrument, looking more like a spiritual ritual than a performance. Although the majority of Pezzella’s photographs are of jazz musicians, the style doesn’t change if he is photographing a musician of another genre.
We recently sent Pezzella several questions about his work via email; his responses, and a gallery of his images, are below.—Izalia Roncallo
What photographers inspire or influence your work? Are you limited to photography, or do other forms of art inspire you?
There are too many photographers to whom I owe thanks for the constant inspiration and instruction. Giuseppe Pino, of course, for his portraits of musicians. Steve McCurry and Sebastião Salgado for their drug reportage that, although different in presentation, have the same emotional pathos. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ernst Haas, and Robert Frank, for being able to take their pictures with fragments of everyday life that tell the “story.” And really the list would be very long. All I need are images, something to observe and study; this is why photography now occupies all my space. However, I also love music, and in fact played the violin in a folk group that I haven’t played with in several years.
How long has photography been part of your life? Where did you get your training? Would you say that you are a professional or amateur?
My first camera was a gift I received in 1977, a manual Pentax MX. This is also the year I took my first image and I haven’t stopped since then. I started as an autodidact, devouring photography books and magazines. Then came my first enlarger and nights spent in the darkroom. Only later did I attend seminars. So, I would say I am a semi-pro.
Are you strictly using digital imagery, or are you using film too?
Yes, at the moment I’m only using digital equipment.
Most of your portraits of musicians are from the genre of jazz—why is that the case? Is jazz your favorite music? If yes, who are some of your favorite musicians?
As I said, I love music. Apart from a few genres, I love all good music, from rock to blues, but also reggae, trip-hop, world music. Music is a part of my life and I cannot think of my life without it. It accompanies me every moment. Even now as I’m writing this, I’m listening to “Talking Timbutku” by Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder—sublime. I started pretty late to photographing musicians. I always attended concerts for the sole joy of listening. Then I was asked to document a jazz festival; it was not my field, but I accepted and since then it has become a passion of mine. Therefore it has been a coincidence, but I always have to thank those who paved the way to this new direction.
Photographing jazz is an extraordinary experience, it is a never-ending journey into the emotions of the performance. Sets are without frills or extravagance. You can focus on the faces and instruments, and the rest is driven by the music and your passion and sensibility. I like jazz a lot, and to name my favorite artists would be arduous. Surely the greats: Davis, Coltrane, Mingus, Jarrett, Abdullah Ibrahim. I even like contemporary players: Nils Petter Molvaer, Jan Garbarek, Collin Walcott and Don Cherry of Codona, and I love Omar Sosa and Steve Coleman.
Where are these performances taking place? Were most of the images of musicians shot in Italy?
Yes, mainly in Rome, my city.
Have the images of musicians been published in any particular publications?
Most of the images have appeared on my website. I have done several exhibitions and am currently working on a book that I hope to find a publisher for.
Please discuss the Butch Morris portrait. Was this image taken during a performance or in a studio setting? What kind of equipment did you use?
Butch Morris was a great musician and composer. Unfortunately he passed away and left a huge void in the music. The photo was taken with a Nikon D70 with an 80mm lens in March 2008, during an interview before a concert, in a small venue in Rome that was poorly lit. There was only one central spot. The light was too harsh and direct, intense and I had so much work to do in post-production. It was a great challenge, but it helped the image to become more effective. The final image showed an austere, noble person of advanced age but full of charisma and personality. Yes, I am very fond of that picture and I am grateful to you for having noticed it.