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Dizzy Gillespie (France, 1983).

Dizzy Gillespie (France, 1983).

Jazz photographer finds his moment

Tim Motion’s scintillating exhibition of iconic jazz photographs currently on display at the Lucy Bell Gallery in St Leonards is called An Eye for the Sound – and there’s a very good reason for that, as Julian Norridge explains.

As well as being an internationally known photographer, Motion is also a musician. He’s played the piano since he was nine and later learnt the double bass so he could accompany jazz pianists. (He used to play professionally with two, but they died within weeks of each other, both by falling down stairs: “As Oscar Wilde put it,” he says, “to lose one was unfortunate, to lose two looked like carelessness.”)

This knowledge of music informs his photography. “Because I’m following the music,” he says, “I know when a ‘moment’ is coming. I’m trying to catch that moment. So the music has an influence as to when I press the shutter.”


Miles Davis (Lisbon, 1971).

Like most photographers, he is always trying to capture what the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’. That’s evident in most of the pictures in the exhibition: they encapsulate the passion and commitment these jazz and blues legends have for their music.

In the foreword to Motion’s 1995 book Jazz Portraits – An Eye for The Sound, Ronnie Scott described the empathy between jazz musicians and jazz photographers as being “understandable when one considers that both are concerned with the moment. For the musician it is the fleeting moment that involves the creation of some kind of valid music and for the photographer the attempt to express it in pictorial terms”.

But not all the ‘moments’ are driven by music. There’s a wonderful picture of Dizzy Gillespie, where his unfeasible cheeks reflect his not inconsiderable stomach. It was taken at the Nice jazz festival. There was a fairly deep pit in front of the stage for photographers, but the lighting wasn’t good. Motion decided to quit. He got to the top of the stairs leading out of the pit and glanced round at the stage. The lighting was perfect so he grabbed a shot – he wasn’t supposed to but it worked.

Another of his favourite pictures in the exhibition is of Ray Charles at the Juan-les-Pins jazz festival. He was drinking with fellow photographers in the champagne tent when he heard big band sounds coming from the auditorium. He slipped away with his favourite Hasselblad camera and found the VIP seats at the front, just feet away from the stage, were empty.

Ray Charles (Juan les Pins, 1982).

Ray Charles (Juan-les-Pins, 1982).

“Clack! There’s my picture”

“I found a seat right in front of the piano stool and the keyboard and prayed that I wouldn’t have to move. I checked the exposure and waited. Three minutes later Ray Charles was guided on stage. He felt for the piano stool and turned towards me. Clack! There’s my picture.”

Motion began taking serious jazz photographs in 1971. He’d been running a disco/jazz club in Portugal which had featured artists such as Ronnie Scott, Georgie Fame, Jon Hendricks, Brian Auger and Jim Mullen. He’d taken some pictures but describes them as souvenir snaps because he hadn’t yet mastered the technique of low-light photography.

Then, through a friend, he managed to get a photo pass for the first ever Lisbon jazz festival. For this he honed his low-light technique. One of his first pictures was of a very funky looking Miles Davies – it’s in the exhibition.

Since then he’s taken pictures of jazz and blues greats at jazz clubs in London – particularly Ronnie Scott’s, the 606 and the Pizza Express on Dean Street – and at jazz festivals all over Europe, but especially in France.

Chet Baker (The Canteen, 1984).

Chet Baker (The Canteen, 1984).

For me, there are some revelations. I have long admired the music and voice, if not the lifestyle, of trumpeter/singer Chet Baker. But I’ve never seen a picture of him before. How that cool tone and angelic voice came out of this body – he looks like a rough trucker – is a bit of a mystery.

Motion’s work has been exhibited in France, Spain, Brazil and the USA as well as in Britain. He has also built up a huge jazz and blues photographic archive which is much in demand by collectors from all over the world. The pictures in this exhibition have been specially selected from that archive – they are a treat.


All photographs © Tim Motion.

An Eye for the Sound: Exhibition of Photos by Tim Motion Lucy Bell Gallery, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0EJ, to 21 July. Opening times: Tues-Fri 11am-4pm, Sat 11am-5pm, closed Sun-Mon.


Posted 19:00 Thursday, Jun 27, 2019 In: Photography

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