Being English means having a decent sized chunk of information to hand about any number of subjects. It’s part of who we are. We are a nation of readers and quiz team members, we love our puns and our crosswords, too. Personally for me, this means I know bits of history especially well. I even dabbled in a little archaeology for a few months in 2000 when I taught in a museum designed to engage with children doing their Roman history projects.
Around this time, there was a popular tv show about archaeology where a team of archaeologists would rock up somewhere, dig it to bits and then decide what had been there based on the few hours work put in. It was suspiciously unrealistic, but enjoyable fare nonetheless. A favourite part of the show for me would be the host beckoning the camera to a puddle in the ground which would then magically transform through the process of Sega Megadrive style graphics into a fully fledged medieval castle.
I sometimes imagine the past of my family in similar ways. My parents are older than most for someone of my age, so were doing their young people thing in the 1950’s as opposed to the 60’s and 70’s. I have crumbs of information about my parents lives from which I build elaborate fantasies about jazz clubs and trips to tailors in Saville Row. There’s very little evidence for this, except the odd snapshot of my Dad with a pipe, or in groups of other young men, all besuited. There’s also the one story of a date to watch Ella Fitzgerald in London which I have extrapolated to mean that my parents were hanging with Ella, Dizzy, Benny and the wonderful photographer Herman Leonard every weekend.
Herman used club lights and smoky atmospheres beautifully. We understand what it was to be watching those performers through his images. And so it’s impossible to say I didn’t have him (and my parents) in mind when I was photographing The Andrew London Trio last weekend. I stuck a flash on a stand to light parts of the performers and their instruments. Just enough. Hopefully not too much. I couldn’t do the smoke rising through the audience though, times have changed. Still, you can always breathe on a camera lens…