There’s Something Musical: The Effect of Music on Photography

I started photography six years ago. I stumbled upon it one afternoon as I recovered from a high fever that kept me from going to school that day. I was playing around with my Samsung and decided to take photos of things around the house: a fruit bowl, my tea and biscuits (I know, high-quality entertainment), my guitar. But the thing I remember most about that day is how it felt to take snapshots of things around my house, while blasting Moose Blood’s Cherry from my dad’s stereo. Quite a tragic music-memory association for a fifteen-year-old (I was fifteen, probably going through a bad breakup or something), but one that made my photography what it is today.

Music plays such an important – and sadly, often overlooked – role in photography, guiding the themes, mood, and even composition of the visual body of work we are exposed to today. Think of the BTS music videos, and Gorillaz’s – admittedly controversial, yet incredibly simple, and fearfully relevant – Ascension. The relationship between photography and music is perhaps the most powerful catalyst for remembering our most precious memories.

Most of my visual body of work consists of self-portraits made in the privacy of my bedroom, and as such, many of them are influenced by the music I am listening to at the time. The following are photographs taken in the past three years, illustrating the ways in which music has shaped my photography, both in self-portraits and when working with models.

‘Baby, come and fall away with me’ – Lund, Fall Away (Model: Megan Samrai, QM)

This image was taken in a Lavender Field on the outskirts of South London, and although it was pretty spontaneous, this image was a vision I had for a while after listening to Lund’s ‘Gold’ album. I wanted to introduce a different perspective to an otherwise somber song, particularly as I was trying to move past an ill-fated romantic episode at the time. Back then, and still now, the lyrics sounded both sad and hopeful, and I wanted to portray these parallel interpretations in the photography. I asked the model if I could try to recreate my vision, and she was great about it! This has become one of the favourites amongst all my audiences!

‘You look like new, but you never change’ – Anarbor, Pushaway

Change is an inevitable process of our lives, and a particularly important connection between music and photography. The experiences we relate to photography are often the same ones we associate with certain songs, and these are the experiences that shape us. They are both great because of their abstractedness, which means that you can play around your own interpretation of the lyrics, according to your experiences. Due to this, it is easy to admit that listening to a song after ten years is likely to bring memories from that time back pretty quickly, even if they don’t make us feel the same as they did back then. This is the idea I wanted to illustrate with this self-portrait: it is the same image replicated multiple times, but this in itself causes a dynamic change that creates a new piece!

Joey Pecoraro

This is a bit of a strange one, because it has no lyrics to guide you as such. Joey’s music is more of a Studio Ghibli meets Nujabes (RIP) style, and it is perfect for any type of shoot, from fashion, to conceptual, to family-friendly photoshoots. His music is probably what I play most during photoshoots (both Self and with models), because the limited frequency of lyrics and the upbeat (always makes me feel like a Mario Bros character … make of that what you will) melody allows for an effortless transition and communication between shoots. If you haven’t listened to Joey’s music, go do it right now!

Dance Gavin Dance, Death of a Strawberry

This photograph is probably the most edgy I will ever look, and yet it was inspired by a song that says ‘I’ll be your sugar daddy’. Sometimes, you just need songs that will pump up the self-esteem. Death of a Strawberry is my version of morning affirmations. You should try it too, sometimes!

Music is particularly helpful in photoshoots with models, because it creates a connection between the photographer and the subject that can be maintained throughout the shoot. Many photographers already have an image in mind before the photoshoot, and they often work with the model to achieve their desired vision with little compromise. However, whenever I am planning for a shoot, I try to ask the model for a list of five songs that they want to guide the shoot, and ask them to send me a short paragraph with details about the vision they have. This allows us to plan it accoring to both our interests, and the song list gives us a common visual guide, making it easier to understand where we want to go with the photographs.

Sound (music) is regarded as the universal language of nature, while photography is considered the universal language of humans. Regardless of where we are and what languages we speak, images allow us to create a remarkable bond with people from around the world. We have all heard the phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ at least once in our lives, but the quote seems to create a hierarchy between image (‘picture’) and sound (‘words’) that is not necessarily true in the practice of photography. In the same way that visual art is heavily influential in the audience’s interaction with music (videos), music is often used in photoshoots to create and maintain a certain image of the final product. This means that there can be no hierarchy between them, as both medium are essential for each other’s success.

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