Capital Magazine Issue Twenty Five November - December 2006
by Stan d'Argeavel
A brief look around the walls of Australian jazz musician Don Burrows' studio reveals an impressive portrait of success and recognition in the music business. Looking further reveals the fact that a second artistic medium pervades his creative life.
Burrows is equally at home in the photographic darkroom as he is on the stage. To be blessed with a talent at a level few artists attain is one thing, to carry that talent to a second artistic medium is reserved for a few gifted individuals.
Don Burrows has been treading the boards as a professional musician for 65 years. In 1973 the twice-named Australian Living Treasure received the first Gold Record ever awarded to an Australian jazz musician, instigated the first Jazz studies program in the Southern Hemisphere at the NSW Conservatorium of Music and was awarded an MBE.
In 1987 he was awarded the Order of Australia (AO) and in 2000 received the coveted Sir Bernard Heinze Award for service to Australia, a rare honour for a musician. In the same year he was awarded the first of his three honorary doctorates.
But the honour he treasures most is the title of Special Ambassador of Photography to Children bestowed on him by the Photographic Imaging Council of Australia (PICA). His 1995 Keating Creative Arts Fellowship resulted in many trips to outback schools and alongside his musical instruments were his photographs taken in the many countries where he played with and befriended people like Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Nat King Cole. He found interest high among the children, many of whom have since displayed ability in both music and photography.
The simplest of cameras, the Kodak Box Brownie, was his starting point in photography at age 11. He joined the Sans Souci and Carringbah Camera Clubs well before the advent of the medium in art schools. The camera club movement provided regular forums for the development of well-informed and practiced amateur photography.
While his music flourished and made him famous around the world, Burrows entered countless photographic competitions. He learned what a good photograph should look like and this became part of his way of life, working in parallel with his musical development over the next 50 years.
And the parallels between his two mediums are substantial. Terms like: mood; composition; balance; contrast; texture; and rhythm, are vital aspects of both a good photograph and an accomplished piece of music. Burrows declares, “while music teaches us to listen and hear, photography teaches us to look and see.”
Now Don Burrows is combining his brand of classic swing, the sweet music of Brazil and exciting modern renditions of jazz standards and original compositions with exhibitions and screenings of his beautiful and insightful photographs.
Stop, Look and Listen is a unique audio-visual experience, an evening of music, imagery and intimate words from an Australian icon. Burrows’ ability to draw audiences into his personal world is exceptional. In this format he introduces audiences to personal perspectives and rare, touching experiences entrenched in facets of multiculturalism, the global landscape and the joi de vivre.
His passion for passing his message to young people is paramount. Many of his photographs display the understanding he has of the importance for young people to be given a chance to express themselves creatively.
Burrows' signature image and touching story of a young, deeply shy, Indigenous girl in outback NSW playing a small flute for the first time, epitomizes that chance. It constantly reminds him of his own humble single-note beginning at Bondi Public School in the 1930s.
His photos have been taken in many of the far-flung places that beckon him and his music. He is as fascinated by people and their habitats as he is with the natural landscape, finding beauty in character and abstraction in nature.
Photoaccess, Artsound FM, Bungendore Wood Works Gallery and Capital Magazine, presented Don Burrows’ Stop, Look and Listen at the Manuka Arts Centre in November 2006. The concert event was facilitated by Artsound and Photoaccess. Artsound FM, Canberra’s arts based community radio station commenced broadcasting from new studios in the Centre earlier in the year. Specialist public access photography institution and gallery, Photoaccess, has been resident in the Centre since 2001 and hosted an exhibition of Don Burrows’ photographs from November 2.
Stop, Look and Listen was staged in the courtyard of the Manuka Arts Centre on Saturday 4th November from 7pm. Ironically the Centre was the original campus of the ANU School of Music Jazz Faculty and owes its existence to the pioneering work of Don Burrows. Together with master keyboardist Kevin Hunt they provided a warm and exciting night of words, music and imagery not likely to be forgotten for some time.
Andrew Sayers, Director, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, on the opening of Don Burrows’ Stop, Look and Listen exhibition at the Huw Davis Gallery, Photoaccess, Manuka Arts Centre, 2006.
It’s actually a great honour for me to be asked to open this exhibition by such a great Australian as Don Burrows, one of our greatest jazz musicians. It’s great also to have Bob Barnard with us tonight, so we’ve got two legends of Australian jazz with us this evening, It’s fabulous, and I’ve been listening to your music all my life, or at least since I came to Australia at the age of 7.
Now I knew that Don was a photographer but I didn’t know what sort of a photographer he was, so it is great to have the opportunity to see in this exhibition something of Don the photographer. And I think you can really tell something about the man from this exhibition, and I think there is, you’ll all agree, in these photographs, a really human quality. That’s the thing I take from this exhibition most strongly. And that’s to the forefront I think. This human engagement. But whether we know Don as a musician or as a photographer, I think its actually impossible to look at these photographs without thinking about music.
In one of the prints, which is entitled “Music to the Eyes,” Don presents us with a crazy musical stave made of washing lines. It’s almost a photograph you could play. I’m sure you could play it Don. I don’t know on what, but it’s a great musical joke really.
And then there are the two versions of this idea here, “Man with Birds,” which I see as two linked, but different versions on a theme. And there’s a wonderful picture taken in India in 1980 called “Man in a Temple.” It’s a row of columns and each one is subtly different in design, and I think you could probably see that as a series of improvisations on the theme of the column.
Don actually picks up on this theme in his artist’s statement in the catalogue, and he says, “There’s a real parallel between music and photography, a lot of terminology being common to both. For example, mood, composition, balance, contrast, texture, rhythm,” and so on.
And I see the group of photographs that are on the right hand wall of the second room from numbers 24 to 28 as being a kind of suite composed by an eye sensitive to the subtly different textures of light, on fountains and waves, and on beach sand and desert sand.
So I’m just going to pick up on that theme that Don’s introduced us to, the relationship between music and photography, and I’m going to kind of riff on it for a minute.
There are actually many instances of the relationship between photographers and jazz musicians. Its no surprise that the great photographer Cartier-Bresson, when he was at the beginning of creating his particular world view, wanting to capture the moment of improvised movement within a framework of geometry. It’s no surprise that at that time he hung out with a lot of jazz musicians. There seemed to be something about the way in which he saw the world of jazz which were very similar.
If we are thinking about music and photography, probably the most famous instance of the relationship of music and photography came about in the case of the professional violinist Leopold Godowsky and his duet partner Leopold Mannes at the beginning of the 20th century. This is probably a story that those aficionados of Photoaccess know very well, maybe not. As well as sharing the concert platform the two musicians shared a darkroom and they spent 14 years experimenting on the invention that would eventually become Kodachrome film.
As they worked in total darkness developing Kodachrome Godowsky and Mannes found an exact and repeatable interval for timing their development, by whistling their way through the last movement of Brahms 1st symphony. I’m intrigued to ask Don if he’s ever timed an exposure by whistling a piece of music.
But of course Don’s right, the way in which we think about the visual arts and music are conditioned by certain shared metaphors.
Ansel Adams who was a very serious student of music often talked in such metaphors, his most famous one being that “the negative is the score and the print is the performance.” A wonderful photographic metaphor.
And Adams was not the only great photographer who was also a serious musician. One of his assistants, the West Coast photographer Don Worth, studied piano at Julliard before becoming captivated by photography. And the magical Wynn Bullock, that wonderful photographer, was an aspiring concert tenor before he found photography.
And that wonderful poet of landscape photography, Paul Caponigro, in his wonderful book “The Wise Silence,” a book of his photographs, payed tribute to his piano teacher in the foreword. In fact he said his greatest lessons as a photographer were actually from his piano teacher. And that is, that many things can be sensed, seen, shaped and resolved in a realm of quiet, well in advance of the actual clicking of shutters and the sloshing of films and papers and chemicals solutions
Caponigro said, “I work to attain a state of heart, a gentle space offering inspirational substance that could purify one’s vision. Photography, like music, must be born in the unmanifest world of the spirit.” That’s a wonderful statement, and I think that Don Burrows’ photographs are born in the same unmanifest world of spirit.
As an artist he takes the motif and brings it to life, and, as he says himself in the catalogue, “music teaches us to listen and hear, and photography teaches us to look and see.
I’d like to thank you Don for your visions and your insights about the world, in which you have travelled so widely, and I’d like to thank you for sharing a lot with us, both musically and photographically. For sharing with us your curiosity about the world, and your interest in, and your love of the people around you.
So it’s a great pleasure for me to open this exhibition.