On Julian Ward's Photographs
Some photographers have highly developed senses of heart and see less through their eyes thankfully and more through that side of their nature which is true to who they are in their everyday life. After all, in this dreadful Yuga of Kali, who should, in all honesty, be expected to believe their own eyes? Photography appeals to some of us because it touches on the above and teases the viewer to see more with their feelings and forget for just a moment what the eyes alone might see.
Ansel Adams, in addition to his acclaimed photographic history, was an accomplished pianist and many of his photos were described as having their basis in music. Personally, I prefer jazz and couldn’t see jazz in his work—but from a classical perspective, yes, I could see the structured and melodic influences of music there, especially in the manner of his finely interconnected tonal backgrounds which tied it all together through his Zone System into an orchestral whole. Ansel’s photographs are prized by collectors and galleries the world over.
Michael A. Smith, another wonderfully dedicated large format photographer, noted for his ability to transform a part of the phenomenal world into a photograph—an aesthetic object—into truths beyond illustration or subject matter, was also an accomplished musician – (playing) the hammer dulcimer as I recall. Michael saw a direct connection between ‘bird song’ printouts (sonograms) and what he saw in the spread of his 8x10 inch format as laid out before him. Many of his prints as well as those of his wife Paula Chamlee are held in the highest regard by keen collectors and name galleries throughout the US. (see Michael A. Smith: A Visual Journey—Lodima Press).
Julian Ward, as I have only recently discovered, also has a love of music and I believe we can see it demonstrated in The Tui Folk Festival and Willis Street photographs. The first is more obvious, as the background banner tells us it is taken at a folk festival and the girl playing a violin stands inside a swirling hula hoop as she plays. How musical is that? Also the support pole just behind her to her left connects with that same hoop forming a giant musical note. The background chaos of props can also be read as a melody of music emanating from the violin; a veritable spreadsheet of vertical and horizontal bars and lines--- there are to be found every conceiveable symbol of music, microphones, crotchets and quavers within the mesh of steel, all captured by a photographer, I suggest, who may not have seen at the time but who photographed instead with a heart that felt, or a heart that sensed.
The second photo (Willis Street) shows a figure seemingly hurriedly walking by, largely in shadow forming a strong base note; solid, bold, mysterious; topped with a striking ‘gong of light’ on his forehead, which appears electric to me, not unlike the “zap” moment when electricity strikes and look at that splatter of shimmering silver birch leaves, vibrating in the Wellington wind. That’s music. Notice also the panelling in the building behind. Correct me if I’m wrong, but is that not the same or similar to the lineal pattern upon which music is written and the figures on both extremes left and right of the central figure like keys touched by the outstretched fingers of a pianist, all work to hold the image in perfect note.
I’m not suggesting Julian saw all this through his camera as he pressed the shutter; the point is that we instinctively reflect what is within, without--- as is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm. Perhaps it’s vice-versa, and, if the magic that is music is swirling around us and through us as we meander through life, it is often reflected , albeit unconsciously in everything we make contact with, such as personal relationships and photographs we may take.
The photographer Walker Evans remarked that photography is done instinctively, not consciously. Unless Evans felt that the object photographed was a ‘transcendence’ of the object, of the moment of reality, he would throw it away. He also commented that there are millions of photographs made all the time which do not transcend anything, and they are not anything. In this sense, he said, photography is a very difficult art and probably depends on a gift, an unconscious gift; and sometimes, an extreme talent.
It is for these reasons I for one am grateful to Julian for his incredible photography and the satisfaction it brings me. I hope every collector, curator sits up and takes notice of this talent of longstanding amongst us and works to provide a sanctuary for his work for all New Zealanders to appreciate in the future. We do not need to look overseas to purchase the Winogrands and Meyerowitz’s of this world, as totally inspirational their works might be, in Julian Ward can be found at least the equal, perhaps better, certainly local, right under our noses.
Is there not any way we in NZ can move to have Julian’s outstanding photographs made available through our prime galleries as part of our permanent collections?
Tom Elliott, KareKare, Waitakere