Photographing Eef Bazerlay: With all my heart

‘Give back what you took from me’

A game of give and take: The artist gives the song – the fan received it, takes it and appropriates it. This is exactly what I did with the song ‘With all my heart’ a little while back:

‘The photos… the photos… She had ripped them apart to remove my mother and me. She didn’t even take scissors to cut us off. She just tore the paper. Was it in a fit of rage, or did she do it calmly, realising that she had lost us forever and that there was no point in being reminded of this in her loneliness? She apologised for the state of the pictures and mumbled: “You’ll have to give me some new photos, my little one”. The torn photographs were an echo of our family disintegration. I knew deep down I would never give her new photos of me because I would never see her again. I didn’t want to give her an opportunity to tear my life apart, again, for real or metaphorically. Only my brothers remained in the old Polaroid snaps from the seventies and eighties. One particular square image was of my younger brother. He was wearing a red cowboy hat with a silver star on it. He must have been eleven or twelve. He had been distracted by something and was smiling away from the camera. He killed himself when he was 21.

The past, the wretched past – she was revisiting it as if nothing had happened, as if my brother’s death had not dampened her anger, to the contrary. How far this was from Jacques Brel’s majestic song ‘Les Vieux’. In her house it didn’t smell nicely of lavender. There was no silver clock, not saying yes, not saying no, because death was already there in this house that reeked of dog p*** and bleach all at the same time. I asked her if I could photograph the photograph of brother in his cowboy hat. She didn’t quite understand what I wanted to do but she said “whatever you like my little one”. I knew this would be the last visit and I was determined to give this photograph another life. In an attempt to wipe out the past lived with us, he kept all our family photos. I don’t know where they ended up, those photos and all the Super8 movies.

‘give back what you took from me you whispered in your sleep who but me would write it down so now it’s mine to keep’ (Bazerlay, 2009)

Even since, I’ve asked relatives to dig out photographs of me when I was a kid. It’s not an easy task. They have their children’s photo albums tucked away, somewhere in their attic or buried in a wardrobe. They don’t need to have them to hand, or even look at them. They know they have them, and they know that the people in them are still alive. They don’t quite understand what these photographs mean to me. In twenty years, I have managed to gather only about ten photographs of my brother and me when we were kids. I look at them often. Thinking about it today, I wonder why. Nostalgia? Or all these lost loves, at last, that are “mine to keep”.’

Tonight Eef took the song back and made it his own again. He introduced ‘With all my heart’ and said that he wrote it for all his friends, those he had ‘shed’. He was claiming it back to give it to the fan again, renewed: an acoustic interpretation, dramatizing the softer and more homogenous studio version, with emotions carried through contrasts and dynamics and more theatrical singing.

‘I’ll dedicate this song to you and sing with all my heart’ (Bazerlay, 2009)

I went in, armed with my camera and keen to think ‘geometry’ in the Cartier-Bresson sense of it. Shapes and geometry do not abound at the Reading South Street Arts Centre: a wall of white painted bricks, an artefact composed of squares and large black drapes ensure a minimalist background décor.

I quickly gave up on the idea. I changed my 35mm lens for an 80. I had a more pressing issue to worry about: Capturing Eef rather than geometry.  The concert was a very intimate affair; the audience being very appreciative and polite did not make a sound apart from their clapping in between songs. We were sitting cabaret style and my table was one metre away from the stage, three metres from Eef at the most. Although he knew that I would be taking photographs (we had been corresponding via email) I didn’t want to abuse of his generosity, nor ruin the show for us all.

How do you capture the decisive moment? What was the decisive moment in this concert? For me it was when Eef looked at me and said ‘I’ll play that one later’ (‘With all my heart’ of course). His gaze signalled an acknowledgement of our earlier connection. He had signed his lyric booklet for me by the entrance, on the page where the lyrics of that particular song were – page 30. I told him that this song meant a lot to me – just that – nothing more. So when I asked him to play that song during the concert (he had solicited requests), he was renewing the connection.

Did I capture the moment? No. Will I remember it forever? Yes. Do I need a photograph to help me remember the moment? No. Would taking a photograph of the moment have been possible at all? No. That split second when the artist makes eye contact with the fan, the photographer can only watch and try to let go.

I took some photographs just before the concert, when Eef was tuning his guitars, then from the side of the stage at the very beginning of the show. I came back to my table, for the remaining of the concert, shooting only in between songs, so that the clapping would mask the sound of my camera shutter.

Somehow, I managed to find geometry in the images I selected. I can only suggest that the lines were there anyway, because I certainly did not proactively seek them, at least not consciously.

eef_7869 copy

The photographic event is formulaic – like the stage décor. I always have my camera on a given ISO, like Cartier-Bresson. But unlike him, I have my camera set on auto-focus and I guess the aperture stop with great difficulty. It is always a guess, like multiplication tables beyond 7 x 7. I sort of see the answer, sometimes I’ll get it right first time; sometimes I’ll need several guesses before getting there. While multiplication tables are well behind me, I can easily miss a potentially great shot. In all honesty, I really don’t mind. I am satisfied with what I have. Rather, I have made peace with what I cannot achieve technically, but, I love the set of images that I took, and for me that’s all that matters.

‘So now it’s mine to keep’ (Bazerlay, 2009)

 

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