Music can spark ideas for visual artists, providing a mood for editing and sequencing, or even as inspiration for bodies of work. We asked several photographers about the music that fills their studios and how it impacts their work. At the end of this article you will find a playlist of the beloved music for you to listen to in your own studio.
Kristine Potter utilizes music to inform her practice, stating, “I typically gravitate to music with good storytelling. It feeds my imagination. Anything from Kendrick Lamar to Blaze Foley can be found on my Recently Played list.” Potter refers directly to music in her current project Dark Waters. “I'm also listening to a lot of old Murder Ballads from various artists, as they are the driving motivation behind some new work I'm making in the south.” The river is a common trope in these murder ballads; it is often the where the female murder victim is tossed by her regretful lover. This type of songwriting is mostly antiquated. While it is rare for contemporary musicians to write murder ballads, they can be an excellent vehicle to discuss gender issues, one of many topics that Potter’s work explores.
Zora J. Murff listens to music that he finds culturally relevant, bouncing between Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Vince Staples’ Summertime ‘06, John Coltrane’s Ascension, and Radiohead’s OK Computer. These selections cover a large musical timeline while maintaining a connective thread of instrumental innovation and cultural awareness—fitting for his work. “Lately,” Zora says, “I’ve been stuck on Sudan Archives’ Sink-EP”.
While photographing in the Ozark Mountains, Matthew Genitempo listens to Daniel Lanois—specifically his albums Goodbye to Language and Belladonna. Like the men and the landscapes in Genitempo’s photographs, Lanois’ atmospheric music offers a serene stillness and quiet beauty. Of his broad taste in music, Genitempo says, “Sometimes it’s silence, other times it's black metal (Yellow Eyes, Wolves in the Throne Room, Bell Witch), and sometimes I just listen to Weezer’s In The Garage on repeat.”
RL Grime is the pseudonym of Henry Steinway, whose new album NOVA permeates through the studio of Aline Smithson, Los Angeles-based photographer, and Steinway’s mother. Her series Regarding Henry explores the ways in which photographing and raising a child inform each other. The body of work follows Henry through his development while both he and Smithson learn from each other.
Tim Davis works in a variety of media including video, photography, poetry, and songwriting (he recently released a full-length album titled It’s OK to Hate Yourself) and is currently working on a sound installation titled Uneasy Listening for his upcoming show at the Tang museum. “I have three different turntables playing elevator-type easy listening music from the 50s and 60s at the same time.” He says of the installation, “So there's a lot of ‘101 Strings Plays The Beatles’ and super cheesy jazz records in the Bossa Nova style.”
For Stephen Sheffield’s daily art practice—in which he creates a mixed media piece from start to finish each day—the 1950s West Coast “cool” jazz crooning he plays in the studio seem to come from the vintage fashion magazines that he uses as source materials. His darkroom blasting the same music sets a mood befitting Sheffield’s black-and-white self-portraits. Dave Brubeck and Frank Sinatra’s music and style provide inspiration for the fedora-and-suit attire consistent in his self-portraits.
Amy Friend employs music as a parallel to her studio practice: “Sometimes I listen to music to keep me going when my energy is waning, but often it is there as my companion. It compliments and/or instigates a mood and offers rhythm to my pace of work.” While her tastes in music cover a wide range of genres, she particularly enjoys Lhasa de Sela, Prince, and Diana Krall. Krall even used Friend’s photographs as her set for her 2017 tour promoting her album Turn Up The Quiet, a collection of jazz standards.
Processing his film to the beats of 70s hits like Rod Stewart’s “Maggie Mae” at Apeiron Workshops in Millerton, New York, music was the magic ingredient that propelled legendary photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen’s career as he shares with us through this essay titled From the Dark Side of the Moon to Everything Now about the printing his first mural print.
I’ll always remember my first solo attempt to print a mural. The night-long adventure occurred in 1995 when the Pori Art Museum in Finland invited me to hold what would be my 25th year retrospective in their palatial, contemporary-art-intended exhibition spaces. I hauled the Simmons-Omega D2V enlarger—that now ancient, ever silky smooth operator—out of the darkroom and set it up horizontally like a cannon inside a separate, totally emptied, black-taped, two-car garage across the driveway. My photograph Narragansett, Rhode Island, 1973 had been selected to be the centerpiece of the show and that scream needed to shout larger.
For the developing tray, I had cut off the ends of two long, green plastic window boxes and ducted taped them together to create a swimming pool wherein, alternatively, buckets of developer, stop, fixer, and hypo clear would process the exposed roll of light-sensitive, silver gelatin Ilford multigrade; twirling it like wallpaper was a piece of cake, back and forth in each solution. Even the wash was, with a garden hose, like watering flowers.
That Narragansett was shot on Kodak Panatomic X, while great for sharp shadows and mid-tones, made the highlights, already overexposed—so I could see inside of my mouth—a bear to print. The D2V projected the 35mm negative from garage front to the rear where a 1 x 1.5 meter sheet of multigrade was pinned up against the wall. But for how long an exposure? That was the big question. Many test strips and hours later, still no answer. It was time to set up the boom-box—at midnight—and throw on some Pink Floyd. And wouldn’t you know it, as it turned out to be, that black Narragansett sky in that thick 35 mm negative would demand, better yet, insist on hearing both sides of The Wall—that’s an 81.14 minute burn—to bring in the full weight of the clouds as happens in smaller prints. Pink Floyd Sky, I’ve called it since. Today, a mural of the same size might easily spit out of an Epson in the time it takes to rock n’ roll to Arcade Fire’s great CD title track, Everything Now.
Enjoy the Studio Soundtrack of the music these artists love.