Embodying The Light


I shot another album cover (above) for Tommy Smith recently and I just got my hands on a pre-release CD of the album. Nadja Von Moscow of Nadworks did the design and the recording is released on Tommy's own record label 'Spartacus Records'. I already did a lengthy 3 part post on the last CD cover I shot for Tommy, so I'll try to keep this one brief. You can find links to those other posts at the bottom of this piece, but in the meantime here's a beautiful version of Coltrane's Dear Lord from the CD to listen to while you read this and take in the pictures.


It was around the beginning of Febuary this year (2017) that Tommy Smith asked me to go along to the recording studio and photograph three different records being made over a single weekend. One with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, another with a duo and the one you see here, The Tommy Smith Quartet

After having limited space to move on the first day while shooting the big band, the quartet setup was minimalist, but not without it's own set of problems. Tommy was recording his saxophone parts in the main room of the studio, while Pete Johnstone (piano), Calum Gourlay (double bass) and Sebastiaan De Krom (drums) recorded their parts in soundproof booths in each corner. Photographing through glass (especially without a polarising filter) is a big challenge, so I took it in turn to go inside each of the booths for a track or two.

Unlike the pop world where each musician records their parts separately, this was old school recording with everybody playing together as a band (i.e. at the same time), which means each musician needs to be on their game. I was mostly hearing one instrument at a time as I shot my pictures, but I knew the quartet were on form and sounding great. It wasn't until Tommy sent me the mixed audio files of each track that I realised just how good this album was. The CD is a dedication to the late great John Coltrane, who died at the same age as Tommy is now. The album is not out yet, but pre-release copies have gone out to the music press and the 5 star reviews are rolling in.


The quartet were booked to play at the BBC, which would go out on radio and internet as part of International Jazz Day. Tommy wanted it documented and thought it might be a good idea to shoot some pictures of the band outside the BBC building before the gig. The hope was that there would be something suitable for the CD cover. But the wind was too high and there would have been no point in trying to shoot four guys with hair blowing all over the place. So I opted to shoot inside the BBC building, which is an amazing place to photograph in.

We went beyond the public section and into a massive open plan area. There's a lot of glass, steel and concrete at the BBC and thankfully a good amount of light coming down from the ceiling. I didn't have any flash guns or modifiers with me, so the available light of the late afternoon Scottish sky would have to be enough (that and a higher ISO). Straight off, I decided to walk on the opposite side of the building from the band. I had a 16mm f1.4 and a 56mm f1.2 on my X-T2 and X-Pro2, which was just as well. I knew time was limited as the band would need to be backstage soon to get ready to play their spot. The gig was being recorded in front of a live audience, so there would be no chance of them being late.

I shot a few pictures of the band from across the building and then met up with them at the other side. I took more shots of them standing against a steel and glass railing with the epic backdrop of the BBC building in the background. Then we made good use of a metal staircase and connected corridor. But all too soon an assistant came looking for the band and the promo shoot was over (although I still had the gig to shoot). 

Four years into this one day project and great memories of interesting shoots just keep stacking up. Sometimes I don’t realise it till later, but quite often I am fully present in the moment and appreciate the varied and interesting things that appear in front of my lens. Last week I shot a gig with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and actor Tam Dean Burn performing the poetry of Tam McGrath over some classic jazz tunes. That one was part of the Edinburgh Film Festival. Who knows what will be next :o)

Time Gone By

Bobby Wellins | Saxophonist | 1936 - 2016

Photography & Text By Derek Clark

The jazz world lost another great musician last week. Tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins passed away at the age of 80. I had the chance to photograph Bobby on the 23rd of May 2013 during the recording of the Culloden Moor Suite CD with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. These are the pictures I shot that day for the inside of the gatefold CD. We talked saxophones while he waited for the next take. Bobby found it interesting that I play sax and photograph musicians. It was a privilege to speak to him and an honour to stand a few feat away while he recorded the sax parts.

There's been a couple of times during the three years of shooting this jazz project (I don't even think I can call it a project anymore. It's just what I do) that I have questioned my motivation. Am I done? Have I got to the point where I'm shooting pictures I've already shot? Is this important in Scotland? After all this isn't New York or Paris during the jazz heyday. But I stick with it because I always come back with at least a few pictures that I'm proud of and that I would happily hang on a wall. I get to meet and photograph jazz legends from the UK and abroad, people that have been part of my Record/CD collection for years. But above all else, I get to shoot pictures for a few hours while listening to some of the most beautiful music I've had the pleasure of hearing. There hasn't been a gig went past that I haven't just stopped taking pictures and closed my eyes to hear the music. I mean REALLY hear the music.

It's so easy to get lost in the technical side of things while we're photographing whatever is in front of our lens, the aperture, the shutter speed...etc. But we need to set it and let it be sometimes. We need to take in the moment and witness it not just as photographers, but as human beings. Time is linear. It's here, it's gone and it will never be repeated. This could be the last day for any one of us, young or old. Live it like it was!

Tommy (Smith) put together a montage of my pictures from that day and set it to one of Bobby's tunes (below). I watched it in my car and realised, beyond all doubt, that the pictures I capture of this great music we call Jazz, are important!