Photographers' Blog

Singing from the heart

Beijing, China

By Jason Lee

Every night from 7pm until around midnight, anyone in Beijing who craves a bit of music can go and enjoy an “open-air concert” in the southeast of the city.

Street musician Zhang Mingyuan sings during his daily performance at a square outside a shopping mall in Beijing

The singer, Zhang Mingyuan, isn’t part of a famous music label and his performances are just held on a street corner. But even so, the warm atmosphere that he creates in the chilly night air seldom disappoints.

Street musician Zhang Mingyuan relaxes his eyes during a break at his daily performance at a square outside a shopping mall in Beijing

Many of Zhang’s songs are about a happy family life, but his own childhood seems to have been far from content. Born in China’s northeast Heilongjiang province, Zhang said that his father had depression and his mother left him when Zhang was 11 years old. His father left later and Zhang said he was abandoned.

He struggled to feed himself, and when he turned 17 he joined the military, where he learned the basics of music through playing in an army band. After doing two years of military service he had a passion for singing and needed to find a way to support himself. His career as a street musician began.

Street musician Zhang Mingyuan plays the guitar as he practises a new song at a park in Beijing

At first, Zhang travelled around the county for seven years before settling down in the capital. In Beijing he started to sell recordings of his own songs in an underground passage, charging 10 yuan ($1.60) for an album featuring around 30 tracks that he had composed over the years. So far, he says he has sold about 40,000 discs.

A taste for music

Haguenau, France

By Vincent Kessler

I love cooking and I have a passion for music. What then could please me more than an orchestra that plays music with instruments made out of vegetables?

I cannot remember when I first heard about the Vegetable Orchestra. But when I realized that they were planning to hold a concert some 40 kilometers from my home, I got in touch and was given the opportunity to watch them prepare for a performance.

Based in Vienna, Austria, the orchestra was created in 1998 by artists from a range of backgrounds, from musicians to people in visual fields like painting and design. Their website describes their sound as: “influenced by experimental contemporary, electronic music, musique concrete, noise, improvised music [and] pop music”.

Marching to Sousa’s drum beat

Washington, D.C.

By Jonathan Ernst

One of the great things about Washington is historic Capitol Hill, where there’s a lot of life beyond the headlines and punch lines about the U.S. Congress. I like to describe it as a small town attached to the city. We know our neighbors. We walk our dogs.

Sure, our neighbors include senators and congressmen, and every once in a while at the grocery store you’ll find yourself in line behind a woman who happens to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services holding the bouquet of flowers she’s picked out, or a guy who happens to be the director of the CIA as he’s making a selection at the olive bar. But at that moment, they’re just neighbors. They probably walk their dogs too. While a security detail in a large black SUV watches from a discreet distance.

Another great thing about Washington is the Marine Band, nicknamed the President’s Own. They happen to live on Capitol Hill too, in the oldest post in the Corps, known simply as the Marine Barracks Washington — or known even more simply to neighbors by it’s street corner: “8th and I.” If you happen to be driving near 8th and I streets on your way home from the market, it’s not uncommon to see the band’s bus loading up for an event at the White House, a concert across town, or one of their tours around the country. The Marine Band does not mess around. They look great, they sound great and they’re Marines. So when they walk their dogs around Capitol Hill, the other dogs make way.

The marketing of Miley

New York City, New York

By Lucas Jackson

Does anyone remember what happened during the MTV Video Music Awards in 2012? How about 2011? I would wager that the last thing you remember from any MTV video related anything would be when Kanye West walked up and snagged the microphone away from poor Taylor Swift in 2009.

Guess what, someone was counting on that this year. I haven’t a clue who, it might be MTV or Robin Thicke or most likely Miley Cyrus but someone was counting on creating one of these exciting “moments” for people to talk about the next day and boy did they hit the ball out of the park. I cover a fair amount of live music. I am not a concert photographer and I don’t go to every music festival but I cover enough to know when I see a performer putting on a good show. Lady Gaga almost always does it, she has the theatrics down.

A lot of groups who use large stage set-ups know that the show itself can be as important as the music but it would appear that the world is yet to catch up to the genius that is Miley Cyrus.

Vinyl’s not dead, long live vinyl

Lodenice, Czech Republic

By Petr Josek

The good old times are probably, definitely, gone and the world and all its information will soon fit into mobile phones. You read papers on your mobile phone, you pay in stores by mobile phone, watch movies, chat with friends, take photographs, play games and, alongside many other applications offered in modern times, you also listen to music from your mobile phone.

The time when you sat at home, lit a candle, opened a bottle of wine and pulled out a nice black vinyl record of your choice to relax is history. But there is still a hope.

GZ Digital Media’s factory is located in a small village called Lodenice, some 26 kilometers (16 miles) west of Prague. It was established at the beginning of the 1950s, manufacturing records for the whole Eastern bloc.

Woodstock 2013

Kostrzyn-upon-Odra River, Poland

By Tom Peter

It was a sweltering hot day and already late in the afternoon when I reached the small Polish border town of Kostrzyn-nad-Odra, home to the Woodstock Station rock festival. As I made my way along a forest road towards a military base on its outskirts, I passed scores of bare-chested men who lay dotted around in the shade, having clearly succumbed to a mixture of heat and hard liqueur. I approached the throbbing roar of guitars beyond the forest with some apprehension, believing I was in for a night of testosterone-induced aggression. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I stepped out into the clearing I found myself at the edge of a mud mosh pit the size of a tennis court, with a few dozen boys and girls in swim suits going absolutely bonkers to the sound of a Polish punk band. Beyond it there was the main stage towering over a billowing cloud of dust thrown up by thousands of dancing metal-heads who were going equally off the rails.

Those in front of me chased one another through the knee-deep murky water, tipping each other over (girls were the preferred targets), and rolling around in the sludge in what looked like Mad Max fighting scenes. Every so often groups would be overcome by a communal fit of exercise mania and organize themselves in circles to do push-ups or crawl, military style, across the pit.

Beware of Englishmen in Civvies

Novi Sad, Serbia

By Marko Djurica

At the Exit Festival in Serbia’s second city Novi Sad, you won’t find any signs pointing the way to the closest place to egress, but only signs for “emergency escape.” It is intentional so that concertgoers don’t get confused that the party continues outside the fence, but I came to see it as a hidden message.

The festival is held on the grounds of Petrovaradin, a medieval fortress on the banks of the Danube River, and has been drawing crowds from the region and from Europe for over 14 years. The original festival grew out of a post-war student protest movement against the regime of former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic. The name was meant to be a clear call for the Milosevic regime to step down and for society to leave the consequences of a terrible dark decade behind. The festival climaxed in the mid 2000s when it was recognized as one of Europe’s top ten festivals. Since then, it has all been downhill.

This year the very existence of the festival came into question because the past few years have been less successful and the fact that the festival is financed, in part, by the Serbian Ministry of Culture. But really, if you are one of the best European festivals for years, how can you need financial assistance from the government? The organizers justify the high ticket prices as necessary for attracting big stars to perform, which other than Atoms for Peace and David Guetta, I didn’t see or hear about.

Musical recovery

Caracas, Venezuela

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Crisvan Reyes suffers a type of bone cancer and has undergone unimaginable medical treatment at his young age of 11, including the amputation of his right arm. In spite of that, smiling and laughing, he makes jokes and teases other kids as he plays the drums during a rehearsal of the orchestra sponsored by the Alma Llanera Hospital Care Program. This is the last rehearsal before the program’s first anniversary concert.

The Alma Llanera Program is one of the most recent initiatives of Venezuela’s musical education program known as El Sistema, whose most famous alumnus is Gustavo Dudamel.

Barely a year old, the Alma Llanera Program is specifically for children who are going through medical treatment and are hospital-bound. It teaches them to play a musical instrument for the length of their stay, and allows them to continue afterward at one of El Sistema’s regular orchestras.

A Zeppelin flashback

By Larry Downing and Jason Reed

Moments after musicians Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham stepped onto the creaky stage inside the old Boston Garden forty-four years ago it was obvious 16,000 teenaged baby boomers were witnessing the infancy of one of rock and roll’s greatest acts.

“Led Zeppelin” opened 1969’s “Tribal Rock Festival” with a throbbing, “Good Times Bad Times,” and the world changed forever for those inside; most of whom had been schooled under the shadows of strict, conservative innocence in the 1950’s and early 60’s. The band played with such primal passions and steady bass rhythms it generated enough vibration to free decades of tired dust from the tops of the aging rafters; waterfalls of filth drifted below and continued during the entire performance.

None of those New England fans would ever see, or hear, music the same after those loud layers of complex notes and vigorous lyrics were let out of the genie’s bottle and took possession of every happy toe-tapper inside that ancient structure built back in 1928.

Jazz night at the Apollo

New York City, N.Y.

By Zoran Milich

It was a blistery cold day in New York City as I shuffled in with hundreds of other locals to the historic Apollo Theater to document a rehearsal performance of the Apollo’s new production, Apollo Club Harlem.

An older crowd obediently lined up in the dark corridor of the theater lit by grand chandeliers. They pointed at the wall of pictures of great musicians that performed at the Apollo such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Sarah Vaughan, Michael Jackson and many more.

Guests at the rehearsal would be replaced that evening with those arriving in long black limousines, none the less they trembled with excitement knowing they were about to be transported back in time with music, dance and song of the Jazz era that seeded at the Apollo in the 30′s and 40′s.