A Lesson in Swing - Submerge Magazine Photoshoot with Peter Petty
I think it would be quite an incredible experience to go back in time and visit a classic 1930's swing/jazz club. The snazzy music, the confident charisma, the sexy, swanky atmosphere... It would be a thrilling and wild night full of high class and jaw-dropping entertainment. I know this personal fantasy of mine will never come true, but I think I got the next best thing when I was called by Submerge Magazine to photograph swing singer Peter Petty for their December 2017 Issue.
Hit the Lights!
Before the shoot the first thing that my Art Director told me was that Peter was a stunning performer. I prepared myself by watching some videos of him on stage and he truly was a musical animal. Unlike most of my other musician photoshoots I didn't feel like a grand environment was needed to contribute to the narrative. In fact, it would probably just get in his way. Instead I would keep the location simple and let his explosive personality do the talking.
I knew the prime place to go to for this project. My friend and fellow photo school graduate Bobby owned an old photo studio up in his attic. The floors were classically detailed with old wooden planks, one of the walls was converted into a hand-painted gray background, and there were also many peculiar items stored inside like antique furniture, paintings, and even a full drum kit. The overall aesthetic felt so simple and realistic but it was also beautifully aged to vintage perfection. The space also mimicked the old school celebrity portrait studios that you often see being used in many Hollywood entertainment photoshoots for Vanity Fair and Hollywood Reporter.
Hit the Music!
When Peter arrived at the studio it was a real treat. He was stylish and quick witted, and it was quite undeniable that he was born to be a swing singer. As soon as he took the stage we let the imagination fly, and as we explored the creative avenues we eventually locked in on two different types of artistic moods. One was bold, sophisticated, and dangerous - giving an aura similar to what you would find in a classic gangster movie, and the other was colorful, energetic and slick - just like the scene I had envisioned in my time traveling adventure. Despite having their differences, we made sure that they were all delivered with a healthy dose of cool.
Peter produced this crazy kick and he's 50 years old! To me that just goes to show how music keeps you happy and young.
After all the energy had been spent we followed the natural progression of any great show and had ourselves an after party. We imagined what a stage in a 1930's jazz club would like after a huge show went down. Bottles would be everywhere, people would be passed out in their chairs, and the lead singer would be completely hammered - refusing to end the show as he sipped drinks and hilariously slurred his lyrics on stage.
We chose a favorite arm chair from the army of attic furniture and slowly built our massacred scene. To add to the overall drunkenness Peter loosed his bow tie and kicked off a shoe, and Bobby salvaged us some old whiskey bottles. I also eyed the old drum kit and brought some remnants of it to the stage. I asked Peter to act as drunk as possible and he really pulled out some priceless results. In the end though, the one shot that really made me rolling was the shot where Peter was staring at an empty bottle and trying to see if there was anything left. Obviously dazed and hilariously confused, he was just unwilling for the party to end.
I think the editing for this photo is also something worth talking about. Since it was the most environmentally close to a true 1930's club scene, I decided to also drive the toning in that direction. During the late 1920's and early 1930's, cinematography didn't have all of the colors that we enjoy in movies today. Instead they had a process called 2-strip Technicolor which only had red and green. What do you guys think about the look? I personally love it and am looking forward to trying it in more of my photos in the future.
Music is such a beautiful uplifting force, and that's why I shoot it so much. I absolutely adore the technical aspects and the challenges that it offers when it comes to bringing both the narrative and visual elements together, but it is also just as important to catch the spirit and cut loose.