Recently I interviewed the singer – and current judge of The X Factor (Australia) – Guy Sebastian, for a profile to appear in our sister magazine, Camera. Photography is Guy’s creative refuge and he’s almost as passionate about it as he is about his music. I interviewed him in his tiny private recording studio in inner-city Sydney which, interestingly, is packed with analog equipment because he particularly likes the audio characteristics and because he’s a self-confessed “gear geek”. More interesting though, were the parallels that Guy drew between photography and music.
Both, these days, are highly technical endeavours, but at the heart of both is emotion… and it’s all too easy for the former to get in the way of the latter. As in a photograph, Guy notes, a song can end being overworked – too much technology used mainly for its own sake rather than providing any additional understanding of the subject matter. Sometimes a simple melody line or lyric is stronger – particularly in emotional terms – than any amount of post-production wizardry.
“Sometimes with songs I’ve gone back and back and back and back so much – because I can be so critical – that you lose the magic of just making a moment. A song is a moment in someone’s life… it’s a snippet of what I was going through or what I was feeling… and I’ve put it down in a certain way at that time, but sometimes you can analyse every nuance of a song and worry about what everybody is going to think, rather than accepting that, like every artist, I’m always growing and honing in on my art.
“And I do the same thing with my photography... it’s tempting to over-edit an image because you think it will somehow make it better, but in the end it’s about feeling something. A lot of what you might add is actually unnecessary.”
Balancing the technical and the creative is always the challenge. You need to have some technical ability – even a lot – in order to be able to get where you want to go creatively… but, on the other hand, you don’t want the technicalities getting in the way.
“It’s exactly the same in music,” says Guy Sebastian. “If you understand the tools and things that you are able to use, there are so many more options as far as what you can achieve, because what you hear you can actually execute… and it’s the same with photography. But then they are just tools. I’m now trying to cut down on how much post-production I do because you can get so caught up in the process that you lose the real essence of the original image.
“It’s easy to mess up something beautiful. It’s a really, really fine line. There’s the purist perspective of, ‘no, don’t mess with it, it’s pretty good’, and then there’s the perspective of that, well, it could be more. And then there’s the fact that you’ve overdone it… you’ve taken something beautiful and you’ve messed it up… your intentions were good, but…”
In photography we talk about looking without seeing… Guy contends that in music, you can listen without hearing.
“It’s like wishing you’d written that song. As a songwriter, sometimes I’ll collaborate with producers and they’ll have beds of music that I flick through, say, ten tracks and only one of them will stand out, but the others I just can’t hear a melody over. Then suddenly I’ll hear one of them on the radio because somebody has written a smash to it and I’ll think, ‘Oh, now I can hear it’, but by then it’s too late. So it’s about being receptive and about not coming in with a whole lot of preconceived ideas. So with my photography, especially landscapes, I’ll plan ahead – because I have to with my schedule – but then there are the pictures that just happen… when something just moves me. That emotional element is really what makes a great song or a great photograph.”
Amen to that.
Paul Burrows, Editor, ProPhoto