Music and Photography-by Chip Phillips

I will be playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra on November 20th and 21st.  I have been doing interviews with the local newspapers, and it got me thinking about music and photography.  Both art forms demand an almost obsessive attention to detail, all in the name of creating something that seems effortless.  No two clarinetists will approach the Mozart Concerto the same, just no two photographers will photograph and process a scene the same way.  Unlike music, photography is a pretty solitary pursuit.  However,  you can compare the different elements of nature to the various different musicians in a symphony.  All must work in harmony for beautiful art to be created.  Although the end product is much more collaborative in music,  the preparation can be just as solitary and introspective.   Many hours a day of grueling practice go into preparing a concerto, just like many hours of travel, and rolling out of the sleeping bag at four in the morning are part of creating a landscape photograph.  All the freezing cold, lonely mornings spent waiting for that one dazzling show of light can be compared to the many hours in the practice room.  No pain, no gain.  But that one moment of sublime beauty makes it all worth it.  Photography and music are greatly complimentary pursuits.  They both are concerned with composition, form, harmony, and dissonance.  Photography deals with these aspects in silence, while music does so blindly.   The legendary photographer Galen Rowell’s mother, Margaret Rowell, was a famous cellist and cello teacher.  Growing up with a professional musician mother undoubtedly influenced Rowell’s artistic development.   I consider myself very lucky that I get to make a living creating art in two different mediums that I love so much.


~ by photocascadia on November 14, 2010.

6 Responses to “Music and Photography-by Chip Phillips”

  1. Both music and photography touch the senses in an amazing way.
    The collaboration of the two art forms can be a combination that can’t be matched. This article did just that. It was very inspiring to say the least. Thank you for sharing!

  2. You mention Galen Rowell’s mother — remember, also, that Ansel Adams was a pianist and piano teacher before taking up photography.


    I wonder if you ever heard about Photochoreography – it is pretty new artform started by Tobias Melle – a musician playing in Munchen Symphony Orchestra
    and also a great hiker and photographer… I was present at his work of Richard Wagner’s “Alpine Symphony” : amazing work! American scenery I believe is more beautiful than Alps and has to be seen on stage!

  4. Great observation… I was a violinist as a youth and now find photography my medium. But I often find similarities as well and you wrote about it well.

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  6. Chip, I’m a photographer… and a college music faculty member – so this is something I think about a lot. I imagine that you are aware of the many photographers who also are musicians. Most that I know of are instrumental musicians and quite a number are jazz musicians. Not so many are singers, and few are composers. The former doesn’t surprise me as much as the latter.

    I’m still somewhat mystified by precisely what the connection is between photography and music, even though I’ve done both for many years. I have some ideas, and eventually I’ll write something about it.

    I’m convinced that one point of connection is in the role that practice plays in both media – and secondarily the role that the instrument plays. In the same way that your clarinet is the “instrument” of your musical expression, the camera (and a bunch of other stuff) is the “instrument” of your visual expression. Each must be practiced and ultimately understood so well that its use becomes intuitive… and in the best work in both media the instrument disappears and the expression remains.

    This combination of long work to develop technical mastery and precision that only plays out successfully when it is used to create something that seems purely intuitive and sensory seems to me to be very important.

    Take care,


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