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On Assignment: Caleb Vaughn-Jones, Act Two

Two years ago I first photographed an outstanding young cellist named Caleb Vaughn-Jones. Caleb is exactly the type of person I partnered up with the Howard County Arts Council to meet, and I was very pleased when he emailed back a few months ago to commission another set of photos.

Nothing fosters creativity like collaborating with creative people. He's been doing some amazing work since 2010, and I was excited to get to work with him again.

Caleb is part of what I think of as a new breed of classical musicians. He is tech-literate, pretty much lives outside of the box and is focused on his music as an agent of change.

One of his themes has been to bring classical music to unusual places, and that has seen him traveling around the world to developed and developing countries. The world cultures, in turn, influence his music as much as his perspective.

Here is a piece he recently recorded as ambient music for the new video game Civilization 5. It was composed by Geoff Knorr and is an adaptation from human voice (a traditional Mongolian song) for cello, entitled Genghis Kahn Peace:

Is that kickass, or what? As a musician, I find these gender-bender mashups to be completely mesmerizing. Caleb is grounded in traditional classical music, but also plays his own classical compositions and jazz improvisations.

So my first thought was to stay away from typical orchestral environments and work with his theme of bring music everywhere.

The photo at top was kind of a found situation. We were using the concrete abutment of a pedestrian bridge as a textured backdrop (planning to light it like this) when I backed up across the street and saw the geometry of the bridge itself.

We had plenty of close- and medium-range stuff, so I overpowered the ambient by 2-3 stops and hit Caleb with a grid spot from hard camera right. The light is just out of the frame, about 15 feet away and 10 or so feet up. It's pretty stark, with some dark shadows, but I did not want to overdo it by lighting too much of him

I love the lines and tones in the photo, but even more so the experience while shooting it. He was playing the Bach Cello Suites, largely because we were shooting in public. It's a very recognizable piece, and we thought that might soothe the savage beast should anyone get irked that we were blocking the sidewalk.

As it happened a girl, about 8 years old, walked by with her mother. The girl was toting a violin, and stayed for an impromptu concert. She hung out near my light, so I didn't include her in the photo. But it added a nice layer to the already cool experience.

The second photo above was made in the same session as the top-light photo I blogged recently. But this was done with a single head in an FTX white beauty dish at upper camera left.

I used a lot of natural light on this shoot, as in the photo above. We were in an old barn for this image, with the open barn door acting as a soft box to camera left.

On a whim I shot some video of him playing. Amazingly, he had no live video of himself online. His career is young, unique and is blooming in several ways, but none of those ended up with video happening. It was windy in the barn so the built-in mic of my DSLR was useless. So as a hack we recorded the sound with an iPhone on a table just out of frame, wrapped in his wool cap as a (mostly) wind screen. Not ideal, but will do until something better comes along.

I since have bought a better sound recorder, and will be better prepared for this sort of thing in the future.

How do you get access to an old barn for shooting? It helps to have been part of a group of photographers who did a pro bono shoot on the property a couple of years ago.

We also shot in an airy, windowed great room on the property, framing him from a second story balcony overlook against the reflection of a large window in the floor.

Over the course of a couple of afternoons we were in seven locations, and ended up with a nice selection of photos for him to use for editorial handouts, promotion or whatever.

Caleb has since left for Cape Town, South Africa, where he'll be playing both in the city and out in the townships, in keeping with his goal of getting classical music to as many places as possible.

Next: Night Soprano Pt. 1


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