Finals are Here! Film Documents Music

Joe Henderson, New Jersey, 1963

Joe Henderson, New Jersey, 1963 photo by Francis Wolff

Well, finals are here so that means at least a week hiatus for me and my film posts. Lame. I am already in zombie mode and I’m already so burned out but finals haven’t even started yet. I did learn something interesting in jazz history though, so I figured I’d share!

We’re learning about different record companies and one record label, called Blue Note, was known for it’s symbolic and consistent album covers; they are all beautiful film photos taken in studio. So obviously this was really interesting to me! Finally, a jazz history class I wasn’t struggling to pay attention in.

Ok so, who was the photographer? A man named Francis Wolff. What’s the story? In 1939, Wolff, a professional German photographer, came to the U.S. and became partners with Alfred Lion at Blue Note Records, an innovative new recording company producing masterpieces by talented young jazz musicians such as Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, John Coltrane and many others. Wolff managed the company’s business affairs, and he also attended recording sessions, taking thousands of informal photographs of individual musicians at work.

An accomplished photographer in his native Germany, Wolff came to New York without means. He got a job in photographic studio by day and reunited with his boyhood friend Alfred Lion to work on Blue Note Records by night. His passion for jazz ran as deep as his love of photography, and soon he was completely immersed in the record company. By the end of World War Two, Francis and Alfred were able to make a living working solely on Blue Note. Two men running a small, struggling business is an all-consuming affair.

His photographs are really emotional and definitely gives us a sense of what went on in the recording studios. His shooting style was almost romantic because he really focused on the intensity of the relationship between a musician and his work.

Sonny Rollins takes a break during the recording his 1957 album, Sonny Rollins, Volume II.

Sonny Rollins takes a break during the recording his 1957 album, Sonny Rollins, Volume II.



Herbie Hancock, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1964

Herbie Hancock, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1964

All really beautiful right? I thought so too. So what type of camera did Mr. Wolff use? A Rolleiflex with a flash held at arm’s length! What’s a Rolleiflex you ask? They are a medium format, twin lenses reflex or TLR, type of camera. They are still widely used today. Instead of holding the camera in front of your face, you look down, into the glass to see what’s in front of you. It’s confusing at first because if you turn left, your image moves right and vice versa, but they are really fun to use once you get the hang of it. In excellent condition they retail anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000 with lens. Pretty pricey.

They look like this:

Rolleiflex Original camera with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar f/3.8, 7.5cm

Rolleiflex Original camera with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar f/3.8, 7.5cm

These photographs are among some of the most treasured historic images of our time, especially in our musical history. Jazz is the only real type of American music that stemmed into life purely from American roots. I didn’t think I learned much in this class, but hey, I guess I retain more than I thought I could.

My point to this post was not only to help myself study, just kidding, kind of, but to show you guys how beautiful the film result really is. Sure, you could take these images and make them just as beautiful digitally but when these were taken, the moment in time was burned into a negative forever. Way different. It’s cool to have the light burn the exact moment in time that Herbie Hancock was experiencing when he rested his forehead on his piano. I wish I knew what happened to the negatives.

Remember, keep your negatives because those are where your moments you capture are really stored.

4 thoughts on “Finals are Here! Film Documents Music

    • Hello! These are the images of Francis Wolff. They are film, so this is what they look like straight from the camera.

      If you want to edit black and white digital images I suggest using Adobe Lightroom 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s