Planting the seed, would The Phillips Collection please invite Francine Winham to show us her work?
I just got an iPhone message from my daughter in London who is visiting an exhibit by our friend, Francine Winham. We have many cool friends in the world, but if there is one who is the jazziest, that would be Francine.
She is also most gracious, and we have spent many New Years Eves at her home in Surrey. Now, there are three Francines. There is the very private one, at home with celebrity friends. There is the gregarious public one, the showgirl opera and jazz singer. There is also the working girl, the professional photographer, music and film producer and director.
I have had the gift of hearing her singing recitals in her home, accompanied by her pianist, Val. She sang opera at the time. I still had my hearing a few years ago before going deaf. On one New Years Eve, I played drums with all of the guests who were equipped with drums, including Jeremy Clyde. And then, we sang notes as if to drum and howl in the New Year.
That was the last of my singing and the last of my hearing too.
There are many threads to Francine’s life that are rich with stories about discovering musical talent and photographing singers and musicians who would emerge as among the greatest in the world. You know what, she is the greatest jazz photographer as a result from that experience.
Francine Winham lives below a 4th century fort, and hikes to the top of the mountain, dragging stragglers behind her. She manages various properties that include a working farm. When she is in the city, she is singing at a pub or perhaps showing her photographs at an exhibition. Her life is amazing.
Check this out:
“She began photographing jazz musicians and singers in the clubs of New York and at the Newport Jazz Festival, her work being published in magazines such as Downbeat and the Village Voice. "New York was the heart of the jazz world at the time - it was very exciting... And jazz clubs were perfect for me. I liked to get close, really close, and capture the expression on a performer's face. That's what really interests me, the intimacy." The results were full-frame facial shots, isolating the subject from their surroundings and capturing the intensity and drama (or comedy) of the moment.
It was during this time that Winham developed what she called her "Fever" technique. By holding the shot still for half a second and then moving the camera, she created a blurred free-form image that mirrored the dynamic improvisation of the performer (a technique later imitated on jazz record covers and in magazines) .
Away from the jazz clubs, 60s New York was a hotbed of political unrest: anti-war demos in Central Park, civil rights marches in Harlem. Winham recorded these monumental events, creating evocative images of time and place. In the 1970s Winham returned to London, attending the National Film School in Beaconsfield, subsequently working with the Women's Film Group where she made the films "Rapunzel", "Put Yourself in My Place" starring Judy Geeson, and "Careless Love", starring Jane Asher.
The late 1980s saw her return to photography working for the newly created Jazz FM radio station and organizing the exhibition "100 Years of Jazz." She began attending jazz festivals again, this time in Europe at Maastricht and Nice, as well as the Soho Jazz Festival in London.
Exhibitions in London, Athens and New York have brought her work to a wider audience, and though Winham continues to take photographs her new passion is singing. Always ready for a challenge, she began training as an opera singer in 1991 and has performed in productions both here and abroad. "I'd always loved singing, and I suppose all those years photographing live performers had developed an urge in me to get up there and do it myself.
You may think it odd that I chose opera over jazz, but what has struck me is that although they seem at opposite ends of the musical spectrum they have a lot in common - 'Porgy and Bess' being a good example. I like to think of jazz as opera for the ghetto - it's got all the same power and emotion but with one big difference: if you want to dance, it's got to be jazz!"
Francine moved to New York in the 1960s where she worked as a photographer. Her overriding passion was the jazz scene with it's vibrant energy in New York and East Coast. Living in NY she travelled twice to Newport Jazz Festival, 1965 and 1966. "Ever since I'd seen the film 'Jazz on a Summer's Day' I'd wanted to go to Newport. It was like the Holy Grail for me, a chance to see all the stars in one place - and photograph them too." The result was a unique record of some of the greatest names in jazz history, every picture infused with mood and sensuality, living legends in mid-flow, displaying every emotion that music evokes.
11th September to 5th October 2013
Wednesday to Saturday - 11am to 5pm
- Francine Winham was born in London in the late 1930s, the middle child of a self-made property tycoon.
- 1939, evacuated to the relative safety of Colorado in the United States, a move that began for her a lifelong transatlantic relationship.
"Late forties, the family returned to London and Winham was sent to the Mitford-Colmer Seminary for Young Ladies in Belgravia, a private school where the daughters of well-to-do families were prepared for their eventual emergence alongside the other well-heeled daughters of well-to-do parents as society debutantes.
It may have been her parents' intention that their eldest daughter should follow this conventional path to ideal husband and domestic bliss, but Winham had other ideas. “I remember when I was about ten I heard someone playing Boogie Woogie on an old piano, and I thought it was so wonderful. It was this anarchic music which was the start of my passion for jazz. When I was a teenager in fifties London we were starved of music. There were no clubs for young people, but there were a few jazz clubs like Humphrey Lyttleton's 100 Club, the All Nighter in Earl's Court and the Establishment where Dudley Moore played. So you went to these instead and danced.”
Every weekend, unbeknown to her parents, she would host parties at the family's Mayfair home for members of London's soon-to-be smart set. Friends such as the young Michael Caine and Terence Stamp (who were then sharing a flat around the corner) would come and socialize, drinking and dancing to the latest jazz sounds. It was around this time that she met music impresario Chris Blackwell. Blackwell offered her a job as his PA, and so she became the first employee of Blackwell's legendary Island Records.
“Working for Chris was a unique experience. It was the early days of Ska and Bluebeat, and off we'd go to clubs, pubs and home-made recording studios in the Jamaican community scouting for talent. Chris would hold impromptu auditions at his rented flat (which also doubled as an office), bashing out the only three chords he knew on a rickety old piano whilst the unphased singer would do his or her thing. It was all very ad hoc. Chris and I did everything between us – the accounts, publicity, the lot. And when my father bought me a Rolliflex camera as a birthday present Chris decided I should shoot the record covers too. If the original artists weren't available, Chris would simply use friends as stand-ins. I was paid £10 a cover (less if I wanted a credit!). So almost by accident I became a photographer”.