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DiverseCity 2019 calendar available

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Masterclass with David Francey

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A group portrait and video of Prince Edward Island musicians

by Anna Karpinski

Anna Karpinski lines up her subjects for Something in the WaterThe idea to photograph a group portrait of Island musicians was conceived, as many things are, at the kitchen table over a couple of beers. We were talking about music and I was commenting on how I wanted to do a photography project on the music scene here on the Island. It seemed to me that good things were happening, people were writing songs, making CDs and touring noticeably more than when we first moved here 8 years ago. My husband suggested a photograph like “A Great Day in Harlem.”

“What’s that?” I asked. He proceeded to educate me on this iconic image.

The image was organized and taken by Art Kane for the cover of Esquire magazine in 1958. He invited jazz musicians, representing three generations of jazz history, to gather on 126th street in Harlem at 10 am for a group portrait. His biggest fear was that many would not show up at such an early hour since most musicians played until  3 or 4 in the morning. To his surprise 57 musicians came out: Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, to name just a few. The second challenge was to get the musicians to stop talking long enough to organize into a group because most were friends who had played together at one time or another and were too busy catching up to pay attention to the photographer.

Not much has changed since 1958... My biggest fear was that many musicians would not show up to stand outside on a freezing February afternoon. To my great surprise 76 musicians gathered for the photograph. And just as Art Kane warned, they were all too busy talking to pay attention to the photographer. Everyone was gathered in Memorial Hall at the Confederation Centre, drinking coffee and catching up. I was trying to get them to move in front of Province House but could not be heard over the conversations bouncing off the walls. After many failed attempts, a group of people next to me voted Mike Dixon as loudest voice in the room and his holler got everyone outside just in time to catch the good sunlight.

Mille Clarkes shot film footage as everyone naturally assembled into a group pose. When I looked through my camera lens the scene was incredible. Everyone stood looking straight ahead smiling and joking amongst themselves. There were musicians from younger bands like Boxer the Horse and Racoon Bandit standing together with long-time players like Chris Corrigan, Chas Guay and Scott Parsons. Katie McGarry, new to the scene, stood with Meaghan Blanchard, Colette Cheverie and Cynthia McLeod. Tim Chaisson stood behind Allan Dowling who was beside Ian Toms and Glen Strickey and so on and so on.  It was a magical moment; a crowd of passers-by started to form to watch the proceedings.

The photograph and documentary film, both entitled Something in the Water are being exhibited at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery as part of the Warming Up exhibition curated by Pan Wendt. The exhibition runs from April 2 until June 19. An opening reception will be held at the gallery on April 2 at 7 pm.

A great thanks to all the musicians who came out for the shoot and to our sponsors, The City of Charlottetown, The Buzz, The Island Media Arts Co-op and Music PEI. A special thanks as well to Ryan Wilson for assisting on the photo and Adam Perry for assisting on the filming.

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