My “day” job as a photographer frequently intersects with my “night” job as a professional drummer since I shoot work for a lot of my fellow musicians. Many times they are folks that I have played with at one time or another and eventually they need photo work for an album or promotional use. This project didn’t exactly come about in that way, yet it tied together my music and photo work more tightly than ever.
Mr. Green Strum
To say that Ryan Spearman is a talented musician would be like saying that Michael Schumacher is a good driver. Fact is, Spearman can play pretty much anything he touches and play it incredibly well. In fact, he can even make glorious music on instruments that weren’t meant to be instruments at all. He’s also an accomplished composer and teacher.
Additionally, Ryan has pioneered a unique initiative called the Green Strum Project: a combination of record label, series of workshops and educational program that re-purposes discarded items for musical use. Ever looked at an old wooden flatware case and wondered if you could turn it into a guitar? Ryan has, and he can show you how to do it too. From upright basses made from old speaker cabinets to cigar box fiddles, Spearman and his cohorts are literally making music from garbage. And it’s really good music.
Recently, Ryan collected several of these instruments and their makers for the recording of an album. According to Spearman, Get Along Home “features instruments made by local luthiers as well as homemade, local instruments built from recycled, found, and purchased items.” Once the album was completed, he started working with a local graphic designer on the design of the CD packaging. That designer was none other than the super-talented Karl Eggers, who happens to work at an ad agency I sometimes shoot for. Since the vision for the package involved photos of the instruments, Karl recommended me to Ryan and we connected from there.
After I spoke with Ryan about the project I knew I wanted to be involved. I spent some time at the St. Louis Earth Day Festival getting to know Ryan and watching him work and play (I even shot some video) and after seeing the instruments knew how I wanted to shoot them. On the day of the shoot, our conversation eventually led us to realize that we had several mutual friends and interests. I build instruments too (drums), he teaches lessons and jams with friends of mine. It was one of those “how in the hell don’t we know each other?” moments. And I’ve come to realize that such moments are one of the best (and frequently lucrative) parts of my job.
From Shoot To Show
The process of shooting Ryan’s assortment of instruments was pretty straightforward: since I wanted to complement the rustic aesthetic of the project I shot against a brick wall for texture but made it a little more sophisticated by adding a piece of sheer black fabric. This let me light the instrument and the background separately and softened up the texture of the brick a bit.
As the shoot was winding down, I asked Ryan to demonstrate how he plays the musical saw and snapped a photo while he did it. I had no intentions of using the image for anything other than a personal memento, but of course Karl loved it and wanted it for the CD. Of course. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have included the damn background stands in the shot! C’est la vie.
Things got really interesting a couple weeks later when I got a call from Ryan asking if I was available the night of his CD release party. I checked my schedule and, assuming he wanted me to shoot the event, said I wasn’t booked. He then replied that he wanted me to play drums with him at the gig. Wait, what?
You see, Ryan plays folk-tinged music that tends not to feature drums of any kind (ever seen a drummer on a bluegrass gig? nope.) so I was a little leery but I eventually acquiesced. I learned the songs, we rehearsed twice and on Saturday night we closed out his packed release party with a fun set featuring a full band. It was an absolute blast and I was honored to be included in the event since I believe strongly in the project. Anything that encourages people to make music, even from “found” items is dear to me. Naturally, on the gig I played a snare drum I built years ago.
I never really intended for my music gigs to land me photo gigs and vice versa, but in hindsight it makes a lot of sense. When I started shooting I naturally aimed my camera at my fellow musicians since they were the people surrounding me. And while I’ve gone on to shoot food, fashion and editorial assignments music is still the core of my existence. And I never tire of seeing people realize that Corey The Photographer and “Woody” The Drummer are the same person.**
For more info on Ryan and his various projects, please visit RyanSpearman.net.