Barry Ollman Songs
Our aging photographer sits in her chair;
It gets harder to walk out the door.
Life was so simple in those younger days,
now they don't even sell film at the store.
She says "for so many years, I was mostly alone,
this camera, my lenses and me.
Now there's hundreds of millions,
one in every phone,
but I'm not sure there's much new to see.
She made a career shooting nature and nudes,
the obvious subject matter
but Curtis and Stieglitz and Adams all told her
"never photograph just to flatter."
Image by image, she'd seen it all
and showed us so much in her way,
Embracing her life one day at a time
while watching the light at play
Watch the play of light...
With no fear of dying,
that never seemed hard
She's much more afraid of losing her sight...
The curtains are open, a storm coming in;
I shudder to think she smiled
Then she'd throw her 35 over her shoulder
and walk for a couple of miles
Back in the day, as she recalled,
her camera never felt heavy.
She'd slip out the door and everything fit
into the back of her surf green Chevy
Which looked even better in black and white
She watched and waited till the moment was right.
For Imogen, a life lived in focus;
you've outlasted them all
For seventy years at the touch of your finger,
you documented the fall
From silver and platinum at the setting of suns,
to pixels and digits all zeros and ones.
Our aging photographer sits in her chair...
Words and music, Barry Ollman, 2012.
Way back in those 1970's my brother, Arthur, became friendly with one of the great photographers of the 20th Century, Imogen Cunningham. Later, as the founding Director of the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts, he also worked with Ansel Adams, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Arnold Newman and many other masters of the art. Anyway, a few years ago, Arthur described a phone conversation that he had had with Imogen that quickly inspired this song.
It's only loosely based on my impressions of Imogen as I've used artistic license and taken liberties with various details of her story. (Think... Paul Simon's So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright). For example, she passed away well before the easy availability of digital photography which was only in its most nascent stages toward the end of her life.
In this song, I imagine a true artist watching with some reticence as the art form that she mastered over a long life time, approaches a period of great and unimaginable change. There are other little details that I used only to suit the song, such as the image of her throwing her "35" over her shoulder when Imogen herself famously used large format cameras. In that sense, the song is not to be taken literally but as an affectionate homage...
I took Imogen's Lament into the studio and sent an early demo of it to my friend Graham Nash, a great photographer in his own right, as well as a long time noted collector of important photographic works, and he was more than encouraging. He offered to sing the song as a duet with me and on numerous occasions told me not to finish my record until he had sung on it. As a fervent fan of his music, my answer was essentially "Yes, Sir!"
In June of 2012, Graham happened to be in Denver working on a Crosby, Stills and Nash video editing project which he invited me to help out with. He had a flight out of town booked for a Sunday night, but kept saying that we should get into a studio and record his vocals for Imogen's Lament. On Sunday afternoon, as we were finishing up the editing for the CSN 2012 DVD, he said "find a studio for tonight and I'll change my flight to tomorrow".
I immediately called Nick Forster and asked for his studio suggestions. We had no luck reaching a Denver studio on a Sunday night. Then he called me back and said that James Tuttle would meet us at Airshow Mastering in Boulder in an hour. Graham was as cool as ever and didn't complain at all about the 45 minute drive up to Boulder.
Of course, on the way there, I missed a turn and got us hopelessly lost. As we drove, Graham had a song idea that he invited me to write with him. The song that came out of that trip is called "Exit Zero" and that's a whole other story. I will say that hearing Crosby, Stills and Nash playing a song numerous times on their 2013 tour that I am a co-writer on, has been one of the high points of my musical life!