Love is in the air. And it’s on our walls.
It’s hanging there, mostly in bold colors, as a clear statement that photographer Ric Brooks loves music makers almost as much as he loves their music.
For years, Brooks has been the official unofficial photographer of Big Ears. And it’s a role he loves.
He’s a straightforward guy, I suspect he wouldn’t tell you any lies. So when he repeats that he isn’t a professional photographer, you believe that he believes it. Yet when you look at his work, you’ll recognize that he is a passionate shutterbug – which, in many ways, is exactly what you want for a festival that touches the very heart of passion.
His collection of work now hanging on our Market Square walls spans 2009 – 2017 and is mostly comprised of artists in action shots. Each one is a studied photo in its way. Brooks says, “I’m in the audience, listening, and I see a photograph that I want to take. Say, I see this look on the artist’s face, and I know I want to photograph it. I’ll have to take 3 or 4 just to get that expression. Lots of musicians will do certain things, make a move or something to get that high note; you know it – it’s what people call the guitar face. But you can see that happening in the song so you know it’s going to come back on the chorus or somewhere. I’m waiting for it. I know what photo I want.”
Some of the shots have a curious intimacy to them. There’s a striking moment when it would seem that he made eye contact with Laurie Anderson but, “of course she couldn’t see me. That’s chance. She can’t see me out in the audience. I don’t like to get up close.”
Brooks opines that it might be that, like Schrodinger’s cat, the artist, even in performance, changes when observed so closely by the eternal possibilities represented by a lens: “Surely as an artist you have to feel the presence of the photographer, and wonder ‘is it looking good, is that the correct side?’ “
Brooks and Big Ears founder Ashley Capps have a long and continuous friendship that dates back to Kindergarten. When Capps started doing concerts at the Laurel Theatre way back when, Brooks was there with a camera and, sometimes, catering too. When Capps opened Ella Guru’s, Brooks was there, managing, taking tickets, and meeting, hearing and watching.
Despite his wariness at labeling himself, Brooks is certainly conscious of his work as an art form – whether he admits it or not. Each photograph is a full image; one that extends all the way to the edge and border of the photograph, which are beautifully coupled by a stamp bearing his signature. Brooks carved the soapstone stamp himself, an inspiration drawn from his time in Japan, where he taught English for 4 years when just out of college. The stamp means “Little River, “ he says. “It’s my name.”
This distinctive element binds the subject, the art and the artist. And one might opine that this considered and loving combination represents a sense of a work’s entirety and rests at the heart of what makes Ric Brooks’ Big Ears photography so alluring. “I’m not assignment,” he says, which means he’s not visiting 3 or 4 concerts a night collecting images that he needs to post before a deadline: “I like to photograph a whole concert.”
His approach is a long form that yields a lot of treasure that we’re happy to share.
“Big Ears Big Eyes – Big Ears photos from 2009-2017”, an exhibit of photographs by Ric Brooks will be on view at the downtown Tomato Head on Market Square from March 5th thru April 1st. The exhibit will then be on view at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from April 3rd thru May 7th.