Capturing the heart of a performer

There’s a fascinating moment to observe during a Mill Session. The artist arrives, casual and bubbling in nervous energy. After the introductions and pre-production exchange, they disappear to the green room to change while we finish the setup…

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With lights in place, cameras and mics primed, we wait for them to be ready. Today, after introductions and welcome chit chat, our Pianist Haley Myles disappeared stage left in her casual attire. I imagine our artists bring out a handful of magic dust from a small bag, dowse themselves and reappear in the hall, confident, dressed and ready to perform. Most of our artists bring a range of outfits which match the piece they’re performing. All this might seem superfluous, but in many ways the costume the artist chooses is as important a part delivery as the performance itself. It puts them in the role and, of course, this is a visual medium and each change helps tell the story of the music they have chosen to perform.

Haley re-appeared stage left, a different person, ready to perform in the first of her evening dress incarnations. She walked with a calm determination to the Steinway, alone on the large stage and began the first of the takes with an enchanting Chopin nocturne.

On the day of a Mill Session, my main role is photography. I need to capture something formal, something candid and also document the events of the day. I know that these filming sessions are a big deal for the artist, as they are for us. I want them to have something to look back on, as well as some images that are going to show their personality as an artist. It’s a great job, I take genuine joy in capturing an image that shows the sparkle in their personality – and there’s always some sparkle – which is probably why they have found themselves here, performing in front of a crew of strangers in a beautiful concert hall.

“She did, however, have sparkly shoes.”

Taking photographs on the day gives me the chance to get to know the musician and I take the opportunity to lighten the mood and help them relax a bit. Of course, having me stick a lens right in your face doesn’t exactly feel relaxing, but with the right combination of enquiry and wit, the atmosphere usually warms up.

It was a joy to listen to the Chopin nocturnes and the Scherzo performed with such skill and it’s always intriguing to see the different way musicians interpret a piece and how they physically perform. But, the real surprise was when Haley threw herself into some Argentinian dances, like a thrilling storm escaping across the keyboard.

“I take genuine joy in capturing an image that shows the sparkle in their personality”

Haley had arrived wide eyed and energetic. She instantly seemed professional with just the right amount of nerves. I hadn’t realised she was from all the way across the Atlantic, a girl from Kansas who now finds herself in Manchester’s Stoller Hall, with it’s juxtaposed intimacy and grandeur. Without fail, during one of our chats, I had to take the opportunity to announce, “We’re not in Kansas anymore…”. Haley was ever the professional, politely pointing out that she isn’t Dorothy. She did, however, have sparkly shoes.

James Cardell-Oliver

Creative Director

James is an experienced photographer, digital designer and marketer supercharging the Mill Media Company. He is a multi-instrumentalist living on a blurred line between classical and country music.

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