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  • Benjamin Collins

The Answer Is Clear

Finding unique photographs through conversation.


We got to talking about his instruments and gear. In the 1990's, Fender in Japan made accurate reissues of the classic '60s stratocaster. A guitar that defined generations of music. These guitars weren't just accurate, they were spot on. Tom's guitar was one of these reissues. For that reason alone, his guitar is special and sounds amazing.

Tom then went on to tell me about all the work he had done on the electronics of the instrument, shaping the sound with custom parts and shielding. The work he put into that guitar makes it incredibly unique and suited for his playing.

And speaking of electronics, Tom pulled out two rare Guild amps from the '60s. These amps are not nearly as popular as '60s and '70s Fender or Marshall amps. Though they should be...

He shows me the inside of the amp where I see dozens of tiny wires flowing around. Tom tells me how every wire is connected from point A to point B. The sound never passes through unnecessary connections.

"It's surprising" he says, "when you first play through this amp the sound comes right back to you. It's exactly what your fingers are playing, when they're playing. It's an incredibly intimate feeling, you feel one with the amp."

As a photographer, I'm always looking for little things that are unique to my subject. Little aspects that I can work into the photographs to create a stronger portrait of who that person is.

Tom made my job easy. During the conversation, it became clear we had to have his equipment in the photographs.

We arranged his gear and his songbook around the living room. I climbed the stairs that overlooked the living room and tried a couple test shots. Tom looked at the photos and said, "why don't we take this guitar out, and turn this upside down... almost like I'm standing upright as these things are falling".

"Let's do it!"

So I ran back up the stairs, stood over the scene again, and fired off a few more photos. We kept adjusting here and there until we knew we had it.

After that, we roamed around the house and outside, looking for light and texture. Tom's music comes from another world. A more compassionate world. I knew I wanted to capture this somehow. In the attic studio, there's a few glass panes that create a patterned rainbow when the sun shines through. I had Tom stand in front of it and we fired off a few shots, both with and without his guitar.

My biggest challenge is to create something unique. To try and push past my own work and beyond the reputation of who the person in front of my camera is. Chances are, someone's photographed them before. I try to be careful to not replicate past photographs.

Oftentimes the answer to avoid replication is right in front of me. I find conversations and time spent with subjects brings out ideas for unique photos.

By Ben M. Collins

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