Glen Craig, born in New York City in 1949, started taking pictures at age 12. By 16, his images were published in magazines in the United States and Europe and he later studied at Parsons School of Design in New York. Glen is known for photographing legends in music including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and B.B. King. His portfolio on Miles Davis was a part of the Leica Galerie at Photokina 2014, The Leica Gallery in LA and the Leica Store Gallery in Miami. The exhibition now moves to The Leica Store Gallery in Washington D.C. on April 1st and at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in SoHo, New York City, where a private reception will be held on April 28th and will open to the public from April 29th through May 12th. The upcoming feature film about Miles Davis’ life,“Miles Ahead,” will open in theaters April 1st, starring and directed by Don Cheadle. Below, Glen discusses his personal insights into Miles Davis’ private life, and what it was like working with the jazz master himself.
Q: How did you become involved with photography? How long have you been shooting professionally?
A: At 16, I was already contributing to magazines in this country and parts of Europe on the music side. I was doing things like Sixteen Magazine, Teen Beat, Hullabaloo; all of the magazines like that were feeding the industry at the time. How I also got involved was through a model named Jeannie Cameron from Ford Models and Gordon Parks, who was at LIFE at the time. Gordon took pictures of Jeannie and her family for LIFE. Jeannie was a neighbor and a friend. She showed Gordon some of my work and that relationship grew to the point where Gordon was mentoring me. I was able to go up to LIFE in the darkroom and meet some of the fabulous printers.
When I was studying at Parsons School of Design, I had a friend who worked at MOMA in the photography department. He always got me up there. I got knowledge that was incredible by putting on white gloves and being able to handle Eugene Smith prints, among others, and see the actual printing, not from a book. In that time period, I was studying graphic design and photography at the same time. Benedict Fernandez was the chairman of the photography department, who was also Martin Luther King’s photographer. Ben got me more and more into Leica and that culture. We also had Diane Arbus, who influenced me more on the portrait side.
Q: Turning to the Miles Davis work, the one thing that comes through very strongly in all of these images is the phenomenal intensity of Miles Davis. Whether he’s onstage playing his trumpet, leaning over the controls of a sound mixer or working out at a gym, he projects a powerful presence, focused energy, and a strong inner sense of self. Do you agree, and if so, what was your strategy for capturing these qualities?
A: The intensity was always there. It was an inner type of thing with him. It was also a defense mechanism to the outside world. Let’s put it this way, he was militant at the time. The first day I went to his house, he finally answered the door and ushered us in, the writer and myself, sat us down and put on some unreleased new music. Afterward, he went and took a shower, came back, and picked up the conversation from there. He started quizzing us in terms of what we’re drawing from in the music content, testing us, testing the writer in terms of his past musical jazz knowledge, how much we knew about Miles Davis. Well, we passed. It took about a week of caginess in terms of him warming up to me until I was okay.
I’ve been around musicians all my life, so in studios while recording and other things, you just know when not to shoot, when not to stick a camera in somebody’s face, and when to just go for it. He sensed that. He was a very, very aware person in his environment, in terms of his fashion, in terms of his outlook on things. He had seen a little bit of my previous work, so he had an idea of “Hey I’m not going to get butchered here.”
Q: What camera did you use to shoot them?
A: I was using a Leica M4 camera, which were new at the time. Lens-wise it was a 35mm and 90mm Summicron and a Leicaflex with a 180mm 3/4 aperture.
Q: Those were Leica R lenses and M lenses, correct?
Q: You shot these photos on film. What film did you use?
A: Having come from an extensive technical background, in terms of Leica Akademie Wetzlar, I learned how to print with a gentleman named Gar Lillard, who taught me how to print black-and-white. Gar, who passed away recently, was a fashion printer and he’s printed for everybody from Patrick Demarchelier, Helmut Newton, Sarah Moon, you name it.
The film was basically Ilford because Ilford had a double layer of silver content, much more than Kodak. I used Ilford FP4, HP5, and then there was some fine-grain film that was partly done for portraits from a Germany company called Adox, which is still in business today. It’s a very, very fine grain to work with.
Q: What image is your favorite in this gallery and why?
A: The last thing you want to do is to disrupt the music in any way, so I work quietly and discretely sometimes. The significance of a particular photo becomes apparent only after the moment has passed. The most intense images have to be the gym series. He used to say, “Let’s go in the car and go up to the gym.” We’d go there together, and he was good boxer. I’ll never forget the anger in those eyes as he punched the speed bag. I think it came across in my photographs. I used a 35 mm lens – not a telephoto. I was right in his face – two feet away – so you get all of that emotion in the frame. Those images are the strongest. That’s how he took out his frustrations and anger – whatever was pent up inside.
Q: The onstage picture of Miles leaning back with his trumpet in the air and his hands up is a completely different feeling. Next to him is this strong set of microphones and it looks like an on-stage portrait. And yet, it doesn’t have that feeling; it’s like the stage beyond the stage.
A: That was the Fillmore East in New York City, which was four nights of concerts that were being recorded, and that’s the CD that’s out now of which I contributed the cover and the inside photographs. That was taken on the left side of the stage behind the speaker columns. Literally, I’m on stage, nobody can see me, and that was taken with a 35 mm lens. No telephoto, no nothing! So I’m right by the mixing board, hidden behind the speakers, nobody can see me, so there’s your panorama across. It doesn’t look like a 19; it doesn’t look like a 21. That’s a 35. Bingo!
Miles developed boxing at an early age. Boxing to him was like Rocky Balboa preparing for the fight. Miles used the boxing to gain strength and discipline and, more importantly, wind and diaphragm control. As a trumpet player, you’re playing and scaling notes. Also what came from that, as for the jumping rope and things like that, influenced the feet. So if you see all my photographs in a sequence, it’s like a sequence in ballet seen in his feet and the way he moved onstage. And he executed, coming up to do a solo, and then bringing the trumpet down in very orchestrated ballet type of moves. In this case, people would take it as ballet, but it was coming from all the boxing training.
Q: One of the most amazing pictures in this entire portfolio is a picture of Miles Davis where he’s facing the camera, but he’s looking off. He’s holding his hand out, his thumbs to his fingers, and he’s wearing a white caftan with little beads. The composition, the technical quality, and the image that it conveys of his thoughtfulness, his introspection, and his seriousness – it literally reveals his genius in a totally visual modality, which is extraordinary. How did you come to shoot this incredible image and can you provide any technical data to tell us about the lighting or anything else?
A: That was one day after practicing. He came up from the basement where he had a rehearsal studio. That was taken in the backyard of the house on 77th street, so that was the backyard. We were chilling and relaxing. He was the kind of person who spoke a mile a minute in thought. In that time, he had embraced me. How he embraced you was by putting his hand around you and giving you a left jab into your stomach. That’s how you knew you were okay. Up until then, you don’t know. So we were just talking and, by that time, he was comfortable with me shooting him and I just brought up the camera. So, for one, that lighting, is mother nature, and that was done with Adox film. That was done with a 35 mm Summicron.
Q: This image is great because it shows that even in a moment of relaxation, resting between workout sessions at the gym with his female trainer standing nearby, Miles Davis is still tense, focused, and considering his options, like a person who was always on and dares not drop his guard. Am I reading too much into this or do you think this illustrates an element of his personality and the way he interacted with the world around him?
A: That is not a female trainer. Her name is Marguerite. That was Miles’ main squeeze at the time. She’s also the mother of his son, Erin Davis. She used to like to come along and she would participate and was welcomed.
Q: What about the part about Miles being a person who dares not drop his guard?
A: To the outside world, the answer is yes; he was always on guard. But privately, once you got to know him, he wasn’t always on guard. There were soft moments, there were quiet moments, and there were intimate moments.
Q: There’s another image where his girlfriend is holding down his legs and he’s doing sit-ups. Part of the charm of the image is the motion of Davis’ arms evidently doing sit-ups as a beautiful woman is holding his ankles down. It’s a kind of tender moment, but even then an intense expression on his face reveals that he is focused on the task at hand rather than the situation or the setting. What were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release and what film, camera lens, aperture, and shutter speed did you use?
A: Basically, that was a part of his warm up routine before going in and doing speed work like heavy bags. I’m viewing this intimately. I’m not looking at it as an onlooker or a stalker; I’m looking at it as being a relationship. And that was a Leica decisive moment: that point that tells a story in a picture of the two of them interacting in terms of their relationship, his love for her and the workout. Again, this is Ilford HP5, a 35 mm Summicron, somewhere around a 30 at f/4, the rating was probably like double, about 800 ISO.
Q: What, if anything, do you hope the viewer sees or gains when looking at these images?
A: The viewer gets to look at a man who was a very private person. I was part of his inner world and inner circle. There is intimacy in the photographs. You’re seeing the storyline and the emotions of a person through the photographs. Hopefully, this will draw you in. I hope that the viewers will want to know more about Miles and his music. We’re finding that these images are opening up a new generation of listeners. Hopefully, this will draw people in to listen to Miles’ older music and some of the new projects coming out. When we did those concerts for Bill Graham at the Fillmore East and West the audience went on a musical journey. They walked away exposed. That’s what I would like to happen with this exhibit. I want people to be exposed to Miles in a new way.
Q: Do you believe that these images stand on their own in the sense that they would be compelling and meaningful even if your subject didn’t happen to be one of the greatest musical geniuses of the 20th century?
A: Yes. Taking a photograph of yourself or anybody, there are elements within the photograph to bring out. So when I’m photographing something like this, my objective is telling a story. Each picture has to stand on its own and then become components and elements together. If I’m taking a picture of you, it has to be a strong picture. You learn when you’re editing to be the hardest on yourself in terms of being your worst critic in order to produce a strong image. And I think that by using film, even today, it’s a discipline in terms of you shooting. It’s not like, “Okay, let’s press the motor drive and let’s take a thousand digital pictures and we’ll pick one out of the batch and then we’ll go and fix it on the computer.” The picture has to stand by itself, whether it’s Miles Davis or yourself.
Thank you for your time, Glen!
– Leica Internet Team
A Day in the Life of Miles Davis will be shown at the Washington D.C. Leica Store on April 1st with the opening exhibition from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City starting April 29th through May 12th, open to the public, with a private event preceding it on April 28th.
The first exhibition occurred at Leica Store Miami Gallery on September 1st through November 30, 2015. To learn more about Miles Davis and some exciting projects surrounding his life and work, visit milesdavis.com. Look for the upcoming feature film about Miles Davis’ life opening in theaters April 1st, “Miles Ahead,” starring and directed by Don Cheadle. You can also purchase “Miles at The Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3″, on the Miles Davis website or on iTunes.