Georges Yammine dedicates his life to two important instruments: his violin, with which he has been performing with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra since 2008, and his Leica cameras, thanks to which he has become a Leica Ambassador. He lives in Qatar where last year, due to the Covid 19 pandemic, people were obliged to wear plastic gloves. The artificial covering inhibits the connection between musician and instrument, hindering musical expression. Yammine took advantage of the enforced break from playing, to redirect his artistic talent into working with the camera. He let his fellow musicians fantasise about what it might be like if plastic gloves were to set the tone even after the pandemic, and what that might mean for their relationship to their instruments. In this interview, Yammine explains how he developed the idea for Silenced, about the relevance of hands, and the interaction between music and photography.
You work as a musician. What similarities do you see between your instrument, a camera, and the process of composing?
Being a violinist and a photographer, it’s normal that one art form influences the other. When I play the violin I see different images that I try to visualise later with my camera. And when I photograph, I try to compose my images based on harmony and dynamics… or on what Arnold Schönberg (Austrian-born composer and music theorist, 1874–1951 – ed. note) writes in his scores: “Hauptstimme and Nebenstimme” (Main Voice and Secondary Voice).
How did you come up with the idea of doing this project, Silenced?
As early as about 40,000 years ago, the first images of the human hand were depicted on cave walls in different parts of the world, almost simultaneously and independently of one another. From time immemorial, the hand has fascinated people as a transmitter of mental and emotional impulses, covering thoughts and ideas, translating them into reality, creating shape and sound. Serving as an indispensable means of expression for artists, the hand, veiled and dreaded as a potential medium of transmission, has now become a symbol of confinement.
My wife Veronika Farkas has written a wonderful text about what hands mean to us. Find the text here.
How does the pandemic affect the lives of musicians in particular?
All of a sudden and with full force, the state of limbo inflicted upon them confronts artists and society alike, with the question of what artistic activity means and what it is worth: thrown back to the origin of man’s need for artistic expression, one becomes aware once more that there is no alternative to art as such, as an indispensable refuge, a point of reference, a source of creativity, a means of expending one’s perceptions, a refinement of human nature, and an idealisation of human existence.
The present situation, the corona-induced standstill, also handcuffs and paralyses musicians worldwide. The enforced withdrawal into locked rooms, far away from the familiar concert halls and opera houses, the separation from the human vis-a-vis, lets many of these musicians slip into a dreamlike, claustrophobic parallel world, in which the focus seems to be directed to mere survival, and the digital option seems to be the only possible escape route for artistry.
Who are the protagonists photographed for Silenced?
I photographed my colleagues and friends, with whom I had to play several concerts that got postponed or cancelled… In these portraits, I wanted the musicians to try to imagine the plastic gloves being part of their future life, and see them with closed eyes.
Please tell us about the scores covered in plastic.
The idea for this installation came to my mind after a box of gloves accidentally fell from a shelf and covered my music scores while I was searching for a missing one… I immediately saw this photo, arranged the light and decided to create this still life.
There is only one fake instrument in the series, a keyboard made of foam. Please tell us about this particular “keyboard“.
Actually, this is a roll up, digital piano, that is used by singers to train their voice backstage or at home, if they don’t have access to a real piano. I decided to include it in the series, in order to give a surreal approach to the reality of a pianist’s life. Many pianists don’t own a piano, and now they not only can’t play concerts, but aren’t even able to practice at home…
Why did you choose black and white over colour?
Because with black and white I can eradicate a lot of distractions that can disturb the focus on the expressions of the musicians.
What kind of light did you use and what does light mean to you?
For this project I used studio lighting, because it reflects the atmosphere of concert and stage lighting. If darkness means silence for me, light means sound. And sound can be beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, vibrant or flat… For me light is sometimes more important than the subject itself; it can be the main subject of the picture.
What system did you use to photograph the project and what did you like about it?
I used the Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) with the Noctilux-M 50 f/1.0, as well as the Summicron-M 35 f/2 and the Summaron-M 28 f/5.6. I like the natural look of these lenses – also because I usually use them on my M6 in combination with the Monochrom, they offer me the best quality I’m looking for.
Speaking of future projects, what will you be up to next?
During these difficult times, I think of major artists such as Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, who did the best of their work in “quarantine”. At the moment, I’m working on two different projects, a short-term project and a long-term one… Not being able to travel makes it very challenging to realise them…
In the summer 2021, there will be live concerts in Shanghai: Bach suites for cello; and I was asked to provide a film to be projected alongside the music. The project will be released at the Guangzhou Opera House on June 14, 2021 and the Shanghai Symphony Hall on July 18, 2021. You can take a sneak peak on my Instagram channel. Preparing my images to make a film out of them has been a nice challenge. I hope, the concerts will be able to take place.
Born in Zekrit, Lebanon, in 1979, Georges Yammine moved to Germany in 1999 to study Violin at the Franz Liszt Hochschule in Weimar. In addition to music, he studied History of Art at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. He has been a member of the West Eastern Divan Orchestra since 1999, and a member of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra since 2008. A self-taught photographer, he has exhibited his works at the Leica Gallery Photokina Cologne/Germany, the Leica Gallery Salzburg/Austria, the Qatar Visual Art Centre, Brown University USA, the Bernheimer Fine Art Gallery Lucerne/Switzerland, and the Barenboim Said Foundation Berlin/Germany. In 2014 he published his first photo book, Funkelnde Hoffnung (A Spark of Hope), in collaboration with Maestro Daniel Barenboim in the course of his exhibition at photokina 2014. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.