Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Pete Turner - The Dr. No Of Photography
Pete Turner remains at the forefront of experimentation with new technology to create his most striking color images yet.
Pete Turner's home, at the farthest end of Long Island, N.Y., is exactly the way one would imagine it to be: full of brilliant colors. Bold red curtains hang over the windows, bright blue seat-cushions cover the wooden dining room chairs and an oversized rainbow-colored umbrella sits in a bucket in the entryway. In the front hallway, a red sofa shaped like lips is reminiscent of Turner's iconic “Hot Lips” photograph created in 1967 for the cover of an album, Soul Flutes: Trust in Me.
Turner, whose name is synonymous with color photography, has a long and distinguished career creating images for commercial, editorial and artistic purposes, including dozens of album covers. His new book, The Color of Jazz (Rizzoli, 2006), is a collection of photographs that appeared on jazz albums from the '50s through the '70s. His cover art was bold and daring, using interpretive rather than literal images at a time when most covers just had portraits of the musicians on them.
For the cover of a 1974 Hubert Laws album titled In the Beginning, Turner selected a photo he took in New Guinea while on assignment for Look magazine. In the photo, the faces of two tribesmen, covered in bright red, yellow and blue paint, pop out of a black background. The notes in the book explain how the photo was chosen: “The Biblical reference in the title promised sounds reaching back to the primordial, a feeling echoed by the twin tribal faces on the cover.”
The evocative nature of his photography fit the jazz scene so well that Turner was able to use many of his existing photographs for the covers. Occasionally, he created new images, such as the soulful “Hot Lips” photo, specifically for the albums.
Turner became part of the jazz scene very early in his career. Collecting LP covers was a popular thing to do at the time, and he thought it was a wonderful way to showcase photography. Says Turner, “People throw magazines away after they're done reading them. I've never seen an album cover being thrown away.” The idea of creating something that lasts really appealed to Turner.
He noticed the name Creed Taylor on the back of many albums and decided to show the music producer his photography. Taylor was impressed with the young man's extensive collection of color prints, which Turner had made himself while operating a military color lab in Long Island City, N.Y. It was 1958, and a color print was not only rare and expensive, but also the exclusive domain of professional lab technicians.
Turner and Taylor were a dynamic combination and ended up collaborating on many legendary album covers. Taylor wrote in the afterword for The Color of Jazz, “I worked with a lot of photographers over the years, but nobody stood out like Pete. He has the sensibility of a jazz musician; he just plays a different instrument.”