Till Brönner is Germany´s most successful Jazz musician in history. Throughout his career he has worked with the greats from the Jazz and Pop world. In 2001 Till participated in a documentary called “Jazz Seen” where he explores the commonalities between Jazz and photography. After, Till bought his first Leica M8 camera and started taking portraits of his fellow musicians- the work did not go unnoticed- and now his portraits series of actors, athletes, authors, and activists has made him a newly noted photographer in the art world.
This is my interview with famous trumpeter and photographer, Till Brönner.
Conducted and penned by Roman Kozak
My disguise as a musician might help at times when I approach people for a portrait, because they don’t seem to expect the photographer behind the jazz trumpet artist
RK: Till, you are a famous jazz musician, you developed and studied in the area of music. Why and how did you start photography?
For a long time I wasn’t that interested in photography at all. Of course I was photographed pretty often for my covers, press occasions and collaborations with other artists. But it wasn’t until a personal meeting with the late William Claxton that photography caught my attention. When Leica, a pretty inventive German brand, handed me an M-Model to try out I started to carefully take pictures of my music colleagues and peers. This is what started everything.
RK: I noticed in many photos the same woman – who is she, is she your muse? And if not, who is she?
Beauty can be an addiction, whether it might be inner or outward beauty. You have to have a good reason for a picture. Ulla Lommen is a highly gifted Germany based model from Dusseldorf who happens to have at least 10 different faces if not personalities besides her obvious charms – we have a great level of trust and the results are always of wide scope. Something very essential on your way to a longer-lasting picture.
RK: Typically what things inspire you?
Pureness, Perfection, Nature and likable human spots of bother (laughs).
RK: I found your series “Faces of Talent” to be very deep and thoughtful, showing the soul of each person. How do you find the right angle in human faces to catch exactly the right emotion? How do you get them to express themselves so openly?
I can’t explain the mystery of mystery. But I think in the end it’s always a matter of choice. My disguise as a musician might help at times when I approach people for a portrait, because they don’t seem to expect the photographer behind the jazz trumpet artist I am in my regular occupation. Once in photo-mode I try not to bother people to long. I usually take 5 pictures and I announce that small number beforehand. Than I have to live with what I have.
RK: In your photos I feel the jazz – in the places you’ve shot and especially in the faces. For you, what is a more powerful feeling when you photograph? Does jazz prompt you to take photos, or to create artworks? While you are working in photography do you often find yourself inspired to start playing the trumpet immediately?
In my head I completely separate my instrument from my camera work. I just don’t think about music when I take pictures. But I suspect my thinking as a musician being helpful in terms of interaction between me and my opponent. Something very essential. You simply get to feel immediately when the energy drops. So you better start entertaining your muses or call it a day, shortly.
RK: Your photos have been published in famous magazines. How would you describe the experience of collaborating on such a big commercial scale? Do you like those collaborations or do you prefer the intimacy of gallery shows?
I am fortunate to have the opportunities you’re mentioning. But I am also aware I am still at the beginning of all this. There is a tempting number of offers to publish work but you can damage your perception overnight, especially if people benchmark you against your musical achievements. I therefore try to stay positively critical where I show my work including some passes on a few very attractive platforms so far.
RK: Do you like to shoot with a team – stylist, mua and others, or do you prefer to work alone just with the model and your idea? In the future, do you see yourself focusing on fashion photography?
I usually don’t have a big team, at least I try to keep it down to hair/make-up and one assistant mostly, if at all. But it depends on the set size, really. I love fashion photography, although not a lot of my work mirrors that. At least so far. It also seems a rather underrated segment in terms of recognition while a pretty sensitive 360 degree view on every detail is required to get great results. Fashion photography means perfection to a remarkable level. You have to be willing to delve into the designer world and how it’s being created both in the past and nowadays. Then you forget about it and try to stage it with your camera. Great fashion photography still brings out the model’s personalities which is your responsibility as a photographer. A pretty tough ticket to buy.
RK: I heard about your new exhibition in September. What type of photos should we expect to see? What will the story of the exhibition be? What would you like people to walk away with when they leave?
My work is up at the House of Photography in Burghausen/Bavaria until the end of October. It includes quite a number of “Faces of Talent” from my book (teNeues Publishing) and some street photography and places I traveled as a musician. This combination turned out to be working great. I felt a wonderful vibe in this old castle and a special energy that allows most portraits to follow the visitor through the room – something I haven’t found in a lot of places so far.
RK: Thank you very much for your time and I wish you the best of the summer, lots of inspiration and fresh ideas for the fall!
cover photo: artist & singer “Seal”, copyright Till Brönner