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Book Review

Tatjana Rantasha: Jazzthetics


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Tatjana Rantasha
120 pages
Avant Press

Behind every photographer, there are years of training and experience, plenty of time spent on preparation for shooting, days of selection and post-production and only one second of shooting. And yet, when done well, a moment has been frozen in time and emotion has been captured for eternity. Jazz music has long had its own chroniclers be they journalists or writers, but photographers as well. These photographers have captured live performances or moments off stage by various artists, or in a private settings and have been instrumental in shaping the image of this music in popular culture. One such chronicler of the Macedonian jazz scene is photographer Tatjana Rantasha, who has been an inseparable feature of the cultural scene in Macedonia for many years. Rantasha has more than 15 years of experience, and her passion for the camera is clearly matched by her passion for music in this precious document on the Macedonian jazz scene. For years, Rantasha has documented various concerts and events not only in the capital Skopje but beyond and finally her work documenting local Macedonian jazz music has been published for the first time in a book titled Jazzthetics (Džeztetika).

For this definitive collection of her work, Rantasha has retrieved plenty of previously unseen photographs, published here for the first time, alongside her most famous and widely recognized images that musicians have been using for years for press releases. There is more than meets the eye in this book. Every photo is a pleasure to pore over as the main protagonists are shown in a unique setting. Rantasha has taken her camera to various concerts, sessions, rehearsal rooms, smoky clubs, or outdoor locations. There are some striking close-up shots, but more informal shots predominate in the book. We can see the musicians playing, setting up, relaxing, and posing. Compelling and moving, some of Rantasha's images are unique portraits taken at various outside locations. Some of them are unstylized and unposed snapshots as opposed to the uniformity of most portraits taken and used in the press.

Each chapter has handwritten words and thoughts by renowned writer Aleksandar Prokopiev about jazz which adds depth to the book. These writings are dispersed among the many portraits of musicians from different generations and playing different instruments, from younger guitarists Sasho Popovski, Filip Bukrshliev, Georgi Shareski, Bojan Petkov—Shamba, Muhamed Ibrahimi to drummer Viktor Filipovski, elderly representatives such as drummer Goce Stevkovski, multi-instrumentalist and composer Dzijan Emin, bassist Darko Muchev, pianist Simon Kiselichki, the late bottle player Zoran Madzirov, drummer Mihail Parushev. There are even more elderly statesmen like guitarists Vlatko Stefanovski, Toni Kitanovski, bassist Bodan Arsovski, and keyboardists Damir Imeri and Kokan Dimushevski. She captures her subjects with an alert and sensitive eye. She gets close to the subjects without any trace of intrusion and captures something distinctive in their personalities.

As a body of work, Rantasha's portfolio is a valuable record of the Macedonian jazz community today. Her photographs have put a face on these people's music. Jazzthetics is a powerful meditation on Macedonia's contemporary jazz scene. It is a unique document where the images themselves are the main protagonists and it showcases the creative powers in Macedonia and the powerful relationship between the photographer and her subjects. It's a snapshot of a lively music scene that was hit firstly by unfavorable economic conditions, and then the COVID pandemic and yet, creatively it thrives.

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