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Ziga Koritnik and The Eye

John Kelman By

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"Working conditions change all the time," Koritnik continues. "I just follow the wave. When I am 'chasing' somebody and get a 'Yes, you can do it,' then I improvise on where I'm going to photograph him/her. At that very moment, I must decide very quickly, because I usually only get 10 or 15 minutes.

"I never know what to expect," Koritnik continues, "and that is what I like. You just do what you do, go where your work goes. This is what I learned, among many other things, from the improvised scene. And to enjoy it. I consider myself as a documenter of my time, as somebody who really enjoys his work and has enjoyed great opportunities—the chance to be in the company of some of the biggest artists of our time.

"Photography is something you are enchanted with," concludes Koritnik, "and for me is inexplicable. You either have it in you ... or not. And this, I think makes my pictures different than the others. When you are in the scene with total sincerity, without any special expectations, the scene gives back to you. You just need to be there and be prepared. Everything is about the music that we love so much. And my small contribution to music is my photography...for those who want it, of course."

Who wouldn't want the images Koritnik captures in Cloud Arrangers? From the unfettered joy and abandon of Pat Metheny and B.B. King—brought together on a single page as if they always belonged together—and an enigmatic picture of a triumphant Miles Davis in the 1980s to a shot of Charles Lloyd, playing maracas with unshackled spirituality, Koritnik's eye sees the exact moment when the creative process is at its peak.

Few photographers would place incendiary free improviser Mats Gustafsson on the same page as bass groove-meister Marcus Miller, but it's exactly that combination which demonstrates Koritnik's rare and special eye: they shouldn't work in the same book, let alone on the same page, but in Koritnik's world, they do.

Guitarist Stian Westerhus and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær were, by the time of Cloud Arrangers, long-time and well-known band mates, but who'd have thought they'd be so readily identifiable in stark silhouette? Or that a picture of nothing but the waistline of an unidentified musician next to a spare wooden table of retro electronics and reeds could somehow come together to become more than each image's individual moment? Or how an exit sign—one of the book's few color images—signals the end of Cloud Arrangers, almost acting as the return to a normal world view after over 300 pages of images that don't just report, they transport?

Which all comes back to The Eye. Like improvising musicians who somehow manage to pull form from the ether, there are some who believe that, technical skills aside, you're either born with it or not. Like a musician finding his/her voice, for a photographer, finding his/her eye is the ultimate goal. That said, in a 2011 All About Jazz interview, guitarist John Scofield spoke about that very thing: "I heard [bassist] Charlie Haden say—and this is really an oversimplification—that everybody has their own voice in music; it's just there. It's like having a voice when you talk; when you hear someone on the phone, you know it's them from just one word. It's like that playing your instrument; I think we just have to accept it. We're all music fans and we want to sound like our idols, and sometimes we get confused when we're trying to copy them. But at the end of the day, after you do all this copying, you go to play, you go to improvise, and it's not gonna come out like your idol, it's gonna come out like you."

Koritnik's view is not dissimilar: "Everybody wants to make a special picture, a photo that has never been seen before. We are all different: we all come from different cultures; we all live in different circumstances; we all have different parents. I always ask myself: 'Is this it? Is that a good one? Did I find something very unique?'

"The best way to stay unique," Koritnik continues, "is to concentrate 100% on your work, to make sure that your internal thoughts and feelings always work in a positive and loving direction for the subject with whom you are working. I always try to get myself into a position where I am completely open to what I am doing. I take care that my camera works properly, that it is always set close to the proper exposure and ready to be used. I like to find places and festivals where I am welcome and that have good working conditions. I like places where there's a good vibration in the air. What I like very much is exploring and learning about new cultures and new environments."


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