Anyone who’s been to a Musica Viva concert – or flicked through a copy of Limelight – will be familiar with the work of Keith Saunders. The photographer has shot musicians from Angela Hewitt, Alina Ibragimova and the Takács Quartet to local artists like the Goldner String Quartet and Arcadia Winds. A new exhibition by the artist, Side Take, (in which Saunders’ work is displayed alongside that of still-life photographer Michael Bradfield at The Roller in Zetland) will showcase outtakes and behind the scenes photographs from shoots he’s done for arts clients over the years.

Keith Saunders, Photography, Classical Music, Alina IbragimovaViolinist Alina Ibragimova. Photo © Keith Saunders

Saunders has been shooting musicians for three decades. “I lucked into a job in London assisting a music photographer and immediately liked being around the performers and music makers and the people enabling the performances,” he tells Limelight. “When I began shooting on my own it was clear to me that music photography was what I should focus on most and 30 years later I still love it as much as I did when I started.”

“Classical music has so much variety and there are so many interesting people involved,” Saunders says. “I love the music and am very lucky to hear plenty of it played during my shoots. As musicians are primarily in the business of sounding fantastic, many are not so comfortable in front of the camera so it is delightful to work with them to make them feel good and therefore look great in their publicity photographs. And it is thrilling to photograph an orchestra in full flight from up close, sometimes in amongst the musicians, feeding off the energy of the playing.”

Concerto Copenhagen, Keith SaundersConcert Copenhagen cellist rides away at the Copenhagen Opera House. Photo © Keith Saunders

Across his career – which sees him travel the world as well as shooting in Australia – Saunders has watched all kinds of artists and musicians through his viewfinder. So who have been his favourites? “One shoot I absolutely loved was Concerto Copenhagen for Musica Viva,” he says. “We shot on a balcony of the incredible Copenhagen Opera House, on the first warm day after the winter so they were all happy to be outside in the lovely soft northern European light. The session had a lot of energy about it, we had a great prop – an old leather suitcase – and they all know each other very well so were continually laughing and trying out different things for the camera which made my job pretty straightforward. The final shot I took was the cellist pedalling off into the distance on his bike, with the rest of the band giving him quite a send off.”

Vladimir Ashkenazy, Keith SaundersVladimir Ashkenazy backstage. Photo © Keith Saunders

Saunders’ exhibition, part of the Head On Photo Festival, will show a different side to his work, one that doesn’t wind up in program books or the pages of magazines. “The pictures in this show are outtakes from the shoots I undertake for my arts clients – they are slightly more abstract and quirky, more behind the scenes. They offer a beautiful glimpse backstage and the moments between the portraits where the subject is blissfully unaware of the camera, rather than the polished final published image the public sees.”


Side Take is at The Roller, Sydney until May 15 as part of the Head On Photo Festival

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