Documenting the Jazz Scene

Paul Hoeffler, Photographer

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What a wonderful night. Paul wrapped up his talk with a candid and informative Q&A session that didn't end until Vince Guccione reluctantly turned down the lights and stacked the chairs, ready for another day. Earlier, you could hear the soft rhythms of jazz in the background, the clink of glasses, people roaming, chatter... Occasionally there was a flash of light in the smoky haze as a young photography student from Rochester quietly documented another jazz great - Armstrong, Ellington, Billie Holiday, and many more. They were all here again tonight.

This portrait of Paul was taken on site by Bob Lansdale with his trusty Kodak digital. I rendered it in B&W in the spirit of the images Paul showed and discussed this evening.
Click for larger image Click for larger image
Click for larger image Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Click for larger image

The evening began with three short videos. The first a TV Ontario (TVO) bio of Paul and his work from the 1950s to current times. This was followed by a much shorter CBC entertainment segment with John Northcott and a much longer review by RNews, a Rochester NY cable channel, on the 2003 opening of a months-long display of Paul's work at his alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Note: These videos marked the first use of a video projector at a PHSC meeting rather than multiple televisions.

Slide Show repeats 3 times

The videos introduced Paul and set the stage for his slide-show of selected images spanning his career. The slides were followed by a lengthy and animated Q&A period which ended when we ran out of time (well before we ran out of questions and Paul out of answers). Click your browser's refresh button to restart the animated selection of images from the slide-show.

Following are a brief sample of the Q&A period:

Subject Matter. Throughout his career Paul met many of the Jazz musicians - Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday (who he drove home on occasion). The musicians were friendly and helpful to the youthful photographer, the stage lighting - augmented by flash - set the right mood, and the audiences were mostly very tolerant. He enjoyed working with classical musicians like Stokowski and Menuin too. Paul mentioned that he drove Stokowski to rehearsals and concerts at times, both artists enjoying the opportunity for animated conversations along the way.

Equipment. Paul worked with a variety of cameras including Canon, and a Leica IIIc with the little f/3.5 5cm Elmar. At one time he mounted a twelve inch plate camera lens on a bellows and used it as a telephoto lens on his Leica.

Fine Art Photography blossomed in Toronto in the 1980s, and died out in recent years with Jane Corkin Gallery the remaining gallery from that era (a second gallery, Corkin Shopland Gallery, opened November 2003). Sales through a gallery represent the major income for a Fine Art photographer. Paul used the Stephen Bulger gallery for five years, then moved on to web galleries like Mosaic, and his own web site. Unfortunately, Paul died a few years after this talk and his photographs are no longer offered by Mosaic.

Vintage Prints are made at the time the negative was created. Such prints are worth far more than contemporary prints from the same negative. For example, vintage Edward Weston prints are more valuable than modern prints made by his son Cole from the same negatives. This spread in value has led to fraud and misrepresentation. A recent example being the sudden increase in vintage prints from Lew Hines negatives. Analysis of many of the prints shows them to be modern prints - the photographic paper contained whiteners not available in the 1930s. Paul gave away most of his prints over the years so he has few of his own vintage prints although he has most of his negatives including some never printed.

Digital Images. Paul doesn't do digital. Presently there is no 'decisive moment' in digital photography due to the slow response time of digital cameras. Since digital printing is much easier than traditional processes, many photographers shoot film and print digital - Paul estimates about half the professionals take this approach today. Cost is about the same. Personally, Paul still enjoys the ambiance of the darkroom with its chemicals and images (B&W) slowly forming under the soft glow of the safe light. He feels archival quality in digital materials is still an issue. And while one NYC gallery specializes in digital prints, most galleries will not accept them -- yet (the transition from silver to digital continues to gain momentum).

Books & Shows. Paul has an 18 page monograph of his work from a show in Guelph, but no books as yet. He pursued publication of a book a few years ago with a local publisher but the deal fell through. The proposed contract was vague on ownership and seemed to call for Paul to relinquish rights to his images. He recommended Arnold Crane's 1998 book 'On the Other Side of the Camera' featuring stories and portraits of well known photographers. Paul has had 26 one-man shows over the past four years. Some show offers he has turned down, especially those paying far less than the cost of print preparation and setup.

... a time gone by. In the mid 20th century, it was easy to meet and photograph musicians. The artists were friendly and helpful, the audiences tolerant, and the lighting gave an ambiance and mood that suited the music. Today, neither the musicians nor the audience tolerate any intrusion during a performance - and the modern day stage lighting doesn't do justice to the scene.

The small images of Paul's work were taken from the screen with a Nikon Coolpix 990 and adjusted and sized in Photoshop 7. Clicking Paul's portrait and the montage image will bring up an enlarged version. All images are copyright Paul Hoeffler unless otherwise noted and may not be used without the permission of his estate. Questions? Please contact me at

Robert Carter

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