Bill Payne’s Other Gig, the Music of Images
The Talents of a Renowned Musician Spill Over into Photography
BY PAT HILL
Keyboardist Bill Payne of Little Feat fame was putting the finishing touches on a CD release when his son Evan introduced him to digital photography, and photography has since become an impor-tant part of his artistic life—a life that's included working with the greats of the music world—Pink Floyd, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffet.
Payne was in Los Angeles at the time working with his 2005 solo release Ceilo Norte, recorded both in LA and at the musician's home in the Paradise Valley. Payne said he noticed some impressive pictures while downloading music on his son's computer.
“I said, 'Man, these are good…are they yours?'” Payne recalled. Most of the photos had been taken by Evan, and Payne asked his son if the two of them could do a photo shoot for Cielo Norte.
“So we went up in the Malibu Hills, up in Corral Canyon, with the camera…a little point-and-shoot three-mega pixel, and I said, 'Let me try that,'” Payne told the Pioneer. “It was like hitting middle C [on the piano] when you're five years old…it was absolute magic.” Payne said he took a few more shots before surrendering the camera to his son, but Dad was hooked.
“We used his photos on the album, and I went out and bought a five-mega pixel digital camera,” said Payne. “And that's kind of the way I got into it…yet another way to express myself. The fun thing about getting into music or photography is creativity.”
Payne said being able to express oneself through creative avenues involving pictures or song is an important part of life.
“The humanities are aptly named,” he said. “Music, photography, writing, art…these things are important.” Payne said that photography also gives him “an excuse to get out and walk around.”
“The immediacy of it is nice,” he said. “I get a chance to work on things…it keeps you dialed in and you can reflect further. The poetry of photography is what speaks to people, I think.” He added that he believes music is not just emotional, but visual as well.
“Long before I became a photographer, I had been storing images in my head,” Payne writes in his artist's statement on his photography webpage, billpaynecreative.com. “I applied the same tenacity to learning how to take photos, work on them, print them, in the same fashion I learned music. I've also received great guidance from several friends along the way.”
Payne's photos were displayed last year at the Crazy Mountain Gallery in Livingston, and he will be featured as a Guest Photographer beginning this month at the Living-ston Depot Center's Six Shooters of the American West.
Payne's portfolio encompasses a wide array of images depicting a variety of landscapes and locales—the American South, Jamaica, Montana—but for the upcoming Six Shooters exhibit, Payne said he will “display within the theme of the Western style.” One of Payne's images appearing in the exhibit, March of the Buffalo, stands out as relevant, “given that the buffalo are literally headed up this way from Gardiner right now.” Payne said, speaking from his home in Tom Miner (north of Gardiner) just after a controversial new bison policy took effect allowing the animals to roam from Yellowstone Park into the sprawling Gardiner basin during winter and spring.
Last year at Crazy Mountain, Payne displayed Tracing Footsteps—A Journal of Home and the Road. “It houses my philosophy of combining a host of influences: black and white, color, textured themes, landscape, people, photojournal-ism—my time travel, literally—all under one roof.” The digital camera that has helped him record that philosophy is also part of it, for the freedom the digital camera offers fits both Payne's philosophy and his lifestyle.
“I didn't have the prejudice of [35 mm. versus] digital [when I began taking photos],” Payne said, adding that the digital format is yet another of the many parallels in music and photography (among purists in the world of photography, it's the darkroom versus the computer).
“Honestly, put a blindfold on someone and most can't tell the difference between a piano and a digital recording,” Payne said. “And it's not a matter of pulling the wool over peoples' eyes…I encourage people to check it out for themselves. The same goes for photography.” Payne said photos are also manipulated in the darkroom.
“One of my favorite photographers, Ansel Adams, manipulated one of his famous photos, which is also one of my favorites…'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941,'” said Payne. “He took out a stop sign in that picture…it had to take him hours, if not days.” But that bending of the rules via manipulation of the photo does not take away from the power of the image.
“I think that's another reason I like Montana,” Payne said. “I'm not a huge person for rules, and I don't think there's a lot of people up here [in Montana] who are too enamored of rules themselves. Now rules of nature are another story…but in terms of being left alone to do what you want to do…I think that pretty much describes Montana.”
To view photos from Bill Payne's Tracing Footsteps collection, hear tracks from Cielo Norte, and read some of Bill's writings, go to bill paynecreative.com.
Note: Bill Payne's photography and that of other Western photographers display as Six Shooters of the American West, an exhibit at the Livingston Depot Center opening May 28 and running through the summer. On June 16, at 7:00 p.m., an evening reception takes place for the Six Shooters exhibition and the artists.