Amy Zielinski is a Senior Picture Editor based at our Camden office in London. However, like so many others who work at Getty Images, Amy’s talents extend far beyond her role and she is also an accomplished photographer, capturing musicians around the world for over ten years now. Amy is a contributor to the Redferns Music Collection and is about to have her work showcased at the ‘It’s All About Piano!’ festival at the Institut Francais from the 4-6th April 2014.

We chat to Amy about where this love of piano music came from and what we can expect at the exhibition...

What is the ‘Piano: Machine of Dreams’ exhibition about?
Well this work grew out of another concept I’ve been working on for about five years which is capturing the hands of the world’s best known classical pianists – so far about 150 participants. Through this project, I’ve made a lot of connections and been completely immersed in this world. Last year, I was asked to exhibit some of my ‘Hands’ work at the first piano festival at the Institute but the time wasn’t right as there are still some pianists I want to capture before the work is complete. This year when they asked again, I curated this body of work from the images I captured over the last three years for the Redferns Collection.

What can visitors expect?
'Piano: Machine of Dreams' is two-fold. As the audience comes in to the Institute, there is a slide projection of new work photographed at the Paris Conservatoire which looks right in to the heart of the piano –metals, wires, felts and all the parts that work together to make sound. As visitors go up to the gallery, the work becomes more about the pianist and the piano tuners, although I should call them ‘concert piano technicians’, they get a little grumpy otherwise! There are portraits of the pianists but always with the piano either performing or rehearsing.

Where does the inspiration for 'Piano: Machine of Dreams' come from?
Well as I was becoming more involved in the world of classical piano music through the Hands project, Director of Photography in the Archive, Bob Ahern encouraged me to capture the live performances for Getty Images. He showed me a really fantastic collection the Archive had bought years ago, The Erich Auerbach collection, a photographer that covered amazing classical artists.

I had this archive black and white image framed on my wall soon after for inspiration. The pianist on the left is Stephen Kovacevich who dated the cellist Jacqueline Du Pre - she would later marry Daniel Barenboim, the world's most famous conductor/pianist. I photographed Stephen years later hoping to catch him in the same position as in this picture from decades ago. That shot is in the Piano: Machine of Dreams exhibition.

How easy or difficult is it to build up relationships with these musicians?
It can be very difficult because classical musicians don’t traditionally like photographers around, their music requires a quiet focused room and audiences become so captivated that a click can cause distraction. I’ve started to get a bit more success because of the Hands project. Musicians trust now that I have their best interest at heart and I don’t want to compromise their work.

Do you have personal relationships with any of them?
One of the artists – Lucy Parham, I met five years ago when I came across her album on iTunes looking for music by Robert Schumann.  Graciously, she invited me to her home in the Barbican to photograph her hands. She doesn’t cater to the traditional concert circuit as some of the other pianists but she is very prolific and also a gifted writer. She has composed a series of four stage plays about composers performing live, for example actors like Dominic West and Juliet Stevenson will portray Chopin and his lover and in between she plays his music. She performs at all the venues around the UK including Wigmore Hall and Southbank Centre and she’s also going to be performing at ‘It’s All About Piano!’ festival.

Another one of my favorite performers would be Imogen Cooper, who studied with Alfred Brendel also featured in the exhibit.  I’ve seen her many times and she played at the festival last year. When I photographed her hands, she invited me to her home which was really interesting. She has this way of playing peacefully, gazing into the distance almost as if she’s drawn into a divine light. It’s captivating to watch. Her interpretations of Schubert’s piano works are amazing. I’ve seen her in most venues in London.

What are some of your favorite venues in London to shoot at?

Queen Elizabeth Hall – particularly during the ‘International Piano Series,’ everyone is really kind at Southbank Centre and happy to give me access. They trust me there and I have a good relationship with the piano technicians. 

Wigmore Hall is another, but they have stricter rules for photography! It’s a beautiful place with high ceilings and red plush seats catering to the intimacy of chamber music. However, they’ve been known to charge the photographers to shoot there. Hopefully though I can build a stronger relationship with them this year as Wigmore is an essential venue for solo piano recitals. I’ve been to so many concert halls all around Europe and America but it’s still the most unique place.

What’s in your kitbag when you’re shooting?
I try to keep it simple. I shoot with Canon and I always have 35mm lens as well as a 50 macro lens to get up close shots. For performances, I bring a 70-200. When I photograph The BBC Proms where I’m way back, I use a 400 lens; it gets a great crisp up close image of the conductors but it’s also quite loud! I need to solve the sound issues, maybe putting a blanket over it?!

Amy in action in Berlin/Property of Amy Zielinski

When can we hope to see the ‘Hands’ project?
I have about ten or so more names I want to get a hold of. These pianists are at the top of the game so it’s more difficult to reach them as they don’t need the publicity. But where there’s a will, there’s a way! I’m going to keep a watch on the cities they come through until they come to one I can easily fly to around my schedule at Getty. My goal is to exhibit at Southbank Centre, I envision it being quite a large exhibition there. In the meantime, I’m on the lookout for sponsors and grants.

We look forward to it. Lastly, is there any particular reason for the love of piano? Is it something you play yourself?
My father is a pianist and was a music teacher for over 40 years so as a child I always woke up to the sound of it. I did take some lessons but I preferred spending my time listening while drawing with crayons! Actually, I think it’s nice that I don’t play because it allows me to look at music in a totally different way. For me, it’s not just hearing the music; it’s about seeing it as well.

'Piano: Machine of Dreams' is sponsored by Audio Note, with printing by Genesis Imaging and runs as part of the ‘It’s All About Piano!’ festival at the Institut Francais from the 4th – 6th April. Admission is free with ticket holders to the performances. 

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