A3 – preparation: photography of male voice choirs

In preparation for A3, in which I will photograph Steeton Male Voice Choir (SMVC), I explored photography of male voice choirs.

A search on Google uncovers many archives from groups of MVCs, with the screen shot below typical of the photographs taken:

Source: google screenshot

The images are typically concerned with posed choirs, as a record of who was in the choir or of its events; often at just sufficient distance to fit the whole choir in the frame as a documentary record.

This approach results in images that are largely similar between choirs and that are not often visually interesting;  front-facing rows of people, all looking towards the camera, too distant to see emotions, too near to see the context, with a consistent uniformity. The need to capture the whole of the large group seems to preclude other approaches.

Source: Images of wales: Treorchy male choir.

Dean Powell’s compilation of over 200 images covering the history of the Treorchy Male Choir mostly reflects a similar approach to photography as found in the online archives. However, there are some notable exceptions in the book: when the frame is closed in on a few choir members mid-song and we can see the emotion and the various directions of their gazes; where the choir is shown on a hillside, with the mine-town in the valley below; where it is marching through a Swiss town while singing; where a conductor is shown with baton in motion, gazed focused on the score.

Contemporary photographer Alicia Bruce’s work is featured on the BBC website, she explains her approach to photographing individual portraits of members of the Blaenavon Male Voice Choir:

They walked round the Workmen’s Hall singing as I photographed each member individually holding their favourite sheet of music.

Source: aliciabruce.co.uk by Alicia Bruce.

Bruce’s images as a series give a sense of the choir as whole, but primarily act as portraits of individual members, joined as a group through a common uniform and the motif of a musical score held in hand.

Male Voice Choirs are rooted in a long tradition, which is respected by the choirs in their smart uniforms and in their organisation. The photography of the choirs also appears reflect the traditional. Too me, it does not quite capture the power and passion of experiencing a choir singing; the sound wraps around and effects us, but the images are distant.

Alicia Bruce [website]. Available from: http://www.aliciabruce.co.uk/about/ [accessed 22.12.16]
BBC [website]. In pictures: The Valleys Project. Photographer Alicia Bruce on show at Cardiff’s International Festival of Photography (2013). Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-22365027 [accessed 22.12.16]
Powell, D., Powell, A. and Powell, R. 2001. Images of wales: Treorchy male choir. London, United Kingdom: The History Press.