I remember after the Red Rose shut down, the London Improvisers Orchestra had a show in Cafe OTO back in 2008. Dalston was completely different then, no theaters, no nightclubs, and OTO was just a warehouse next to an Oxfam. It must have been the summer because we watched half of a Euro cup game in the pub just next to the Tesco on the corner. When we left for the show it was funny because I saw all those faces I knew from Red Rose wandering around. This was pre smartphones so you couldn’t check where are you and where to go, and I think I was the only one who printed myself a map. I could see all these musicians going in different directions, so I remember gathering them all together and the procession you know, off to Cafe OTO for the first show I saw there.
When I came here regularly in the early days I used to record some of the shows. I used to tell Carl [the night manager] that I had a sight problem, so when I was paying for the ticket I would always have the front spot. But before I figured that out I was running from work to be there on time to be first in the queue. Or I was very upset when I saw three people already there so I wouldn't have the right spot to record and to listen or even to see, because I always have this spot slightly on the right hand side.
I never took a photo before - I didn't know nothing - I didn’t know the aperture, the lens, really, really nothing. Literally never.
I only started taking photos very recently. After volunteering for a couple of years I got a job behind the bar. I still wanted to do something else so John [Chantler] said it would be nice if someone started taking photos regularly. I never took a photo before - I didn't know nothing - I didn’t know the aperture, the lens, really, really nothing. Literally never. I had a point and shoot camera which I used to shoot photos of my daughter when she was born, and I rented a camera for the first couple of months. After a while I thought I have to work harder on this one, and eventually I started taking some photos which I was satisfied with. And also that John was satisfied with, because he was kind of really hard to please at the beginning! [laughs] But an amazing mentor. If he didn’t say one day "oh maybe you should take some photos" I wouldn’t take 3000 photos of Cafe OTO shows and end up having my photos on a Brotzmann record you know, especially nice when the first record I listened to in terms of free jazz was Machine Gun.
My interest in free jazz has definitely influenced my photography. Most of my photos are about communication between musicians. Maybe they’re angry - I’ve seen that happen a lot before - or maybe they’re working something totally new out. It’s a very recent example, but Charlemagne Palestine and Aine O’Dywer - they never played before, I don't think even they actually met before - but it was just amazing to see them playing together like brother and sister, like they’ve been working together for years. I'm not influenced by Walker Evans or any big major photographers you know, I have basically no background. I’ve just worked at it like free improvisation, plunk and plink, learn from everywhere, you just do it. That's it.
As close as possible, that’s what I want. It’s important to me to try and capture that chemistry, or it’s interesting to try.
Because of the stage and the character of OTO I found that black and white is much better to express that chemistry. With the lights, and this is purely technicality, it is just easier to do black and white photo and to achieve something based on contrast and shades of grey, rather than to do it on colour. Because the colours will always be the same. They will be kind of yellowish, you know? I want to show what actually is going on and happening. Later on I also moved into portraits because I found that not many people were doing them, and there were a lot of people doing wide angled photos of everyone. My photos became very specific because you can actually get much closer to what's happening on the stage in terms of the expression, rather than if you took the photo of everyone holding their instruments. As close as possible, that’s what I want. It’s important to me to try and capture that chemistry, or it’s interesting to try. Even if its a soloist you can see them being engaged with it. And I think thats where it comes, the details. The fingers, you know. I’m minimalist as much as possible. Try and capture expression in the shows I like, it's as simple as that.