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Sunday 16 July 2017, 7.30pm

Val Wilmer, self-portrait, London 1997


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After a four year hiatus, The Wire Salon returns to Cafe Oto to present an illustrated talk with the legendary UK photographer, journalist, author and black music historian Val Wilmer.

As a writer and photographer, Val Wilmer has been documenting black music and the lives of the musicians who make it in the US and the UK since the early 1960s. In that time she has interviewed and photographed almost every significant figure in post-war jazz, blues and R&B, from Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk to Sun Ra and Albert Ayler via Muddy Waters and Aretha Franklin.

Her journalism, which has appeared in multiple publications from The Guardian to The Wire, is distinctive for the way it combines reportage and musicology with a historian's concern for the facts and a radical political agenda informed by her contacts with black musicians and the burgeoning black liberation movement. Likewise, her portrait photography captures musicians in informal, domestic or communal settings, emphasising the social dynamics that underpin their lives and music.

In the 1970s and 80s she became active in the women's movement, writing about the experiences of women in music, and co-founding Format, the UK's first all-women photographers' agency. In the UK her work is included in the archives of the British Library, the V&A Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, and she is a contributor to The Oxford Dictionary Of National Biography and The New Grove Dictionary Of Jazz. Her books include Jazz People (1970), The Face Of Black Music (1976), As Serious As Your Life: The Story Of The New Jazz (1977), and the autobiography Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This: My Life In The Jazz World (1989).

For this edition of The Wire Salon, Val has selected a number of photos from her personal archive, which will be projected during the talk and used as entry points to discuss her remarkable life in the jazz world and beyond.


The Wire Salon is a talking shop for the multiple music subcultures covered by The Wire magazine. Programmed and hosted by The Wire's Tony Herrington, in its initial incarnation the Salon presented more than 25 events at Cafe Oto between 2010-13 that included talks, panel discussions, film screenings, quizzes, gear demos and more. Subjects covered included hauntology, graphic scores, field recordings, the vocoder, sound maps, circuit bending, sensory ethnography, the music of the black power movement, the visual aesthetics of black metal, the new age philosophies of Daphne Oram, as well as audiences with Robert Wyatt and Terry Riley. The Salon's roll call of more than 60 speakers and participants included Steve Goodman, Claudia Molitor, Salomé Voegelin, Peter Cusack, David Toop, Dave Tompkins, Mira Calix, John Akomfrah, Paul Gilroy, Ian Penman, Nina Power, Jonny Trunk, Leafcutter John, and the late Mark Fisher.

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