My teenage years were played out in the shadow of Eastman Kodak. If I walked to the end of my block and looked west, across the Genesee River, I could see Kodak Park, an imposing manufacturing complex where my mother worked the second shift. Kodak Park sounds nice and green, doesn’t it? The kind of place you’d want to take the kids for a picnic and a Kodak moment? But calling it a park is like calling the House of Representatives representative. Kodak Park is actually a large collection of rectangular brick buildings, smoke stacks, and parking lots. Its bleak architecture with ever-present white plume of smoke resembles a giant Instamatic camera whose flashbulb has just exploded.
But inside the buildings, magic was taking place. Little bits of celluloid were being transformed into color print memories. Living just across the river from Memory Lane, I was “exposed” to photography during my formative years. Consequently, as Paul Simon sings in his hit song Kodachrome, "I love to take a photograph." (Forgive me, but when else will I have the chance to compare myself to Paul Simon?)
You probably know where this is going. I will soon connect the dots between photography and music, and end up with a list of songs about cameras. But first, in honor of the dearly departed Kodachrome slide, let's talk about color, music, and Sir Isaac Newton.
Legend has it that poor Isaac Newton got hit on the head by a falling apple, which must have jarred something loose in his brain, which is why he was able to develop the theory of gravity. But actually, he was quite smart before that, and he made an interesting connection between color and music. At the age of 23, while quarantined in a dark bedroom to avoid catching the plague, he noticed a tiny beam of light coming through a hole in his window. Using a glass prism, he bent the light to make a rainbow of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo. He then combined the ribbons of light together again by using a second prism, turning the colors back into one white beam. In this way, he proved that light is made up of colors, and that it isn’t just pure white as others before him had assumed.
Young Newton drew a chart of the six rainbow colors, adding a seventh color (violet) by combining the first (red) with the sixth (indigo) in order to blend the arc together into a continuous circle. Then (and here’s the musical connection), he labeled his seven-color wheel with the letters A through G, because he wanted them to match the seven notes of the western musical scale! Somehow, he had intuitively sensed a relationship between color and music. If any of this sounds familiar, that’s probably because, a few weeks ago, before I knew anything about Newton’s color wheel, I blogged to you about this very same thing. (Forgive me, but when else will I have the chance to compare myself to Isaac Newton?)
Here is Newton's illustration of the Color Wheel. Note that the sections are unevenly spaced, corresponding to the way that the notes on the musical scale are arranged (a full step between A and B, a half step between B and C, etc.):
In music, there is another type of circular chart. It’s called the Circle of Fifths. To me, Newton’s color wheel is akin to the Circle of Fifths. Both charts are arrangements of vibration frequencies, and both indicate which frequencies complement each other. I’m not sure what all of this means. Maybe I should go sit under an apple tree so that I can figure it out. But here is the Circle of Fifths:
I do think that we are all a little bit like prisms. We absorb what’s out there already, be it light, sound, or some other form of energy, and we focus it and arrange it for a little while. Sooner or later, it all turns back into energy. But isn’t it beautiful while it’s around!
And now for that list of Songs About Photography. It’s a short list. In my opinion, very few good songs have been written on this subject. I guess maybe it isn’t very romantic, or cool. You can’t really profess your undying love, rock out, or sing the blues when there’s a camera hanging from your neck. But I did find a few nice tunes -- seven, to be exact.
I swear I didn't plan on choosing seven! But here they are, the full spectrum. Maybe Sir Isaac Newton was whispering in my ear.
(Be sure to click the YouTube links to see and hear my favorite versions. You may need to click "open content in new window" to get the links to work.)
Easter Parade – by Irving Berlin (The photographers will snap us, and you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure…) http://youtu.be/deNxPO8ce4g Not what you're expecting. It's Sarah Vaughn and Billy Eckstine.
Fountain of Sorrow – by Jackson Browne (Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer, I was taken by a photograph of you…) http://youtu.be/gwngpzlN2_s Live and heartfelt -- of course.
Picture Book – by The Kinks (Picture book, pictures of your mama, taken by your papa a long time ago…) http://youtu.be/jg3oDSyBBi8 Old footage, slightly out of sync, but vintage Kinks.
Photograph – by Ringo Starr (All I got is a photograph and I realize you’re not coming back anymore…) http://youtu.be/Ptctz_rnkJ8 From the Concert for George.
Peg – by Steely Dan (And when you smile for a camera, I know I’ll love you better…) http://youtu.be/IshE5Xt4J6M Bass line only! For Steely Dan fans, this is a must see.
Kamera – by Wilco (I need a camera to my eye…) http://youtu.be/f7gb926Si7I Live version.
And, of course:
Kodachrome – Paul Simon (I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph…) http://youtu.be/wZpaNJqF4po Lots of great images.