A Composition of a Composer

“I’m a Blues Man,” the Hungarian Maestro proudly asserted to me in my studio. “I’ve performed with B.B. King.”

Imre had my attention.

I had the pleasure of photographing Imre Czomba, a multi-award-winning composer, orchestrator, and music producer currently residing in Los Angeles. We met a few months ago at the American Film Institute in LA where the AFI was hosting a screening of the Camerimage winners from Poland.

I didn’t have a chance to speak with Imre much between films so I was delighted when he agreed to come to my studio for portraits. There’s a seriousness to Imre but he also laughs with ease. This was my first impression.

Imre is a respected composer of concert & theatre music, and film & TV scores, as well as live national events like the Hungarian National Day's Fireworks. His music is heard in theaters, cinemas, and concert halls all over Europe.

In the early 1990s Imre studied at the jazz school in Budapest while I studied at the music academy in the same city. There’s some cross pollination between the two schools and I had quite a few friends at the jazz school however I wasn’t so lucky to meet Imre while in Budapest. I’m happy we finally had the chance to meet in Los Angeles as professionals.

I asked Imre to bring some objects that are important to him we could use during the photoshoot. He brought music staff paper and his conducting baton. We tried some portraits with both but the photographs of Imre composing were the most revealing and intriguing, an elegant craftsman focused on his work: a composition of a composer. I especially like the interplay between the light and dark tones of the photograph.

The word to “process" or “develop” film in Hungarian is “előhívás" which means to “recall,” Imre told me.

The image captured by light but latent on the celluloid is “recalled” through the process of developing the negative in chemical baths. The act of developing film is the act of recalling or remembering.

The processed film negative recalls more than just an image; it recalls the experience of the photoshoot in the form of the photographic composition. If done well the photograph represent an aggregate of who the person is up to this point in life. It’s the photographer’s job to act as the chemicals act and “recall” or “előhívás” latent or not so latent character from the subject.

The reverse is true too. Imre, in this case, as the subject, acts as a developing agent for me, allowing me to “recall” certain things about myself and my past (and the aggregate of who I am up to this point in my life) which is reflected in the portrait.

I never plan my photoshoots. I let the session bloom (and the photo, too) from the interaction between the person I’m photographing, myself, and the idiosyncrasy of the light in the space we occupy. It’s like composing a piece of chamber music except the instruments are not piano, violin, and cello.

I start with an empty studio with natural light, then I start adding tools one by one: lights, c-stands, flags, diffusion if needed after we’ve start shooting. Sometimes the room remains empty with just the flood of natural light coming from my large studio window overlooking Hollywood Blvd.

The portrait is found in this way, organically, in hopes of capturing something more than just the mere resemblance of the person in front of my lens but something about his character.

These are my compositions of the composer Imre Czomba, not the musical variety but the photographic monochromatic kind, rendered in shades of light and darkness.

Nagyon köszönöm, Czomba Imre (for helping me to recall).

Click on image for lighbox.

Negative: 120mm Ilford FP4 Plus 125 Black and White Film

Camera: Mamiya 645e with 80mm Lens