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BOO S & T1+ CULTURE Into the Soul of the Rhythm PHOTOS AND TEXT BY JANA BIRCHUM Willie Nelson at an Austin benefit for Dennis Kucinich, 2004 1p eople think of me as a photojournalist someone who tells sto ries with her camera. Often hard stories, like living on the streets with the street kids for a month, or following a woman with breast cancer through her journey. I come from a background in film. I made several short films, one of which is still in distribution, and I ran women’s film festivals for years. When I decided to move on, it was as a documentary photographer. The photos in this essay are an extension of what I “normally” do. When I document someone’s life, I try to disappear into the story. It’s like closing your eyes and becoming someone else, channeling their experience through the camera. Telling the pain of their stories through gesture and line. And that’s how these photos are made, as well. I was a music major in college studying to be a concert pianist. I just lacked the talent. But when I listen to music, I go to a special place that all that practicing took me to. Pure sound. Pure pleasure. These photos are my effort to translate that experience into a visual form. Really, that’s it. They are my effort to make visual the energy of the music. I discovered when I started working on this body of work that music images are perceived in a certain way. Most everyone’s first reaction is to say, “who is that?” Music photos are, to most viewers, photos of music celebrities. It’s Willie or it’s Cher or it’s someone you know. But these photos aren’t about “who”. They’re not about the musicians. The question “who is it?” really has no meaning here. I don’t care who it is. I care about what it sounds like. The musician is only a medium for the sound. My goal is to make you hear the music in the movement, the gesture, the vibration, the light. So you can go to that place where the music comes from, which for me is a dark place reached when you close your eyes and just listen. Mostly that’s expressed through the use of line. Line is a major component of the compositions, and I try to use it differently in different settings. So for Polyphonic Spree, a large jam band that plays a sort of trance music, I tried to capture how the chorus works together to take themselves outside of 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 1, 2005