Joel Mark had studied photography with such masters as Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan at the Institute of Design in Chicago when he became a successful commercial photographer working in Los Angeles. In the early 1980s, he began photographing local jazz musicians. Designer Cheryl Brantner presented concerts by improvising musicians in her downtown loft. She wanted her series to be memorable, right down to the mailers. She enlisted Mark to shoot portraits of the artists for those flyers. Thus Mark gained entrée to L.A.’s jazz and new music circles. His portraiture was used by enterprising managers and bookers as press material in conjunction with upcoming concert and club dates. Mark’s images soon enhanced album covers. Journalists took him along when their reviews needed accompanying photos.
This show concentrates on Mark’s performance work. It is an extension of his portraiture, often capturing solitude in the midst of furious ensemble exchange. The musicians may be oblivious to the camera but Mark manages to capture a measure of truth regarding creation in the moment. Much of it was taken at venues that are now gone–Hop Singh’s, the Silver Screen Room, At My Place and serves as a reminder of a fertile period. These are audible images. – Kirk Silsbee
Joel Mark’s performance photos of L.A.’s improvising musicians of the 1980s are a window on a powerful time in jazz that is now just out of reach. Chet Baker, John Carter, Bill Douglass, Tal Farlow, Billy Higgins, Harold Land, Warne Marsh and Horace Tapscott were all part of that landscape, so vivid in these images.