Musician Ben Folds is well-known for his decades-long musical career, but anyone who’s less than a super-fan might be surprised to learn that he also is a respectable photographer.
He is a member of the Sony Artisans of Imagery, and he had a stint as a photo editor for National Geographic, according to benfolds.com.
Folds will be gracing Augusta with his musical talents on Friday, Sept. 1, at the Jessye Norman Amphitheatre. He is known as a rock musician who bends genres with his music, including pop albums as the front man for Ben Folds Five, multiple solo albums, and collaborations with artists such as Sara Bareilles, Regina Spektor, “Weird Al” Yankovic and William Shatner.
His most recent album blends pop and classical original works, recorded with the classical sextet yMusic. The tour that’s bringing him to Augusta is a solo tour similar to his earliest solo tours, which featured him rocking out alone on a piano.
When he’s not creating music, he is in love with spending time in a dark room.
“I love photography, of course. … I think completing the whole cycle to me is really important, and I certainly spend my time in the school of the dark room,” he said. “There are so many advantages to the digital method now, but having spent so much time in the dark room has really informed that, and I feel really lucky for all the hard time spent in that; as far as what I shoot and what I’m interested in is all over the map, and I don’t think that I have the voice as a photographer that I seem to as a musician, and so that’s really kind of good for both disciplines, because it gives you a perspective. I know I don’t take for granted that certain things come naturally to me as a musician when I have to work at it so hard as a photographer.”
Folds likens the idea of capturing the perfect image to when somebody asks what you would grab from your home if you had two seconds to get something out while it’s burning down. He says if you had more time, you would grab everything, and the same concept applies in photography — that good photographers realize more of what’s important to them and take fewer shots.
“I think it’s really interesting to spend time where someone says ‘OK, here’s how you have to see this landscape or this scene in front of you,’ or whatever it is that you capture, ‘you’ve got one shot at it, and in fact, you can’t even look through the lens when you’re making that shot.’ … I think that’s also a cool discipline.”
Folds pointed out the concept of impermanence when it comes to taking photographs or making music, especially with today’s digital methods of saving art.
“It’s an interesting trend isn’t it? I think it’s all a matter of capacity, you could photograph every moment of your life, literally, you could do that all f***ing day. But at some point, it’s going to go into a closet on a hard drive, the hard drive’s gonna get dusty, not start up, someone’s gonna throw the hard drive away, you’ll lose track of it,” Folds said. “Same thing goes usually for negatives. And the same thing is true of music these days, where it’s not all committed to vinyl or it’s not all committed to tape. It’s on a cloud somewhere, and when that cloud’s taken down, disconnected in some kind of way, people’s iPhones are thrown out to a plastic trash heap, then I don’t know, where is the backup?
“I don’t think that’s a problem necessarily,” he continued, “because I think at the end of the day, you know, some music you can say it’s because it’s good, or some images and you can say it’s because they’re good, or because it was lucky — survived.
Folds referenced infamous photographer Robert Capa, who shot several rolls of film on D-Day in World War II, but because of an intern’s mistake, he lost almost all of the images. However, the images that survived were printed. Folds referenced one of those images.
“It is one of the most iconic photographs of World War II, and I think that’s not just because it was the best photo — it might have been the worst photo — but it was the one that survived. And he had an eye that was like, shooting everything as if it was the only photograph.”
Advice he had for modern photographers: “Shoot the stuff that, if you’re gonna save one off of your phone, then it’s that one. … I think that’s the way you live your life, you try to live your life in the existentialist idea, like if you die while you’re being an asshole, then you’re remembered as an asshole, and that’s what you are. You’re just an asshole. … I think you have to kind of find some balance of purpose in your life in an era that you think you have all the choices, but you actually don’t have all the choices. You think you’ve got ’em all, but you don’t.”
To see images captured by Folds’ eye, visit benfoldsphotography.com.
Jessye Norman Amphitheatre
Friday, Sept. 1