More than three decades ago, Austin City Limits started out as a television program to showcase Texas artists. Over the years, it has grown to feature national and international stars, and always kept an eye on its roots in the live music capitol of the world, too. During those years, Scott Newton has been the man behind the still camera recording its moments and history in a different way than what is caught by television cameras.
Photographing musicians is something I’ve spent a good chunk of my life thinking about and doing. Several years ago, I had the chance to talk with Newton about how he works, and I discovered we had ideas in common, the main one being that it is not about the technique, or the camera, or the lens — it’s about the music. Newton studied classical mythology, and as he told me that day and as he speaks of in the beginning of Austin City Limits: 35 Years in Photographs, he looks for those moment when the musician is moving beyond the moment — or perhaps, most fully engaged in the moment — and engaged with the muse.
He also points out that not every photograph he takes, and not every shot in this book finds an artist at that point. At times it’s a musician at work, at times it’s connection with the audience. At other times, it’s one of those moments that go beyond the immediate. In his introduction, he challenges you to think about which ones are which in his shots, as you go through the book.
I’ve had the chance to be present at a number of Austin City Limits tapings. Though shots from most of those shows didn’t make it into this book, going through its pages did have me recalling the moments, and the atmosphere, and the connection that happens there. The images from the book that linger in my mind are a mix from shows where I was present and not: Patty Griffin, Rosanne Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Damien Marley, and Juanes. Whether you’ve been in the studio for the show, seen it on television, or do not know it at all, you’ll find your own favourites, images that speak to you of musician, music, audience, and the connections among them.
Newton’s ideas on finding the moment in a musician’s work come from classical mythology and mine have their roots in theology. Both of those paths lead us to seek to create images through which you hear music in silence, and see, at times, the artist’s heart. It is one of the most challenging things in the world to do. Scott Newton does it right. That is why this book goes beyond being a memory book of a fine experiment in television or a souvenir of great gigs: If you let it, it will teach you about music, about image, and about soul.