Local photography exhibition celebrates the musicians behind Bluesfest

Originally from Scotland, Helen Morris arrived in Ottawa almost six years ago. She loves being able to bike to work in the summer and skate along the Rideau Canal to the office in the winter. Other interests include dark chocolate and Wensleydale Cheese.

If you are heading down to Bluesfest tonight or tomorrow take a few moments to step out of the heat into the cool and peaceful Ottawa Studio Works on Preston and check out some stunning portraits of musicians past and present.

Harry Nowell

For more than a decade, Ottawa photographer, Harry Nowell has been a frequent visitor to the city’s Bluesfest and Jazz Festival. While the rest of us are immersed in the music and soaking up the atmosphere, Nowell is behind the camera and is so focused that he says he couldn’t even tell you which song was being played.

Last year, Nowell renovated an old rooming house on Preston and transformed it into a studio, exhibition and teaching space. In July, the crowds suddenly began to stream past the door and parking was at a premium. It was Bluesfest time. The onset of the outdoor music festival prompted Nowell to take a look back over a decade’s worth of music photos and pull together a retrospective of his work in time for this year’s Bluesfest.

Nowell's favourite photograph - Broken Social Scene (Photo: Harry Nowell)

While the musicians express themselves with their voices, Nowell aims to create a magical blend of light and vibrant colour in order to bring out the artists’ music as well as their personalities.

Ben Harper (Photo: Harry Nowell)

In the portraits, Ben Harper stands, fist raised, signalling the end of a song. Canada’s Feist appears utterly focussed on the music, her expression suggesting she is midway through a melancholy song. Nowell captures an altogether more mischievous look on the face of American bluegrass country singer and fiddler, Alison Krauss. He explains that it is his job to bring out the essence of the artist, whether that essence is glamorous or a bit scruffy.

The photographer’s own favourite is a picture of one of the members of Canadian indie rock band Broken Social Scene.

Also part of the exhibit, Nowell picked two photos of the American pianist Herbie Hancock. The first image shows him with a Fazioli piano, one which Nowell says was brought over from Toronto because “nothing in Ottawa would do.” The second photo has a very different tone, as Hancock speaks to the audience at Jazz Festival as the musicians on stage appear to listen intently.

Feist performing at a past year's Bluesfest (Photo: Harry Nowell)

A long way from his original degree in finance and economics, Nowell now works full-time as a professional photographer, something he says he loves. He also runs a range of camera skills workshops. He says it has been a long, hard road from his first photography job taking cheesy tourist photos at the top of Sunshine Village ski resort to now owning his own studio and running his own business. But Nowell is one of life’s enthusiasts and it is this enthusiasm and passion that comes out in his work.

Nowell is on hand tonight and tomorrow night from 5 to 8 p.m. in his gallery at 160 Preston St. The exhibition can also be seen by appointment until August 10, by contacting Nowell via email or phone (819-827-9460).

Interesting gallery find, Helen! We are definitely interested in seeing more of Harry’s stunning photography – will you be going to check out his exhibit over the next few days?