The Music of Photography - David Aimone, fotovisura

By Matthew Oxley 

All images © David Aimone - Colleen


All images © David Aimone

fotovisura member David Aimone is a musician and photographer. Born into a family of creatives, he says that, for him, music and images are "essentially the same". Working mostly with natural light ("I am not a huge fan of strobe or studio lights"), his portraits, nudes and landscapes all share his dream-like, fantasty aesthetic. He says of beauty: "... it can be found in the subject itself, the lighting which renders the subject, the textures in the images, or the patterns that make up the image." 

You are a musician as well as a photographer. I’m interested in the personal correlation between the two art forms for you - do they always work together as you’d like? How does one inform the other?
From a working standpoint, both music and photography share philosophical and procedural commonalities for me. I like to explore with both, and I like to present the simple essence of the image or composition that is presented.

From a logistical point of view, they are separate. I seem to work on either music or photography, but not usually both at the same time. For years it was music; now it’s mostly images and photography. I actually returned to photography in a serious way at a time when I physically couldn’t do much music. I didn’t have the energy that music required the way I worked. Long periods of intense physical and emotional exertion was required for music the way I did it. Photography allowed me to invest shorter segments of time in the beginning.

It’s hard to put into words, but the essence is essentially the same for how I make music and images. They do inform each other. Composition, tone, light, exploration of techniques and subjects, etc - are common for both.

© David Aimone - Earth and Sea

Earth and Sea

You have called a number of your series “explorations”. Do you always remember what you started out exploring?
The title “explorations” on the website was a way to group the images into three galleries.  Actually, these galleries were curated with the help of Adriana Letorney of Fotovisura, in an attempt to take the most interesting of my work, historically, and put these images into a number of galleries. If you look at the three “explorations” galleries, you’ll actually notice that the galleries are grouped by aspect ratio. The first gallery contains images that are generally 2:3, the second 1:1 (square), and the third 4:5. This was Adriana’s idea. Also, she was looking for images that were unique in composition and effect, if not always my best images.

As far as the concept of “exploration” in general, that is what I always try to do. As with music, I am better at delving into something new than I am at perfecting one thing. After shooting 35mm film in my youth, it was mostly family photos for many years. Then, I purchased a basic DSLR about 10 years ago and experimented with kit and older manual lenses. Then I was interested in film and jumped right in with a 4x5” view camera. I have been exploring ever since with subject matter, techniques and tools. Macro, pinhole, medium format, soft focus lenses, developing my own film, alternative printing techniques such as platinum prints and cyanotypes, just to name a few. Trying new things keeps it fresh for me. Continual experimentation keeps things fresh, new, alive.

I use my Flickr photostream as a kind of white board for my photos.  Everything goes up there fairly chronologically, so I throw any images I like in any way in there, and see what resonates both with myself over time, and with other photographers that view the work. The other galleries on my fotovisura site are grouped more by subject or theme, such as nudes/portraiture, Monhegan Island Maine, Kallitypes, etc.

Monhegan Island is a beautiful place and I am fortunate to be able to return there to visit my brother Steve each year. It gives us a chance to photograph together, and to explore the many nuances of an island that has been mostly preserved as an artist’s retreat that is open to the public, if you’re willing to take the boat ride twelve miles out to sea.

© David Aimone - Sadness


Nudes and portraits are recurring themes throughout your portfolio. Did one lead into the other or have they always complemented one another?
Nudes and portraits are part of one continuum as far as my work is concerned. I’m not even sure, or interested in, where one begins and the other ends. I work with them all the same way.  Nuances of light (usually natural window light), and the essence of the person themselves, through their eyes, are what I focus on (both literally and figuratively). In fact, I work with nudes and portraits with much the same approach as I work with landscapes and still life - using light, composition and a focus on one central aspect of the image. Of course there is one huge difference between landscapes and portraits, and that is the subject in a portrait/nude is a live person. There is interaction and collaboration between myself and the subject.

I do find it interesting that I am drawn to models/subjects with whom I have a lot in common. Many have similar educational backgrounds, tastes, views on many subjects, and compatible personalities. These are people I could be friends with, and often do maintain a friendship with.  I can often tell through their profiles and our communication whether things will artistically “sync” or not. If they are driven toward being America’s next top model on the runway, or wear enough makeup to hide who they really are, we probably won’t be working together! I am not interested in “selling” or “exploitation”, and I hope my work doesn’t give that vibe. So, even when shooting nudes, with rare exception, I am focusing on the eyes to bring some aspect of personality through, just like with portraits. Nude representation often allows a different range of emotions or representations to come through the image— from confidence to vulnerability and so much in between. Those can be expressed in a portrait without nudity, but in a different way perhaps? In the end, I work along the entire continuum from fully dressed and costumed to fully nude with the same kind of approach.

What I do find interesting is how people react to portraits and nudes differently. It’s an interesting world we live in where depiction of nudity is almost taboo and depiction of violence is seen everywhere without a second thought. It’s a shame, and again, I understand that nudity when used to sell or exploit is violence, but almost paradoxically, when not used for those things, can express pure beauty.

You have talked about your images being experiences, “rather than narratives to be understood”. Tell us more about this.

This ties into the nudity/portraiture discussion in some ways. I am not a photojournalist, like many other photographers on Fotovisura. I let the image express itself for what it is, not what is happening.  Most of the images that I like have a simple subject, even if there is a lot of detail in the image itself. When I look at an image, whether close or from a distance, I like to immediately know what the subject or main focus is. If I have to search for the meaning of the image, or the story line, I lose interest.

It doesn’t have to be a literal “subject”, but can be a strong center of focus, even if it is more of an abstract concept or image. So this is where light and composition, and even focal plane become important. I use these to present the main aspect of the image as a central “experience” for the viewer. In some ways, going back to the “explorations” galleries, aspect ratio of an image is often used with composition to highlight the experience of the image. So, more than telling a narrative, the images that I create allow the viewer to take in the subject itself through its own expression, highlighted through various techniques used by the photographer.

© David Aimone - Monique


Do you have a photographic philosophy?
I remain open minded with a photographic philosophy. Perhaps that’s why I’m always exploring new approaches and techniques. Just like with music, it’s so hard to do anything that is truly new, unique and innovative. So the best I can do is try to express something of myself and my subjects in an image that is compelling, whether soothing or challenging. It’s a constantly moving target and always delightful to create images that resonate with both myself and the viewer. I guess that sums up my basic philosophy: experimenting to create/discover images that are satisfying to both myself and the viewers. Not always an easy task! And I’m glad it’s not easy, otherwise I would have done it a few times, been satisfied, and then have moved on to another medium of expression. And in a way, serendipity plays a large part in this process, where the unintended or unexpected become little successes that add to the tools of the trade.

I really admire photographers who perfect their technique and genre and continue to produce fine work over and over again. But that’s not me. My approach is to perfect things as much as possible, then move on to discover another twist/aspect of that technique. That’s the other part of my “philosophy” - always trying new techniques and adding them to the basic repertoire to broaden and enrich the quality of my work in general. Doing that keeps things fresh.

What's next for you?

Apart from music and photography, I have never had much first-hand experience in other art forms. So I am starting to explore encaustics, first in combination with photography. Using encaustics to enhance textures and tones is interesting because it allows for a new area of photographic exploration, but also lets me get more directly “hands-on” creative. I’ve always wanted to paint or draw, but have never really experienced those things. For some reason, they haven’t happened naturally for me. Perhaps working with photo-encaustics will not only expand the photography that I do, but provide a bridge to other artistic forms of expression.

In photography itself, I will continue to work with new techniques and technologies as I discover them. I’ve been working for a while on learning new printing techniques such as cyanotypes, kallitypes, and so on. Those processes, combined with digital negatives, are challenging and oh so variable and sensitive to every little step. So, as opposed to pure digital photography, these techniques feel organic due to so many imperfections and factors not totally in my control. The resulting images are unique, and satisfying.

I started serious photography fairly late in life, so I’ve worked hard to learn many different things, and learn them quickly. As long as I keep learning, I’ll keep producing and photographing.