The Gaze

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Jimmy Rowles
Phil Woods
John Reeves, Reeves, photograph, gelatin silver print, black and white photograph, portrait, jazz musicians, personalities, head shot, light, light and shadow on form, value contrast, tonal range, subjects, face, close-up, 2D art, two-dimensional art, art book,soul, men, atmospheric

The images of jazz musicians by Reeves presented here are from a 1992 book entitled Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz featuring 100 portraits of jazz personalities by John Reeves. The book is now a very pricey collector’s item. 

Books on jazz photography usually focus on the jazz musician as performer. Most of these collections capture their subjects performing in dimly-lit, atmospheric night clubs.

In his jazz portraits Reeves explores a more intimate and contemplative approach, often taking the portraits in the musicians’ own homes. Another departure is that no musical instruments are shown. Instead, Reeves’ portraits are true portraits - head shots of famous and lesser-known people who make the music.

The two images presented here illustrate the care Reeves takes to position and light his subjects, allowing their characters to show through. It has been said that a colour photo allows us to see a person, while a black and white photo allows us to see a person’s soul. While that may be an overstatement, jazz musicians have a reputation of being a soulful lot, and Reeves’ black and white portraits certainly deliver a full measure of soul.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Reeves’ portraits allow us to examine the faces of strangers close up, and to create our own interpretations of what they are thinking and what their life experiences might be. What are your reactions and impressions when you view the two portraits presented here?
  • One man is smiling, while the other appears more thoughtful. How do facial expressions affect our reaction to portraits?
  • None of Reeves’ portraits show the people photographed with their musical instruments. How might this change the nature of the images and our reactions to them?
  • What instruments do you think these two men play? Why have you chosen the instruments you suggest?



For some information about musical instruments, go to:

Online Activity
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Virtual portraitist

Go to the National Gallery of Art's PixelFace site at:

Select a portrait, and then use the various tools provided on the PixelFace website to change colours, draw and paint, or switch portraits.

Studio Activity
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John Reeves is well known for his  portraitA work of art that represents a specific person, a group of people, or an animal. Portraits usually show what a person looks like as well as revealing something about the subject's personality. Portraits can be made of any sculptural material or in any two-dimensional medium. Portraiture is the field of portrait making and portraits in general. Portrait is a term that may also refer simply to a vertically-oriented rectangle, just as a horizontally-oriented one may be said to be oriented the landscape way. (  photography. His subjects often include artists and musicians. The photographs shown here are of jazz musicians.

  • There are no rules about having the whole face in the frame, or having everything in focus or even having clear un-blurred images. Think of the story you want to tell with the photograph and the information you want to convey. Then experiment with placement of the main focus of your story. For example, a picture of a dancer with the focus on the feet standing up-right in toe shoes will automatically tell us this is a ballet dancer. Concentrating on the feet allows the viewer to focus on the effort in the pose or step. A slight blur to the image can suggest movement and the physicality involved with a movement.
  • Look at the following examples for ideas and inspiration.
Hands playing piano Legs colourful dancing Pottery Hand puppet

For tips and information on photography see the following links.

  • Portrait photography
  • Action shots

Cordileone, Elvira.  ‘Portrait photography tips.’  The Toronto Star, June 7, 2007.

Author unknown.  John Reeves.  Feheley Fine Arts Gallery.  Retrieved from the Internet on April 19, 2008 from:

Roberts, Joel.  ‘Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz.’  Book review,  Retrieved from the Internet on April 19. 2008 from:

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning