Lettering and photography combine to bring out the power of music

Lettering and photography combine to bring out the power of music

Artist Ben Tallon and photographer Andrew Cotterill have collaborated on a five-year project featuring Ian Brown, Damon Albarn, FKA Twigs, Skepta, Kanye and more.

At the end of the month, a new exhibition in London celebrates the power of the musical experience – the way music, lyrics and visuals combine to have an emotion impact on the viewer, and draw out the thoughts and feelings of the artist behind them. Lend Me Your Ear combines photography of some of the world’s most iconic musical artists with (mostly) lyrics rendered using Ben’s trademark brushwork.

The end results sum up Ben and Andrew’s connections to the artists and their work – and Ben says he hopes that the works will make a connection to viewers thoughts about their own self-expression.

“We wanted to celebrate those who had succeeded because of who they are,” he says, “in the hope that those struggling to find their voice may be inspired by that, like we have been.”

Before starting the project, Ben didn’t know Andrew – he’d just seen the photographer’s work hung on a pub’s walls. But a mutual friend put Ben in touch, and the project began – also leading to a friendship between the two that grew as the project continued.

Here Ben talks us through four of his favourite of the works – why the artists and songs mean so much to him, how he selected the lyrics and what he wanted to convey.

Damon Albarn: lyric taken from Blur’s Ambulance

Until Blur came into my life, my cassette collection was comprised of Shaggy, Right Said Fred and Michael Jackson.

I loved them all, but suddenly I could relate to many of the things Blur were about. It made me want to create, to find ways to share my world like they were doing. My mum showed up with a cheaper version of a Harrington jacket and tried to cut my hair like Damon’s, so I could dream, despite knowing I would always have Lego hair.

But into my college years, I continued to be inspired by Damon’s irrepressible creativity as he evolved from band frontman to collaborator, forward thinker and a musician clearly in love with his craft. I opted for ‘I ain’t got nothing to be scared of’ because the opening line on the Think Tank album perfectly captures his refusal to stand still.

Don Letts

I told Andy I’d met Don at this music event in Manchester and, to my shame, did not know who he was until I’d had a great conversation with him and nicked an email address on the way out.

Andy told me that if it were possible, he absolutely had to be in this project. Don is credited with introducing reggae music to the punk scene in the 1970s. so I used the email address and Don invited around his house to do the shoot.

We spent the afternoon with him, his passion truly infectious.

He was down on the impact of technology and quite angry about how people were using it. After talking about how, as a young black man, when his white mates were picking up guitars, he grabbed a Super-8 camera and started to document what was happening. He felt that too many people are wasting time on social media and that “Good ideas are being lost among ego and bullshit.” It was hard not to be in awe of a man so full of vibrant energy.

FKA Twigs: lyric taken from Video Girl

I remember Andy telling me the story about Twigs: how she was this gentle human being who he felt could not be portrayed as purely through a staged shot as she would be in the midst of her incredible stage performance.

Andy adored the energy of the Twigs shot. He took the shot at Hackney Empire having already done some, but wanted to watch more and try to capture what was going on from a different angle. He said ‘she was incredibly sexy and very womanly; that she had her own, new sound and when she put her incredible movement to that, it was something else to witness.’

I felt envious I’d missed the moment, but the chosen lyric from Video Girl seemed right.

Ian Brown: lyric from Breaking Into Heaven

Ian was the first image I worked with. It was over a pint in Stratford at our first meeting that Andy told me Ian is a lovely bloke who has a reputation as an arsehole only because he does not suffer bullshit. The honesty in Andy’s work is without pretence and I loved that he was very respectful of all the people he got to shoot.  It made sense that he came back with all these warm stories.

I had been in awe of Ian’s character and swagger for years and the older I get, the more I realise that the longer you sit around waiting for answers, the less likely they are to come. ‘How many times do I have to tell you, you don’t have to wait to die. You can have it all any time you want it, yeah the kingdom’s all inside’ remains a favourite lyric that illustrated the self-belief required to forge your own path in life, which is what this project is all about at its core.

Lend Me Your Ear runs from May 24 to June 6 at the Stance gallery, 3 Neal Street, Covent Garden, London. It’s held in association with Young Urban Arts Foundation and CALM.

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