William Ellis: Rebirth of the Film.

Written by | Behind The Lens, News

It’s clear that over the last few years that there has been a trend in the music business to claw back some of the warmth and nostalgia of the analogue world. This among other factors is evidenced by the resurgence of the vinyl LP. What holds true to the music world also extends to the realm of photography.

British music photographer William Ellis spent much of lock-down reviewing his extensive archive of film negatives and discovered a rich archive of long-forgotten images of jazz legends including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Tony Bennett and Nancy Wilson.

Having re-discovered these images, Ellis has now curated a special collection of these iconic photos and will be making them available to jazz aficionados in a series titled “The Artist’s Edition”. This exclusive series comprises 20 images, available separately and presented as handmade “silver gelatin” prints on fiber based paper. Each print is made from the original negatives individually by Ellis in his darkroom. The “The Artist’s Edition” are available here in the Jazz In Europe web-shop. Click below to order your prints.

When asked about how the series came about Ellis explained: “Rediscovering the negatives inspired me to set up a tardis-like darkroom and, after a 20 year digitally incurred gap, I began once again to make silver gelatin prints.

You know, in my mind, no other print type exhibits the depth and captivating presence of Silver Gelatin Photograph. These exquisite prints are hand made in the darkroom from the original negatives—many of which are from Leica and Hasselblad cameras which adds to the mystique of these exclusive images.

The craft process—which dates back to the 1880s is carried out on the fly requiring quicksilver creative judgement and technical skills which are extremely rare in today’s digital world. Even more so that the photographer himself is making them personally in the darkroom using the finest Leitz and De Vere enlargers.”

For photography buffs among us, it’s interesting to note that the paper selected is premium quality double weight gloss Ilford Warmtone Fibre Based Paper. Ellis went on to say: “I love the luxuriously rich prints it renders—warm deepest blacks and wonderful creamy whites and all the shades that lay between.

This variable contrast paper enables me to make precise localised adjustments of contrast and brightness by shading areas of the paper during exposure to light from the enlarger lens to make the print just as I envisaged. The connection between the negative and final print is unbroken by any mechanical or digital production—it is judged by vision and made by hand.”

Each silver gelatin photograph is in itself a unique piece displaying subtle variations richness and have a presence which is captivating.

As William stated above, the artisanal and technical skills required to make these pieces are extremely rare in today’s digital world and more so the fact that the prints are made individually by the photographer himself making each image in the series a true collector’s item.

Each photo in the series is embossed and numbered by hand from an edition of only 20 worldwide and is presented in a hand-cut double-thickness mount ready for the collector to select their frame of choice.

William Ellis is widely acknowledged as having created an important document of the contemporary jazz scene. His contribution to the culture was recognized by the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City when he was invited to produce the Inaugural International Exhibition in 2005, and where he returned in 2008 to present his work in the ‘Jazz in Black and White: Bebop and Beyond’ exhibit. Legendary Jazz photographic icon Herman Leonard also recognized William’s eye for a good shot stating “Beautiful images – glad to see someone younger has the eye.” 

In addition, William’s work has been shown at international festivals and galleries in the U.K. and throughout the world including the ‘Modern Works on Paper’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. His images have been used in the JAM (Jazz Appreciation Month) Outreach program in the United States initiated by the Smithsonian Institution and many of his pictures are in private collections worldwide – including many of the musicians he has shot.

A number of his photographs are in the permanent collections of The American Jazz Museum, Kansas City MO, The ARChive of Contemporary Music, New York City and The National Portrait Gallery London respectively. William is also the creator of the renowned “One LP” project.

The ‘Artist’s Edition’ prints are available for purchase here at Jazz in Europe and on Williams website. Also available are a series of archival colour prints of major jazz artists from William’s collection.

William Ellis – Photographer

Last modified: November 24, 2020