Photo assignment: Richard Reed, musician

1 09 2010

I recently returned from a photography assignment in Providence, Rhode Island. I was contracted by Cochlear Americas to photograph Richard Reed, a full-time musician who wears a cochlear implant and is the developer of HOPE Notes, a cochlear implant music appreciation program.

HOPE Notes (from the Cochlear Americas website)
“HOPE Notes is the first of its kind—a program uniquely developed for cochlear implant and hearing aid users designed to help improve music perception and appreciation using original songs, traditional Folk, Blues & Country styles and some familiar tunes played in unexpected ways. HOPE Notes includes a CD, DVD, and a detailed User Guide including lyrics designed to assist and enrich your use of the program. The DVD incorporates both visual and audio cues while the CD (designed for use on the go) focuses solely on the audio component of the program.”

To learn more about HOPE Notes or to order, contact Cochlear at 1-(800)-523-5798 or check out their website here.

A Life Without Sound
A late-deafened adult, Richard lost his hearing due to an ototoxic antiobiotic he was given to treat peritonitis in the early 1990s, when he was in his mid-30s. His hearing loss progressed from mild to profound over the next two years. Read more about his hearing loss in Rick Massimo‘s insightful article in The Providence Journal here. Carolyn Smaka from AudiologyOnline interviewed Richard in July. It’s an excellent introduction to Reed’s hearing loss as well as the development of HOPE Notes. Check out her interview here.

When I asked Richard what it was like as a full-time musician to not be able to continue in the field, he told me about playing one night after his hearing loss. “While deaf and using useless powerful digital hearing aids, I used to sit in with my brother Tom in various Blues bands or with old friends. I could feel the bass and drums—thought I could hear myself a little. One night in Newport, it became painfully obvious just how little music I could actually hear. During a piano solo, a cord to my amplifier came loose, but I kept right on playing—with no sound coming out!”

After he retired from performing, he worked in his sister Roberta‘s antique store “refinishing and painting warped and wild folk art furniture, which was therapeutic but unfulfilling.” He wore hearing aids during this time, but didn’t pursue the cochlear implant until 2002. Richard wrote, What It Feels Like…to Regain Your Hearing, in a 2007 issue of Esquire magazine here.

Return to Music
After receiving his Nucleus 24 Contour CI in 2002, Richard noticed a significant improvement in his ability to hear and understand speech, but found listening to music frustrating. With patience, practice and the help of his aural therapist, music became a source of joy again. Not long after his CI was activated, he stayed away from playing the piano because to him it sounded out of tune. He had to go back to the basics with scales and eventually made enough progress to start playing with bands again. Learn more about his journey back to the hearing world in the article, Hero Spotlight: Richard Reed, available on Cochlear Americas website here. In that article, he says, “As ironic as it was for a musician to go deaf, I realized, too, how many friends’ conversations revolved around music—what’s new, who’s good, who’s playing where. Losing music was horrible, but the loss of everyday conversation was worse.”

At Long Last—I’m a Band Groupie!
On my assignment for Cochlear Americas a few weekends ago, I was honored and excited to photograph Richard and a few of his fellow musicians at The Music Complex in Pawtucket, R.I.

His brother, Tom Reed, plays bass. At just 13, Tom taught Richard, then 12, his first songs on the organ. Tom plays freelance—backing up various bands from week to week—and teaches private lessons. He plays electric bass in R&B bands, and upright bass for Blues, Jazz and Rockabilly. He recorded some bass parts for Richard’s HOPE Notes project. (Photo, left to right: Mark Cutler, Jack Moore, Tom Reed and Richard Reed)

Drummer Jack Moore, a high school teacher by day, has played with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Roomful of Blues and many others. He currently plays with Robert Graves Leonard’s Slippery Sneakers, a Rhode Island-based Zydeco band.

Acclaimed guitarist and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Mark Cutler‘s latest CD is Red. He has been the lead singer and songwriter for such renown rock bands as The Schemers, The Raindogs, and The Dino Club, and has toured with Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan and many others. The Providence Phoenix recently profiled Mark here. Cutler works in the software business during the week and reserves his very busy weekends for gigs with various ensembles. You’ll find Mark Cutler videos on youtube here. Richard has played many gigs as one of Mark’s sidemen—before going deaf and again post-CI.

Today, Richard plays two to three times a week in New England nightclubs, concerts and recording sessions. When not performing, he travels the world to lecture about his hearing loss experience and “CI music.” He recently returned from Europe, and played squeezebox on two-time Grammy award-winning children’s singer/songwriter Bill Harley‘s newest CD, tentatively titled Songs We Sing. Future travel plans include CI Music Workshops in Salt Lake City in November, Toronto and Orlando in February, then back to the UK in March. Richard is playing with Mark Cutler in a reunion of their old band, The Schemers, in Newport at an autumn festival next month. He says, “this time I’ll hear my piano parts!” When I asked him what inspired him to create HOPE Notes, he said, “it was a way to give CI users simple exercises to learn or relearn some basic songs and tonalities.” He has already starting writing songs for Volume II.

Upcoming Feature in Hearing Loss Magazine
Reed has written an article about his hearing loss and the development of HOPE Notes that will be published in the upcoming November/December 2010 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, which I design and produce bimonthly for the Hearing Loss Association of America. Donna Sorkin, Vice President of Consumer Affairs for Cochlear Americas, will contribute sidebars about strategies to appreciate music and another titled, “What the Research Says…and Why it Doesn’t Matter.” Some of the images from my photo session will appear in her feature article. Cochlear Americas manufactures Nucleus cochlear implants and the Baha programmable bone conduction system. My otolaryngologist, Dr. John Niparko of Johns Hopkins Medical Center, says that I am a candidate for the Baha system.

Behind-the-Scenes Photo Notes
For the jam session photos, I used the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS)—with three Nikon Speedlights (with color-correcting gels)—an SB-900 fitted with an Alzo Mini Softbox as my main light, an SB-800 on the Nikon D300 as the trigger and an SB-600 on the side with a snoot. For the portraits with the beige background (shot in Richard’s home), I used my Nikon SB-800 Speedlight fitted with a Ray Flash, which replicates the lighting effect produced by more expensive studio ring flash units. It produces a shadowless light on your subject and a soft even shadow around the edges. I was very happy with the results of the ring flash in this session. If you’d like to try this type of lighting, check out the Coco Ring Flash Adapter—at just $49.95 on Amazon, it’s well below the $199 I paid for my Ray Flash a few years ago. (Hmmm….which product came first?—The Coco Ring Flash is an almost exact replicate—but I do agree with many of the online reviewers that, for a non-electronic, purely plastic gadget, the Ray Flash is still overpriced at $199. Having said that, I did buy it and am happy with it. When it first came out, it was listed for $299.99. It’s plastic people, plastic—no electronic parts, no cords, nothing—as one reviewer commented, “they were probably shamed into dropping the price.”). At any rate, whether you splurge on the Ray Flash or spring for the “poor man’s” version (which I was unaware of at the time of my purchase)—the Coco Ring Flash—it’s a really fun gadget to add to your photographic arsenal.

Want to learn more about the Nikon Creative Lighting System? Check out the Nikon School Hands-on Guide to Creative Lighting DVD, featuring photographers Bob Krist and Joe McNally. Joe McNally’s book, The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes, is an excellent resource as well. A lighting workshop with this master is definitely on my to-do checklist! Check out McNally’s excellent blog here and Bob Krist’s elegant website here. And for really comprehensive information on lighting, bookmark David Hobby’s blog, Strobist.

Whew! And finally, special thanks to my photo mentor, Brian Loflin, for his tips, troubleshooting and advice…and to Michael Schwehr for his service as my most excellent photo assistant.

All photos are by Cindy Dyer © 2010 Cochlear, Ltd.







Karen & Layla

10 12 2009

My friend Karen lost her beloved Ragdoll cat, Xena, very suddenly just over a year ago. She didn’t think she was ready for a new fur baby until this past summer, when our friend Regina, who volunteers at a local shelter, mentioned to her that there was a Ragdoll at the shelter in need of a home. No pressure, just come meet her. As we expected, Karen fell in love and decided it was time to adopt again. “Lady” became “Layla.” (Karen said she couldn’t keep the name “Lady,” because every time she said it, she could hear Jerry Lewis saying, “Hey Layyyyyydeee!” in that voice that only he can do.) Layla made herself right at home the minute she arrived and with heaps of love and a great diet, her bare patches filled right in with thick fur and now she is a diva in her own right! Last night I photographed Karen and Layla (who, unlike most Ragdolls, really doesn’t like being held) for their Christmas card.

FYI, the lighting is a little different because I attached my Ray Flash to a Nikon SB-800 Speedlight flash. I haven’t used this gadget often but intend to in the future because I love the glowy skin tones it produces! One of my favorite techie lighting blogs is by David Hobby, aka “The Strobist.” If you want to learn more about lighting, there is no better place than his web site, www.strobist.com. Don’t forgot to check out his “On Assignment” page here. There is a ton of great information and how-to’s on that page. David does a great review of the Ray Flash here. His posting mentions the price for the Ray Flash is $300—awhile back the price dropped to $199.95 at B&H (where I purchased mine) and Amazon.

From Amazon.com: It was designed to be as light and as portable as possible. There are no electronics, no flashtubes and no cumbersome cables! It uses a clever system of acrylic light channels and reflectors to distribute the light emitted from the flash unit evenly around the large diameter of the ringflash adapter. This creates the same lighting effect normally only available from ringflash units made by studio flash equipment manufacturers, which are expensive, heavy and tethered (they have a cable from ringflash to power pack). The RAY FLASH Adapter creates a very special lighting effect: a “3-d shadow-wrapped look.” Because all light originates from the front, i.e. from around the lens, it produces a virtually shadow-less look on the front of your subject, while a soft even shadow appears around the edges. It is ideally suited for fashion, portrait, beauty, wedding & macro photography as a main or fill-in light. The RAY FLASH Adapter does not change the colour temperature of the flash that powers it and the additional weight can easily be accommodated by the on-camera flash unit.

I just discovered that there is a lookalike ring flash called a “Saturn Ring Flash” for just $89 here (I can’t review the Saturn product because I don’t own it, but I thought I’d point out that it looks so much like the Ray Flash and is $100 cheaper!)

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! I found a “Coco Flash” on Amazon for just $49.95! I didn’t realize there were so many copycat ring flashes out there. The Coco Flash got high marks from reviewers on Amazon. Photographer/blogger Klaus Boedker wrote an in-depth review (with nice sample photos) of the Coco Flash here. I don’t think this product was out there when I was ring flash shopping—$49.95 is a great price for this gadget!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.