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Robert Plant at Jazz à Vienne 2014, by Tim Motion

1 June 2023

Vienne is on the site of an old Roman town situated on the Rhône River thirty kilometres south of Lyon. Being an avid jazz enthusiast and photographer, I had discovered the festival in Nice on the Cote d’Azur in 1982 after five years shooting music in dark clubs and old friend Ronnie Scott’s in Frith Street London, although my first jazz photographs were taken at the Lisbon Jazz Festival in 1971. When passing through Vienne on the A7 autoroute a friend told me about the festival which had started in 1984. I attended in 1988 and have been going ever since on the way south. Occasionally I flew back to the UK for an important commission, although one year I covered five festivals including San Sebastian. There were often commissions for editorial photography and descriptive text, and meanwhile I was building my Jazz & Blues Archive – An Eye for the Sound.

For Jazz à Vienne the main events take place in the Theatre Antique, a Roman amphitheatre seating eight thousand people. Access to the press photographers’ pit in front of the stage requires clambering over a very uneven and well-worn Roman wall in near darkness. Then begins the contest for the best position between twenty-five very competitive photographers. However, on this first night of the festival featuring Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin in a solo appearance, no one was allowed in the pit. This is becoming more frequent at festivals for photographers, who are often stationed a very long way back behind the mixing desk, from where a 500mm lens is not enough! I had to find a ‘view’ from the audience which was packed to the front of the stage on the wide flat area below the steep stone terraces of the amphitheatre. Who sat there 2000 years ago?! Now the only option is a crowded passageway behind this, about 50 metres from the stage with the seating already raised. Fortunately, being tall at 6’2”, I managed to find a narrow sightline between two peoples’ heads, glad that I had my monopod and prayed that they wouldn’t put their heads together.

Here is the full frame I was able to achieve at 200mm. Camera: Nikon 800E, Nikon VR 70-200mm f2.8. Exposure: 1/500th f4. ISO 800, not much light and not always on the performer! This was literally my last shot out of about fifty, before we were moved away, being over the proscribed time limit. I feel that it is a poignant image of a great old rocker from one of the greatest rock bands, expressing emotion, passion and dedication to the music.

A print from the cropped image of Robert Plant measures 1,20m x 0,85m, and has been exhibited at the AdLib Gallery in Fulham and the JM Gallery in Portobello Road. I feel that it is a poignant image of a great old rocker from one of the greatest rock bands, expressing emotion, passion, and dedication to his music. Considering the shoot conditions and enlargement the details are very well maintained. I have another project in the pipeline for an exhibition in the City later in the year with some of my personal favourites, perhaps comprising a separate showing of my desert and aerial work.

Here are some images from Vienne. All photographs ©Tim Motion/Jazz&Blues Archive