Soul Catcher
By Paul Gessell
The Ottawa Citizen
July 13, 2004

Lois Siegel has been photographing musicians for years, but they're often camera-shy,
 she tells Paul Gessell.

CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

An exhibition of Lois Siegel's favourite photographs of musicians opens July 22 at the Ottawa Folklore Centre.

Jazz diva Esther Phillips was "difficult."

So was k.d. lang. Fiddler Ashley MacIsaac was, at least back in 1996, "naive" and Sting was, well, a bit of a surprise.

Lois Siegel saw a pack of photographers chasing someone in 1982 and, without knowing who the quarry was, the intrepid Ottawa photographer joined the race. The prize: A great shot of an amazingly relaxed-looking Sting.

Siegel has been photographing the rich, famous and musical for two decades. She has captured anybody who was ever anybody at the Montreal World Film Festival. For years she haunted all the legendary jazz and blues clubs in Montreal, including Spectrum, Biddles and Rising Sun, to spy on musicians making love to their instruments.

Siegel's collection includes many fiddlers. She's one herself and spends quality time with various performing outfits, including the Lyon Street Celtic Band. Sometimes she shows up at festivals, concerts, hoedowns and fiddling competitions as the official photographer for such magazines as Cinema Canada or Downbeat.

Sometimes she just shows up, her camera hidden from bouncers. Being short and with the innocent face of a child, no one would ever guess Siegel is something of a sneaky whirling dervish stealing the souls of celebrities.

Musicians are increasingly wary of photographers, Siegel says during a recent interview in her Orleans home. Even the most laid-back bluesman can get cranky when someone, anyone, tries to get close with a camera during a concert. So, don't expect to see Siegel prowling around this week's Bluesfest. Anyway, if any of the Bluesfest artists are really, really noteworthy, chances are Siegel has already shot them some place else and hung their pictures on the wall of her home (the best photo gallery in town), alongside Sophia Loren, Nicolas Cage, Jackie Chan and other favorites of the paparazzi.

An exhibition of musician photos by Siegel opens July 22 at the Ottawa Folklore Centre at Bank and Sunnyside.

Siegel was hoping to show about 30 of her favourite musicians' shots.

The musicians she's eyeing for the show cover everything from jazz to the classics. The photos are a mixture of the candid and the posed.

Here are some of the contenders for the exhibition, simply titled Musicians: Charlie Biddle (in his photo, he looks ready to tango into bliss with his bass), classical violinist Ida Haendel, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, fiddler Natalie McMaster (her photo shows her soaring, surely, to another planet), Nova Scotia bluesman Dutch Mason, aboriginal warbler Buffy Sainte-Marie and American singer Johnny Winter ("I met him when I made a film about albinos.")

Charlie Biddle

Siegel is also a filmmaker. She teaches video production at the University of Ottawa. Her own film credits include such documentaries as "Lip Gloss," "Baseball Girls," the Genie-winning "Stunt People" and the aforementioned look at albinism, "Strangers in Town."

While some musicians, actors and others are thrilled to have Siegel photograph them, others are leery, nervous and just plain stand-offish. So, how does she get those types to relax and pose for her?

"Talk to them. Smile. Don't look like you're going to eat them alive."

Musicians will be performing, in the visual sense, at the Ottawa Folklore Centre, 1111 Bank St., from July 22 to Aug. 26. For more information on the exhibition, phone 730-2887.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2004

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