Photographer’s Archive Comprises 40 Years’ Creative Improvised Music & Jazz

Chicago 1994

Constantly Evolving Archive

Her childhood curiosity, piqued by cameras neglected by assorted relatives, sparked a love of image-making that Susan O’Connor has maintained ever since. One of her prized possessions is the Kodak Instamatic her father brought a very young Susan from a business trip to the U.S. One of her favourite part-time jobs was at Kominek Camera in Toronto.

O’Connor has photographed dozens of subjects with various types of cameras since then, and her most significant public project is Gallery O, shot entirely with a hand-held SLR (or DSLR) in available light. This internationally recognized and evolving collection of some 4,000 live-performance portraits from the world of free jazz and improvised music is on permanent view at The Gallery section of the website you are now reading includes a selection of her performance and other photos.

Jazzword Combines Images & Information

Susan O’Connor has been following the international jazz, free jazz and improvised-music scenes with camera in hand for decades. In the early 1980s, when she was often the only (and almost always only female) photographer at gigs, she produced compelling black and white film images of jazz musicians in performance, inspired by the work of Herman Leonard, William Claxton and Francis Davis. In the early 1990s, journalist-husband Ken Waxman and David Groskind, a friend and brilliant webmaster, launched Jazzword, with Gallery O becoming the primary online venue for O’Connor’s work.

Early in the 21st century, O’Connor switched to a digital camera and started shooting in colour, working to capture the feelings, spontaneity and passion she had been documenting for years in black and white film. She continues to be appreciated by musicians for her consistent documentation of their work, along with her unobtrusive shooting style.

Changing Venues, Changing Trends

Internationally recognized as a chronicler of improvisation and free-jazz artists including Barry Guy, William Parker and Carlo Actis Dato, O’Connor’s archive also comprises images of jazz greats Art Blakey, Milt Jackson and Betty Carter, plus blues artists including Etta James and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson. James Brown is also featured. See the list on Gallery O on

O’Connor has made both documentary and interpretive photographs in venues ranging from the plush St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto to New Orleans’ rustic Preservation Hall; from 13th-century chapels to art galleries to open-air stages, and in homes and basement venues lit with incandescent and LED bulbs, and sometimes only candles. Her work has captured the attention of critics, musicians, collectors, and lovers of jazz and improvised music in Canada, Europe and the U.S. Her first international exhibition took place in Austria in 2020, and she has had several in her home base of Toronto since 1990.


Susan O’Connor’s evocative images have been published in CODA, Music Works and the Globe and Mail (Canada); JazzHalo (Belgium); the Wire (U.K.) and ArtVoice, Signal to Noise, Woove, JAZZIZ and All About Jazz New York in the U.S. Her in-performance photos have been used by musicians and producers for promotional purposes in print and on line, and in discographies and books including New York is Now: The New Wave of Free Jazz, Francesco Martinelli’s discography of Mario Schiano’s works, and Steve Lacy: Conversations.  These images and more are displayed in Gallery O on Jazzword, a website dedicated to information and reviews of jazz-oriented musical improvisation.

Copyright (c) Susan O’Connor

Photos on this site and in Gallery O are normally reproduced in relatively low resolution with minimal cropping and alterations to deter unapproved reproduction and use. Some digital images have been converted to black and white for more effective online display, but most newer originals are in colour. All images on this site and our companion site are copyright (c) the photographer: Susan O’Connor.

Images shown may not be reprinted or used without written permission and a published credit. For enhanced copies or downloading, reproduction and licensing inquiries, please email

Ljubljana 2016
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