Photo Exploration: Self, Exit/In. January 2014

March 4, 2014 at 12:34 pm

They say never meet your heroes. I’ve found that be mostly true, espe­cially with musi­cians. I can recall numer­ous shows where the per­former dis­ap­pointed me. Either in energy, or pre­sen­ta­tion, or just being not that great onstage. But Self’s 20th anniver­sary release show for Sub­lim­i­nal Plas­tic Motives blew that mantra away. The show was sim­ply incred­i­ble. I enjoyed the open­ing bands (espe­cially Glos­sary), and when the open­ing notes of Bora­teen started up I was over the moon. Thanks to Exit/In for open­ing up such a great venue for the show, and thanks to Matt Mahaf­fey and the rest of the band for doing a show in Nashville.

I’ve touched on con­cert pho­tog­ra­phy before, and I’d say that the num­ber one issue with such work is the phys­i­cal loca­tion. Venue’s can have vary­ing rules on where/what to shoot, the light­ing can be dif­fi­cult (at best), and staff aren’t always the most under­stand­ing when it comes to pho­tog­ra­phers want­ing (or need­ing) to get “the shot.” For­tu­nately this night didn’t need any sneak­ing or cajol­ing, either to get my cam­era into the club or to take pho­tos. Although it was my only time to visit Exit/In, I have high hopes for return vis­its. I espe­cially like that to reach the facil­i­ties, one must walk up a set of stairs right by the stage. It was from this van­tage point I made the pho­to­graph below.


Self, Exit/In. Jan­u­ary 2014

There is always the feel­ing of “Did I shoot too much? Did I still some­how miss the shot?” with con­certs. They last for hours and most per­form­ers are so ener­getic they move far too quickly for the required (rel­a­tively slow) shut­ter speed to get enough light. Addi­tion­ally, in the dark­ened room pretty much every­thing looks good on the camera’s LCD dis­play. So it is a mish-mash of shoot­ing a whole lot of pho­tos and throw­ing out an amaz­ingly large num­ber of them — even those that looked great the night before in pre­view. But, with a lit­tle prac­tice, once can incor­po­rate the dif­fi­cul­ties above and find some treasures.

For instance, by the end of a long show the musi­cians may be sweaty, disheveled, even a lit­tle drunk (or oth­er­wise ine­bri­ated). Maybe they have slowed down — they aren’t quite as ani­mated, but more expres­sive. The crowd may have even thinned out a lit­tle so you can stay longer in the prime spots. I took plenty of shots from the front of the stage, but this side image I really love. Matt has been play­ing these notes for a long, long time and I some­times won­der how artists who have been per­form­ing the same work through mul­ti­ple decades keep the music fresh for them­selves. I think there must be some sort of a med­i­ta­tive state, some­thing mind­ful and yet with­out active con­trol. Where the right actions hap­pen nat­u­rally, and that frees up the musi­cian to really hear the rest of the expe­ri­ence — the other per­form­ers, the crowd, maybe their own heart­beat. To step into the void, so to speak.

And I think about my own pho­tog­ra­phy, my own moments of shooting-without-thinking, and per­haps that’s why I really love con­cert pho­tog­ra­phy. When the air between the stage and the lens opens up, and the musi­cian and the pho­tog­ra­pher let their media engage with­out human inter­fer­ence — just human motivation.