Chasing live music photography has been an intense pursuit over the years, and since the question comes up on a regular basis, it's a great subject for an impromptu rambling. Why music? Why festivals? What made you decide to get into this line of photojournalism? Great question.
With humble beginnings in high school and college, photography paired perfectly with my infatuation over the live music scene. The hobby evolved slowly, bouncing between enthusiastic concert-goer and that weird girl that takes photos of everything. I learned early on that it's not an easy line of work to find success in. Between long hours carting heavy and expensive gear, meager compensation and intense competition in a field of very talented and equally hungry photographers, it's a tough gig.
You never get to enjoy a show as you would a paying ticket holder. You get in, you snap your butt off while avoiding spit, pyrotechnics and beer cans thrown by a rowdy crowd (yes, I've fallen victim to all of the above). Then you're shuttled out, usually after only three songs, hoping you got what you came for. I've had my eyebrows singed off, and I've had musicians spit on me. I've been elbowed in the face by a competing photographer and I've been unceremoniously denied entry minutes before a set by an overzealous manager when I literally drove six hours to get there and shoot - for nothing. Festivals are a test of endurance and you cannot lose focus (no pun intended) or stop to savor the scene - unless you're photographing it, of course. I've cowered under a stage in torrential rain and wind trying to keep cameras dry, I've mopped the sweat from my brow in blazing heat on a parking lot Warped Tour shoot. I've been evacuated under lighting and tornado warnings and I've missed a shoot after set times changed without explanation. Photographers are generally considered the least important part of a show, and we frequently leave disappointed and empty-handed. We're never treated like royalty. I remember once being granted our own air-conditioned media trailer with a couch, running water and wifi at a festival and thinking "wowza, this is plush!" And no, we don't usually get to hang out backstage with the talent.
When people see my photos or learn about dRiFFt, the initial reaction is usually "wow, that's the coolest gig ever" (I assure you, it's not...). The next question is always; "how'd you get into that? Why music? Why festivals?"
The answer is the music. More specifically, the intensity with which it reflects the human spirit. Spoiler alert: here's where we get serious for a minute.
"Music is what feelings sound like." - Georgia Cates.
It's powerful. It is liberating. It's primitive. It is universal. Music a celebration of authenticity, the realest form of real. It's a vehicle for emotion and expression. It grants us permission to feel that feeling, to relish and to relinquish. Want a photo capturing something very raw and very real? Snap a singer in the last ten seconds of a song.
Music is inspiration. It makes us hold our breath or draw a tear. It transports us back to that moment of blissful freedom 30 years ago on a road trip with your best friend, belting out Whitesnake with the windows down, somewhere between Los Angeles and Palm Desert. It fuels us to power through a grueling workout. It inspires the grace and delicate refinement of a ballerina. It gives us a reason to move. It allows us to be silly. It makes us smile. It inspires awe, it captures hurt. It fuels anger, outrage, fire. It conveys heartbreak. Music gives us a reason to lose our composure; it grants permission to scream our heads off, to dance with our hearts open, and to close our eyes, feel, breathe and live.
Music gives us moments of the purest form of expression.
Mid-performance, you see the rawest passion and commitment. Those artists with the greatest stage presence are also giving us their sincerest selves. They're living and reliving moments of their own experience through their performance. Sitting in the audience of their show is both monumentally communal but also deeply personal.
The opportunity to capture a moment of that is a gift. There is nothing like it.
To eternalize the realest moments; a singer's haunting vocal crescendos translate emotion that the words alone cannot convey. The powerful guitar solo, almost transcendent, making us hold our breath (yep, I saw you air-guitar-ing there...). The pianist plucking a delicate arpeggio that literally carries us to elation from our gut, only to catch in our throat. Have you never found music so moving that the fine hairs on your arms stood up?
Because it’s magic. It's Florence Welch twirling, skipping, gliding, floating, as her music soars into the hearts of her audience. It's the soothing, stoic, timeless familiarity of the Beatles' Let it Be. It's the soaring, symphonic rock of a Muse chorus. It's the boppy, poppy rebellious spirit of a Green Day tune. In all its' endless variations, music is the realest form of expression.
Sitting in the pit at a show, big or small, I'm sandwiched between the authenticity on stage and the enthuse of the audience, fueling each other. My job is to capture that exchange. It's the ultimate fly-on-the-wall moment. And it's one I get to take home, dissect, emphasize, and put on display for the world. To create art from those fleeting moments is an incredible gift.
So yes, music fuels my passion for photography. And yes, it has it's cons... but it's worth it. That moment I click through the images on my memory card after a show and find a moment so perfectly etched in pixels. It's like Christmas morning. The fuel to my fire. I hope that one day, when I'm old and grey and have a world of funny concert stories under my belt and I just don't get the music these kids are listening to these days, there will be a little gallery for my work. Where I can invite guests to experience a snippet of the music, festival, concerts long gone. In an art form of pixels, light, focus and purpose.
Here you'll find archived band, festival and concert stories... plus blog entries from Team dRiFFt as they travel, photograph, interview and adventure!