My On/Off Career as a Band Photographer

Lately, my confidence in myself as a band photographer has been diminishing more and more with each passing day. Four months is a long time for me to be out of the game and the last gig I was at was kind of depressing. It was heart breaking to be watching AFI when just a few years ago I was had taken photos of them. I even thought to myself if things don’t pick up I’ll give it up for good. I think it has a lot to do with my friends being very successful photographers who often get to photograph the kinds of bands I can only dream about photographing and posting those photos to my Facebook news feed. On one hand I’m happy that they get that opportunity, on the other, I’m a bit jealous.

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Ho, Davey! From AFI. Taken at The Big Top, Luna Park, Sydney 2010

In my ten years as a band photographer I’ve probably never stuck with it completely for a whole year minus the years 2006 and 2007 when I was really active. I’m sort of active for a few weeks or months and then go and do something else. I think at one point I was more interested in astrophysics than band photography and when I got interviewed by the South Coast Register (my local paper at the time) I just wanted to talk about autism. This time however, I’ve gone a full four months from no choice of my own without photographing a single band. Many times I have thought maybe I’ll just give it up because I’m not going anywhere with it but I at least had the opportunity to take photos of bands.

Things have started to pick up for me though. I’ve got four gigs lined up where I may be able to take photos of the bands. I’ve been invited to go to shows with the hope I will take photos of the bands but the thing is I’m really not interested in taking photos of bands I’ve never heard of and may not like. I can be very elite about the few bands I like and anything outside of it may be instantly rejected by me based on the fact that it’s unknown to me. Taking photos of those bands might be alright but I just feel like I will never get to shoot the bands that I actually listen to the most and I not long ago often got to shoot. Bands like Anberlin, Funeral For a Friend, Brand New, Thursday, AFI, Anti-Flag etc. It just feels like it will never happen again.

So, to put it basically, I can take photos of bands people recommend but I’ll be depressed and longing to take photos of the bands I would actually call myself a hardcore fan of and have missed out time and time again to photograph. I would not be happy.

I can go from shooting alongside Tony Mott in Enmore Theatre or photographing City and Colour in the huge State Theatre, then I can go back to having to struggle to take photos of AFI at The Factory Theatre, which is a much smaller venue. It depends on how quickly I apply to a gig when my editor asks for it, if they choose me to cover that gig for them or if they hear back from the promoter at all.

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Dallas Green doing what he does best with his band City and Colour at Sydney’s State Theatre, 2013.

I’m still excited about the next four gigs coming up. First up is Waits who are made up of the former members of After the Fall. They’re opening up a mostly punk rock bill on The Factory Floor, tomorrow night actually. I’m hoping I can get a photo pass to that gig. I know guitarist Mark from when I took photos of After the Fall in All Phones Arena, which at the time was called Sydney Superdome/ Acer Arena. That was a long time ago. I was still crawling all over the stage when taking photos. Now, I’m more aware of my restrictions and it feels pretty awkward for me to be on the stage. But deep down I really do miss it.

Then it’s Tim Rogers in Bulli. I’ve seen a lot of Tim and You Am I so it’s not as exciting for me. I’m always happy to see Tim but last time I got kind of drunk (among other things) at an after party and I think I may have made him feel uncomfortable. I spent most of the time talking to Simon Carter (The Cops/ Saint Tropez All Day) which restored my faith in being a massive nerd. Still, I’m looking forward to the gig. I might get a chance to test out my new and expensive 16-35mm lens which I haven’t got much confidence in because of not yet having a chance to test it out on a live band. It’s not always a good thing to blow $1600 on something you end up finding pretty useless.

Next it’s Tex Perkin’s band The Ape and I’m probably most excited to see them. I have not seen them since last October and have been really anticipating the day where one Sydney show gets announced. The good news is they are playing at Oxford Art factory, a venue where I’m pretty sure you can take a camera in so I don’t need to harass the band for a photo pass. Their choice of stage lighting is any band photographer’s nightmare so it’s a real challenge just to get some decent shots without one side of a band member hidden in shadow and the other side striped with white light. Flash will fix that problem though. I don’t really get a chance to experiment too much. Plus, I kind of want to get a rock move photo of the bassist Pat because I haven’t taken a great shot like that of him since 2007, and he seemed to like it at least.

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This is the photo. Dallas Crane at Annandale Hotel, Dec 29, 2007

Problem is my friends who are hardcore You Am I fans aren’t as into Tex Perkins related projects as I am and I end up going to the shows alone, which I can do but it still gets lonely. I just wouldn’t mind having the same company I have at You Am I gigs. I don’t even know the bad that well – and given my rapid decline of social skills since going off stimulant medication I don’t think I ever will – which can be a plus when I go to these gigs solo.

At least I sort of know Darren Middleton who I’ll see next. The issue here is that it’s at The Rock Lily in Star City and I’ve never been there before, but I think my love for his music will make me push through the anxiety I usually get when I go to these venues. The last gig of his I went to was at The Vanguard and I thought it was located where The Sandringham Hotel used to be, and I ended up walking around lost for half an hour anxious and growing in depression with constant thoughts of walking into the middle of King St. When I eventually decided to take a taxi home I found the venue. I was shaking and tearful and had a ‘let’s just get this over and done with’ attitude but I ended up really enjoying myself. And now one of the photos I took at that gig of Darren is occupying the homepage of his website.

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Here’s the photo. Darren Middleton at The Vanguard, Sydney 2013

I still get a lot of generalised anxiety when preparing to go to gigs and social anxiety when at gigs, which I often counter with a few beers. But I really want to cut my drinking down. It changes my mood cycles around too much not to mention increases the risk of seizures. I also don’t like the drinking culture in this country. I will have a few on a special occasion (which to me is basically when I get a chance to be social) but I won’t do it every weekend.

There are a lot of barriers that get in the way of me doing my live band photography and mental illness and autistic issues (I have a profound fear of change) aside it all ends up depending on rules and restrictions and if I’m given photos access at all. So, when you look at it that way hopefully you can all understand where the lack of confidence comes from.

After the Middleton gig I don’t know what’s next. I’m hoping for some Dallas Crane before July, or after, because I won’t be very happy if they play in Sydney when I’m overseas. I want to see Davey Lane again and try one last time to see The Drones and The Gin Club. Every time they come to town I’m either busy photographing other gigs, or can’t get to the venue because of my anxiety over change. There’s going to eventually be another Anberlin and Brand New tour and I’ll be tearing my hair out trying to get photo access to those gigs, especially seeing how this is Anberlin’s last Australian tour ever and Brand New is just, well, I’ve been listening to them for two days straight. Does that give you a better picture of how much I like them?

If someone was to ask me ‘why do you take photos of bands?’ I really don’t give it much thought. I know I can take photos of band just as good as any professional band photographer so it’s good to exercise that skill. I do it for the opportunity to capture a really memorable moment; a guitarist rock move, jump or an emotional singer. I do it for the opportunity that I discover a new band to listen to and the chance that I can make a new friend. I do it so I get to spend time with my friends, both the fans and the ones in bands whom I have a very narrow window of opportunity to get a chance to talk to. And I do it because I’m a part of the live music culture in Australia and it’s my contribution to that culture. I love the music and the band members look great on stage and I love to look over my photos and relive the memory of the night.

So I guess Lost Through the Lens ain’t dead yet. I could be many things but they take a lot of motivation, focus and discipline. Band photography might take up one day of preparation, one night of taking the photos and half of the next day editing and uploading photos. For someone with moderate ADHD symptoms who is currently not taking any medication it’s a short term goal I can see through til the end, and then it keeps repeating but not so often it begins to get boring. It’s always throwing new challenges at me especially about getting to unknown venues and working with difficult stage lighting.

I suppose it’s something I’m always going to do. I know some people who won’t allow me to give it up and will be at a loss to understand why I would, even after reading this blog post.

You want one last photo? Here’s Geoff Ricky, my God in the early adult years and singer of the now disbanded Thursday, at Soundwave festival in 2008. A print of this photo resides in my kitchen, as a reminder that with persistence I will eventually get my breakthrough. And also because my sister Khara thinks it’s awesome.  

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