Crowd Pleaza

May 27, 2011 

When I started developing my photo skills in college, two of my favorite targets to practice on were pets and bands. They both offered challenges that I thought translated well to the uncertainties you face on daily assignments. Pets are fast, unpredictable and cute, so it was always a crowd pleaser to get some fun snaps of our furry little friends. Their spazziness makes them good targets to work on focusing and anticipating. I even wrote a column for my college paper with the unfortunately punny title Practice Makes Purrfect.

Concerts gave me a chance to work on my low-light shooting skills — especially in the dank Eugene bars I usually shot in. On top of working with slow shutter speeds, you also have to quickly meter in rapidly changing light and figure out how to strike a balance in your exposure to include both elements of light and dark. Plus, I always felt pseudo-important while photographing my friends' band, Sid and Fancy.

Our local pet coverage is overwhelmingly handled by our readers, though, and aside from a few here and there at the fair or other community events, I haven't shot any bands for the sake of photographing the performances since starting at the Herald. We don't generally cover concerts, but our former Audience Development Manager Eldrick Hereford asked if I'd come along as he went to write a review about the Spring Music Fest at the Toyota Center on May 19.

After realizing that this was the same Ginuwine I remembered from the 90's, I went on my own time to try my hand at shooting some bands. Many performers have a stipulation of only allowing photographs during their first three songs, which lets them control the images that are available of them while avoiding shots of them after getting sweaty. Not really knowing what my boundaries were, I was amazed that I was pretty much given free rein and only asked for my credentials once during the three hours I was at Spring Music Fest.

For me, however, the thrill is not photographing the actual performances. Capturing frenzied crowds and their interaction is much more interesting. Sure, crazy performance artists like the Flaming Lips have stage pieces and effects that would thoroughly capture my attention, but needless to say, Twista and Ginuwine did not have these production values at the Toyota Center. That doesn't mean I didn't get straight-up stage shots, though, and one opening act's towel usage made for some fun frames:

The photographer in this shot of another opening act adds a little of the exhibitionist quality some performers exude:

And some performers brought the audience to them, which made for some interesting moments:

Sometimes, I neglected the performers altogether, hunting the crowd for moments as changing lights swept over or behind them:

And other times I'd play with bits of light and color, keying in on phone and camera screens,

or unsanctioned smoke wafting through the lights:

My favorites from the night included both, though, and in their simplest forms, Twista

and Ginuwine

both worked the crowd like the seasoned performers they are.

But my favorites from the night don't include much of the artists at all. It was really interesting to see teenage-looking fans singing along to songs that came out when I was that age, and I was amazed at how into Ginuwine some were. I can't decide which of these two I like better:

And while the dark, noisy exposure of the fans' faces leaves something to be desired, I like how the stage light worked out when Twista reached into the front row:

All in all, it was a fun time, despite the reminders that I'm getting older. In addition to realizing just how old the hits I remember were, my ears weren't numb from speaker blasts like they used to get while photographing concerts a few years ago.

What really made it fun, though, was the change of pace from my typical assignments. I wouldn't enjoy doing them all the time without having much better access. While they were good about letting me loose on and around the stage, backstage was another story. Eldrick and I had to wait for long periods of time just so he could get brief two-minute interviews. There were interesting glimpses into life on tour as performers brought girls through the unglamorous tunnels in the belly of the Toyota Center, but since I wasn't the one who arranged access, I didn't push my luck.

Still, there's always next time.

Hitting the Links

Lens has a nice little piece by Nicole Bengiveno who writes about photographing a story on teens coming out. It's an interesting look at empathy in photojournalism and a tough subject to portray photographically, but it's a strong series that's worth a look.

Strobist has an interesting post about photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia's recent win in three appeals after being sued by Erno Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew, for exhibiting a photograph he took of Nussenzweig on a New York street. The intersection of privacy, artistic expression and religious taboo is always fascinating.

The post includes a video statement by the photographer, and while I agree with his statement (as does the law) that you have no expectation of privacy on a public street, I found one quote of his hard to swallow. While talking about his intent, he says he was exploring "the possibility that you can make work that is empathetic without actually even meeting the people."

He wasn't approaching this as a photojournalist, so my sensibilities are much different than his about what makes work empathetic, but I fail to see how that's true based on the snippits of the exhibition that show up in the video. Maybe it comes through in the work as a whole, but I think the fact that he got sued by somebody who was so offended by his photo even being made (as Orthodox Judaism apparently prohibits graven images to be made of its followers), shows a lack of empathy.

And finally, the recent devastation in the Midwest is hard to imagine. The ever-amazing Big Picture blog has strong edits of the tragedy in Joplin, as well as the more recent storms in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. It makes me feel lucky to live in a place where last week's flooding was newsworthy.

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