Or, look at me all Susan Sontag with my titles 🥰
There is a difference between taking photographs and making photographs.
I’d picked up on photographers saying something to this effect across years of reading—photographers were inevitable in the nonfiction I read—but I truly understood it this past Sunday when I was thrust into the role.
I’m not sure if the kindly host of the event (2G+, meaning we were all vaccinated AND recently tested) asked me to step in for the original no-show photographer because she had seen my growing interest—maybe even proficiency?—in the medium on my socials, or because I was the only attendee she knew personally besides the performers she’d booked. Either way I was glad to be trusted with the responsibility, and took full advantage of it.
Most of my aforementioned reading concerned the early days of Rock & Roll As Industry: a DIY culture which basically consisted of people wandering around with cameras snapping pictures until they were offered money for one of them and thus commenced their Official Careers, just as the people playing the music had wandered around noodling on their instruments until somehow becoming the Elder Statespeople we know today. I thought, I can do that.
The evening in question was a variety show featuring musicians, comedians, slam poets, and dancers—plus a DJ at the end—and I knew my job would be to capture not only human forms but the spirit of the gathering. Nothing was off-limits as a subject: the audience, the stage, the venue, the bar, the afterparty, even the lighting. Each component deserved its moment, and I would do my best to create a worthy one.
It was strange to be mobile, sometimes the only moving thing besides the performers, over the next three hours. After all, I’d been steeped in Mahler’s rule that all attention be focused solely on the performance, and that anything less was not only distraction but detraction. The experience pushed me beyond the limits of this rule in many ways: one musician even asked the crowd to talk through one of his songs to establish atmosphere. Needless to say, the more possibilities I saw, the more eager I became to shoot whatever I could.
Once I had the snapshots, the images I wanted, the process of editing and styling began. First I had to take them; now I had to make them. What level of exposure best suited the scene? What filter? Would something about the moment come through more strikingly in black and white? What about the contrast between shades? What tweaks and tricks would best convey the particular truth I was seeking to get across? What were those truths, anyway?
Bear in mind I was shooting on an iPhone: as excited as I am about all this, I was given a German camera a while back that I have yet to learn how to use. If I’m going to level up, I might just have to embrace my full potential and accept the fact that I am capable of wielding an Actual Camera. Hello, New Year.*
Meanwhile, I like to think the results turned out well. I absolutely intend to shoot more events in 2022, in addition to the cityscapes I’m used to, and maybe even get into portraits. These people were great subjects; they gave me a lot to work with. My favorite part of the night, in hindsight, was mingling with them and being asked why I hadn’t performed. I’m the photographer, honey, I almost said. I was performing the WHOLE TIME.
*to be read as Jerry says “Hello, Newman” on Seinfeld
Image: taken while waiting on a train home late Sunday night