Runnnig a music web site takes a lot of work, and while I do lots of the writing here, there’s other people behind the scenes that make the site what it is, the rock show photographers. They spend their time in the pit trying to grab the perfect shot that epitomizes the energy and spirit of every band coming to town. That being said, there’s an awful lot of people about town thinking they’re the best photographer in town…and I’m here to show you who I think are the best photographers in Austin. I reached out to my Top Five and asked them a few short questions, so you can have an introduction to their work, if you haven’t seen it already. Also, it’s a reminder that these folks work their asses off to bring the scene to life, so be respectful and appreciative; I know that I am, and our community should be.
B. Gray as he is more commonly known is the ATH photographer. Not only is he one of the most dependable in town, but he’s got a work ethic like no other.
Why do you like rock show photography?: It keeps me young and stupid. Sure, I joke about my aching ass, but the honest truth is that all of this, the blog, the shows, the photos help me keep a promise that I won’t be “one of those people”. I refuse stop moving forward. I have the day job, a good one at a good company, but this is what I do. I have loved music all my life and this allows me to keep on the edge of music. Live music – the discoveries, the affirmations, the legends – like seeing Erasure’s Andy still hitting the high notes, seeing Radiohead with Thom espousing the virtues of pushing on, seeing Toro Y Moi just after Blessa hit the internets, seeing bands like Literature and Young Girls get better and own a stage – nothing like it. …And it is far safer than a motorcycle or climbing mountains.
Dislikes: I would love all the fans to appreciate our role, many do, some don’t. We help them to get closer to bands; the Polaroids, portraits and show shots contribute to their awareness that a band even exists. Maybe then the guy that just stands arms-folded as I try to get the one angle that in my head is life or death would welcome me in to the fray. The comments about how my camera takes nice pictures wouldn’t happen. I miss out on sleep, but I can go to bed early the next day. I frustrate the wife, but then she tells me she loves a shot I was on the fence about. She is my biggest fan, after all… (Better be, I put a ring on it.)
Likes: There is a rush that we get. It doesn’t happen every show, but we chase it. The buzz from capturing a moment. You all have felt that buzz when you feel like you are witnessing something special. We get to go home and do it again when we work the hours after the show to process and then share the photos. It feels a little thankless sometimes, but anyone that is passionate about something can relate. The hours in, not matter how many, are worth it.
Favorite Photo: Too many favorites, but the photo I picked is one I took on my first “assignment” for ATH, Film School at the Parish that at the time didn’t make the show review. It is now my favorite from that night.
Pooneh is the young gun of the bunch, but that doesn’t mean she’s not one of the most accomplished in town; she’s had her work in Rolling Stone, Prefix Magazine, and various other heavy hitters. She’ spretty friendly too.
Likes : Every band, venue, stage lighting, crowd, etc is different at every show, and I like the challenge of that. Going to a show with that element of surprise keeps concert photography an exciting field to work in. It’s also pretty crazy how your photographic eye continuously changes. Just looking back at some photos I took even a year ago, I go “What the fuck is this?! What was I thinking?!” I enjoy the constant progression. Makes me anticipate where my work will be a year or two from now.
Obviously the best part about it are the opportunities to shoot some of my favorite bands, bands I used to camp out for 6 hours just to get front row to see. That never gets old to me. It’s also a great way to make friends in the same or related fields, get advice from other photographers, and get that moral support to keep you from jumping off a cliff after a bad night shooting. Also, the endless supply of free Kind bars and Red Bull we get at ACL is pretty dope.
Dislikes: I don’t have much to complain about, but there are a few things that can get annoying when dealing with over and over again. A big one is having to chase invoices (a lot of times having to wait months and months to receive a paycheck). That goes with any photography field though, really. Also, concert photographers with big egos – the “entitled” ones that basically carry conversations with themselves – can get a bit tiring. It also sucks witnessing photographers who aren’t courteous of people around them (i.e. camera lifters, serial strobe flashers, etc). I know I can get really self conscious at times, being so tall. No matter where I stand at a show, I’m blocking someone’s view, which I hate doing.
Tim Griffin is the man behind Brooklyn Vegan Austin. You’ll notice Tim out there in his BV shirt and his jorts, working hard to get the best angle possible.
Why do you like music photography? : It’s an outlet that provides me creative balance, and music saves my life every day. I also enjoy carrying heavy, expensive, and awkwardly shaped gear through crowds and tight spaces (bonus points if it’s dark, and everyone’s been drinking).
Likes: Music, Flexing creative muscles, Getting out of the house
Dislikes: Waiting 4 hours to get to shoot for 9 minutes, Blue and Red lighting, Mic stands on stage
Randy works and helps run Soundcheck Magazine. His work is so popular in town that he often is one of the few cameras allowed to shoot over at ACL.
What’s your favorite part of shooting concerts?: I love shooting bands on the cusp of achieving national/international success. In many ways, Austin is a litmus test because we have so many music fans who are early adopters. When bands come here, they often have the largest, most enthusiastic crowds of their young careers. As a photographer, I am right there, feet away from the musicians, and I get to see the looks on their faces when they realize the crowd knows all the words and, yes, this whole music thing might work out after all. Being a fly on the wall during those moments means as much to me as nailing a difficult shot.
Dislikes: I don’t like cigarette smoke, bad lighting, or people who talk during concerts. I especially dislike photographers who don’t understand the pit is a workplace. Don’t dance. Don’t stand there gawping at Jack White. Don’t lift your camera in front of other photographers. Don’t fumble with your borrowed camera because you’ve never used it before. Just take photos and respect the people working around you.
Likes: I like walking away from a show with a better collection of photos than anyone else who is shooting that night. That’s my goal for every gig. I’m too competitive in that regard, but if I wasn’t constantly pushing myself, I’d get bored or, worse, complacent. I don’t do this for the money, so I might as well do it to be the best.
The attached photo is Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails at the Frank Erwin Center. I love this photo because I’ve not seen another like it of Trent. I’d researched the show by watching YouTube footage, so I knew he sometimes jumped at the beginning of a certain song. I made sure I was in the right place with a shutter speed fast enough to capture the moment if it happened. Trent didn’t disappoint. Not only did he jump, but he propelled himself further off the ground by using his mic stand; all while letting go a mighty yawp.
This is the uber-annoying guy right in front of you holding up his camera to block out your vision during your favorite part of the song. He also is really into posting shoddy photos on Instagram and Facebook to see how many likes or dislikes he gets from his friends, then he deletes it because who keeps shitty rock show photos anyways?
Likes: Really cheap beer. Dancing and screaming. Blocking the vision of those around you. Holding up phone as high as possible so as to get the “best shot.” Posting to Instagram. Alternative radio. Using flash. Backstage passes from your friend of a friend of a friend who works at Transmission. Talking during the headliners set. Letting my friends know I was there, and they weren’t!
Dislikes: Enjoying the show sans camera. Real photographers. ACL Tapings where you can’t use your phone. People that tell me to stop texting or posting my sweet photos. Seeing photos from my friends who got tickets and I didn’t.
ATH Summation: I’d like to encourage everyone to finally put the camera on your phone down. Odds are, you didn’t get a good angle, the light wasn’t right, and it’s blurry. Remember back in the 90s when we all had pagers? Yeah, we could all actually watch the show and enjoy rock n’ roll’s natural energy, rather than trying to capture that one moment to share with/impress our friends who weren’t there.
…and these aren’t the only good photographers in town, just my favorites. There’s From the Photo Pit, The Rubberneck Magazine Crew and J. Alex shooting. Let these guys do the work; they’ll gladly share their prints with you if you ask.