The Camera's Rolling On Her Back
I have been lucky enough to be told at times that I am a great photographer. I don't always believe this. I say "I am" almost to convince myself. The camera removes me from being the one who creates the art. I simple pick up the device, push a button and voilà, there is the decisive moment. Anybody can do it. Or at least that’s the way it seems when I look at my own images.
My father had an old 110 camera lying around, and somehow I appropriated it as my own. My first photographs weren't great - I cut off a lot of heads, and there were a lot of blurry attempts at action shots. But I was cutting off heads because I was framing the shot the way I wanted it, and that darn 110 camera didn't shoot exactly as it showed in the viewfinder. There were the occasional flashes at something - capturing a moment, a body in mid air- those kept me going. My parents involvement in the local community college theatre department gave me excellent access at a young age, and I ran all over that place with that 110 camera. Oh, the joy of the click at what I knew was the right moment. Oh, the despair as the limitations of the tiny camera were evident with every roll developed.
I quickly became experienced enough to know that it would be useless at most of the concerts I went to. Even waiting all day to get into see Duran Duran (or Depeche Mode or Peter Gabriel) wasn't going to get me close enough to the stage to get anything good. But when Nik Kershaw played at the more intimate Wolfgangs I thought I'd give it a try. It wasn't great, but, but... it was something. I had proof that I was there.
Dad gifted me with my first real camera, a Nikon FE2. I took it to summer camp and became so ubiquitous with it that the kids ignored me, being themselves without consciously playing to the camera. It was a glorious learning experience. I came away from that with a glimpse into capturing the decisive moment. I wanted more. I wanted to take better photographs. I wanted to make the camera capture what I was seeing.
The local Community College didn't have any sort of photography classes, so I signed up for journalism and had full access to the darkroom. Film provided a varied set of challenges. There wasn't any immediate feedback, so if the settings were wrong I wouldn't necessarily know until the roll was developed. The learning curve was a lot slower back then. My favourite assignments were the plays. My theatre friends were the perfect subjects, playing to the camera without the awkward posing. They let me learn about timing and lighting in real settings. If it didn't work, I could go back and try it again.
Most concerts were starting to prohibit cameras, so for the rare ones I attended I didn't even try. I became a fan of Women's Basketball and started taking my camera to the matches. That really took my event photography to another level. Absolutely no flash allowed, but the action is quick and the lighting is terrible.
Then came photoshop and the digital camera. I already had the skills for getting the shot, but now - now I could take those shots iand make them pop. Straighten that horizon. Crop that weird arm on the side. Burn in the kleenex and bottle of water by the drums so they're not noticeable. Photoshop out the top of that head in the crowd. (Hey, this isn't photojournalism, I do remove distracting crowd people if I can.) Digital photography has changed everything. I can quickly transfer images from my cameras to my phone, use an app or two (I am particularly fond of Snapseed). Yes - cameras. I don't care which brand of phone you're using, they are not going to be as constantly able to get good prints as even a decent point-and-shoot is.
When the Paper Gods tour first came to the area I had some fairly distant seats. I smuggled my camera in, but my 50mm lens was not ideal for the distance. For Las Vegas, I splurged on some good stub-hub tickets and managed to get a decent collection of images.
Then the Cancun show was announced, and I thought, well, I've never been to Mexico. For the record, I did think it was a lot closer to home on West Coast and bought my ticket before looking it up on a map. Surprise! Then, on my birthday, tickets went on sale for NYE. It was a sign. My photos were getting better and better with each show. I wanted more. Cancun, NYE and Atlanta presale tickets (if I was going to be that kind of fan and travel, then it made sense to join the fan club for early access) got me closer to the stage, and lead to some fantastic photo opportunities. Some venues are more particular about cameras than others. The NYE security didn't seem to care at all about whatever camera I was using as long as I stayed out of the front row. The Atlanta guy told me if I didn’t put the Nikon away I was out. There are always a few challenges. A few rows back and it’s all heads. Too close and the angle is all wrong. It's a challenge I don't mind taking on.
I was pretty happy with my Las Vegas shots, despite being way back in the 26th row. I posted a few on Twitter and Instagram, and got almost no response. Later I was sorting through them and came across one of John during "Rio", wearing his usual lips shirt with the famous Patrick Nagel print behind him. I knew it was a great shot. I also knew I would post it and two people would like it and that would be it. So out of frustration I pinned it on my twitter feed: "Seriously. I am a damn good photographer" I don't have a huge following, and many of them are not DD fans, but it made me feel better.
The hardest part, at least for me, is editing. And by editing, I don't mean fixing. I mean it in the true sense. Not every picture should be posted, and certainly not all at once. If you show too much, you overwhelm the viewer and nothing stands out. Be judicious in your offerings and they will be appreciated more than a bombardment. It's so hard to metaphorically kill your babies. I will take maybe 1800 images at a show. I will fix 600. I will post less than 150. That's too many, but editing is so hard. But if I post a barrage of each shot I took of JT with the Rio image behind him, they get muddied together. So I find the one that I like best and post it.
I watermark my photos with my name and Twitter / Instagram name. I try to be subtle, I want the picture to be enjoyed, and, yes, shared, but after more than a few experiences of coming across my photos unattributed, I decided I needed to do something. After seeing an SF Sketchfest tribute to Weird Al I posted a pic to Twitter and Instagram. I tagged everyone, and almost immediately Jonah Ray posted it, without crediting me. Weird Al got it from Jonah's feed. Chris Hardwick and Garfunkel & Oats got it from Weird Al. It's not that I think fame and fortune would've come my way if I'd been tagged or attributed, but it was my photo. It would've meant so much just to see my name there, somewhere.
I have yet to break 100 "likes" with any of my own tweets but one Duran image from Atlanta came very close.
Being behind the camera does somewhat separate me from the live moment. "Why would you go to a show and just take pictures?" Dancing isn't as fun at a live event where I'm limited to a tiny square without much room to even shuffle. So while I do bounce back and forth, I can't dance like I would like to. Singing along is easy enough with or without the camera in my hand.
Memories are so fleeting, but an image is forever. I have t-shirts from most of the shows, but was this one at the Pavilion? Or was that the time at Shoreline? Anyone can get a shirt even if they weren’t there. Photos are hard proof. For me there is a high that comes when I'm taking the pictures, knowing that I've got something really good. Even the quiet in-between moments can be electric. I want to capture them all. Yes, sometimes the right thing to do is to put down the camera and just sing along with the chorus of "Rio" and be captured in that magic. But when I do that, (and I do, really) part of my brain is still taking pictures, noticing lighting, looking at angles. When I can't take pictures my enjoyment is dulled. That's how I'm wired. I take pictures for me, and I love every moment of it
Credits: all photos (c) Baranduin Briggs
1. Duran Duran, MGM National Harbor
2. unknown, Asilomar Conference Ground; You Can't Take It With You, Gavilan College; Fritz Dukart, Asilomar Conference Grounds
3. Nik Kershaw, Wolfgangs
4. Blood Wedding, Gavilan College; Our Town, Gavilan College; Miracle Worker, SVCT
5. Mel Murphy/Briana January, Pac 10 Tournament; Nnemkadi Ogwumike/ Maya Moore Maples Pavilion; Chiney Ogwumike Maples Pavilion
6. John Taylor, MGM National Harbor
7 John Taylor, Mandalay Bay
8. Jonah Ray, Garfunkel & Oats, Weird Al Yankovic, Chris Hardwick, Mike Phirman, SF Sketchfest, Castro Theater
9. Duran Duran, Chastain Park Amphitheater
10. Simon LeBon/Nick Rhodes Chastain Park Amphitheater; John Taylor, MGM National Harbor; Roger Taylor/Simon LeBon Moon Palace
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