It was thanks to Amplifier that my so far brief career as a rock photographer got started. The editor Joe likes his live reviews to be illustrated, so I spent slightly more than intended on a new camera and off I went.
First piece of vital equipment: a good set of earplugs. You have to be right at the front to get decent pics, but the people in the front row hate it if you push past them, so you nearly always end up with your head pressed against the speakers. It’s not good for your health, as you crouch among the cigarette butts and puddles of beer, being crushed my moshers and smashed by crowdsurfers’ Doc Martens. How we suffer for our art.
Probably the worst gigs to take photos at are sparsely attended ones. Here, rather than blending in with the crowd, you will attract attention and people will ask you why you are taking photos. You have to admit that it isn’t for the NME or Mojo, although, come to think of it, you could claim it was and they wouldn’t know any different.
My first foray into a photo pit was probably the most sensational baptism of fire I could have chosen. Those lovely old Flaming Lips hurl large objects at the crowd from the moment they hit the stage, but of course, as a photographer, you are between the band and the crowd. Within seconds, we were covered from head to foot with confetti and fake blood, being smashed in the face by enormous rubber balls. I caught the eye of the drummer, straight ahead of me, and we both collapsed into helpless laughter. It was a moment of pure – though uncomfortable – joy.
Less joyful were my attempts, last month, to get some photos of Mercury Rev. Halfway through the first song, I was physically dragged from the crowd by a security guy the size of a buffalo. As if I were a spy, he interrogated me as to my motives and threatened to impound my camera.
Now much as I love Mercury Rev, these bands just can’t have it both ways. They want, and need, publicity. At the beginning of their career, they are invariably delighted to be photographed, so who are they to get sniffy when they don’t need you any more? But Mercury Rev were innocent. The man-monster claimed to be “only obeying orders” and the tour manager located me a photo pass. From then on it was quite fun, watching Oddjob hauling other hapless snappers from the crowd and dispensing summary justice.
And how to achieve good photos? Use flash (this helps counteract the dry ice and the light show), be patient and persistent. Above all, take hundreds of photos of your elusive moving target. If you’re lucky, one of them might just be okay.
From Amplifier magazine