I’ve been taking photos for almost 6 years now, photos of bands that is. The first time I took photos at a show was at the Enterprise in Camden, a tiny, dark, dirty venue above a pub. I went to see Straight Lines and was so scared. Having never taken a camera to a show before, I didn’t really know what to expect. What I did know was that I really liked that Straight Lines album and I really wanted to see them play live. The show itself was a blur of dancing and photo taking but I remember leaving that show and knowing this was something I wanted to do with myself.
If you’d told 25 year old me that at 31 she would actually be a pre-school teacher living in Chicago I wonder if she’d be disappointed or not. My photography dreams didn’t go the way I wanted them. Working full time as a photographer sucked the joy out of it but even though I never ended up really pushing that career line in my life I had a really good time, met a lot of bands and gained a lot of confidence in myself. My love of music, new music especially, comes from taking photos of bands.
Why do it? I know that photographers at shows are seen as an annoyance. We get in the way, we have flashes that go off sometimes in your face and we can be distracting. I am as critical of photographers, and am guilty of their faults, as much as anyone else. I get it. But you see taking photos of bands isn’t something I do because I want to be cool, it’s never been that. There’s this joy I get when I can capture a band live, the crowd, the atmosphere. I’m one of those people who will stand and really study a band before I shoot them, especially in small shows where I have the luxury to not be at a song restriction. I try and get a feel for the drummer, notice who moves around the most, who jumps, who’ll be a challenge to capture and who will be an easy shot. When I started I took endless photos of one show, now I wait, think, watch and perhaps shoot 200 or less photos of all the bands. Snap snap snapping every second isn’t enjoyable to me anymore, I want to be able to appreciate what I see, study what’s going on. That’s how to take good photos.
I don’t think I take good photos all the time. I am my own harshest critic. I go in and out of phases where I love to take photos at shows and I hate everyone and hide my camera in a drawer. Growth comes from being able to see what you did wrong and then next time make changes to try and do better. It works when I’m painting or writing and it works with photography. I admire a lot of photographers (Penny Bennett, Del Bremner, Ben Gibson, Patrick Houdek, Mitchell Wojcik, Mat Stokes to name but a few) but with music photography it’s hard to find a way to make yourself stick out. I’m constantly trying to develop a style because I don’t want to just take another good picture of a band that looks like everyone else’s photo. We all have the same light, the same band and the same show, how can I make myself stand out.
This blog is about me trying to figure out a better way to shoot shows. I’ve done the standard format of 10 pictures of every band playing for so long now, but does that show enough of what I see, enough of what goes on around me. I want to be able to represent a whole story through my photos, what happened that night, what happened at that show, what were people thinking, or doing, or feeling. To capture it all so well in images people who weren’t there feel like they were part of it.
So I’m picking up my camera again. If you see me being weird with lenses, go along with it. I’m hoping it’ll make for a good bit of art.
Maryam Hassan is a 32 year old Photographer, Montessori Teacher, Wearer of Yellow from London who transplanted herself to Chicago in 2015. She likes punk music, hash browns, animal facts and mangoes.
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