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Jumpin' Jack Flash: the digital shift in rock photography 

Wednesday, Jan 31 2007
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Since before the birth of the paparazzi, cameras have fueled obsessions with entertainers. These days, though, the damn things are everywhere. When the lights go down, the flashes go off, and everyone from the punk crooner to the eye-lined MTV star gets caught in the net of fan photography. Combine the cheap price of a digital camera (or, for much cruddier resolution, a cellphone) with a Flickr account and you have a democratized onslaught of fan expression parallel to the original flare-up of zine culture. In both cases capturing a unique angle on a band or performance is paramount, and the skill set as a whole is, well, secondary to the enthusiasm.

There's a whole lotta crappy art out there in both the print and the photography worlds. But in the end, the potential for this shutterbug flood to inspire new photojournalists is an asset, as is the idea of breaking open underground scenes with right-place-at-the-right-time images. "Whether you're a music nerd or an art nerd, you pride yourself on being in a subculture that's in the know," says Andrew Paynter, who shoots for Flaunt, Tokion, and Fader, and who is curating a rock photography show for Noise Pop. "You'd spend night after night in small rooms just so you could tell your friends 'I saw Subhumans in a tiny basement.' That information isn't privileged anymore. One person sees it and writes a blog ... which creates a globalization of specific scenes without having to firsthand experience it."

The raw image of a musician is also spiraling into the hands of the general public. Whereas clubs used to be tightwads about issuing photo passes to events, the sheer number of cameras and cellphones being brought to a venue prevents every shutterbug from getting weeded out of the clubs. "I'm awaiting the backlash from those who desire a hint of mystery left to their work as well as control over its presentation," e-mails local photographer Virgil Porter. "Larger pop acts do this really well, and I'm curious when the ideas will filter down. As the situation currently stands, rock musicians tend to enjoy having their egos massaged and seem to like seeing a sea of people capturing their image."

Just as the barrage of zine writers/bloggers forced large music publications to embrace a more casual tone in their writings, the onslaught of newbies capturing stage moves on film is also pushing career photographers in interesting places. Alissa Anderson is another local photographer involved in Noise Pop (she'll have a solo show during the festival this year), but she's also a member of Vetiver and tours with friend Devendra Banhart. "Instead of just taking a photo of, say, the singer, I take pictures of what else is happening on the stage, like a pedal on the ground or some batteries or someone's feet," she says. Anderson's work also takes the perspective of what it's like to be facing the crowd, as with her favorite piece of work, a picture taken from behind Devendra Banhart at a show in Spain. "I tend to take pictures that other people might appreciate who don't get to be in the same situation I was," she says.

When the public is flooded with similar shots, alternate viewpoints add a new edge to the game. Christopher Woodcock, who shoots for XLR8R magazine among other places, has a series on the bedrooms of DJs. "It's always about trying to do things a little bit differently. I got so frustrated with the whole situation where you have your photo pass with 20 other people and all the people with their cellphones. It gets overwhelming with the number of people capturing [the show]." He adds the importance of looking beyond the obvious. "The stage is a pedestal," he says. "Everyone wants to achieve that pedestal, [but] there's amazing things behind you. We forget to look around us."

While our esteemed local crop of music photographers captures music from new and more interesting perspectives, the digital DIY trend continues churning out the next generation of artists offering their insight into music. And the good news for the novices is that the professionals are taking increasing notice. "A lot of publications have found me through Flickr who normally wouldn't see my work," says Anderson. "The more you shoot and the more you put online, inevitably, the more people will see it."

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz

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