Saturday night I was assigned to the Real Salt Lake game. On our schedule was another assignment that was marked as a “no go.” We just didn’t have enough photographers to staff it. The assignment was the Deftones concert.
I used to go see the Deftones play at Berkeley Square, back when all they had out was a demo tape. So when I was finished with Real, I decided to hurry down to the club and see if I could get something for the paper. Time was of the essence. I only had a few minutes to get there.
I drove across town through about eighteen stoplights and then saw a sign on the club’s marquee: “Show moved to Salt Palace.” I doubled back, found a parking spot on Main Street, and started running.
Even with the sun down it was so dry and hot. After running only a block I’m completely dehydrated. But I make it to the Salt Palace, and notice two other people reading a flyer on the door.
It’s a skinny scene kid in tight black jeans and a teenage girl in a tiny black tank-top. They’re drunk. The flyer on the door says that the entrance to the show is clear on the other side of the Salt Palace. So I’ve got to run another three blocks. The kids follow.
As we run the girl she asks me my name several times. I tell her my first name. The guy tells her to stop talking. She asks me if I’m on MySpace so she can look me up. The girl complains that she needs water. My throat is completely dry. We walk for a minute to catch our breath.
The girls says to the guy, “I’m getting fake boobs this summer. Isn’t that cool?”
“That’s cool,” he says.
I start running again. So does the guy. The girl says, “Don’t run guys!” She’s begging. “Really! Don’t run!” We keep running.
Finally I get to the right door. I can hear the Deftones playing, which is a problem since I’m only allowed to shoot the first three songs. The woman at the door says it’s their fourth song but she gives me a photo pass and sends me in as if it’s no problem.
In front of me a security guard searches the girl I ran with. As he pats her down, she moves up close and rubs her body against his. He waves me in without a search.
Inside, the girl grabs my face, moves in close and says, “You’re name’s Mike, right?”
I make my way to the front of the packed hall finding an opening on the right side of the stage where a friendly security guy lets me stand up on the barricade. I take a few quick frames as the song ends, just to check my exposure.
Seconds later a big scruffy guy comes over and rips the photo pass from my shirt. (Big scruffy guys like this are usually the tour managers.) He’s belligerent. He says I can’t shoot, that I’m late, and that he doesn’t care if I watch the show, but no more photos. Over the years I’ve learned that there is no arguing with a tour manager.
So much for those cool photographs I was after. So much for rescuing the canceled assignment. And so much for a photograph of the Deftones to go with our concert review, because I don’t have anything worth putting my name under.
I start to walk the five blocks back to my car, thinking that even if I had a good photograph I shouldn’t send it in. They don’t deserve to have it published. Maybe it’s time to protest the ridiculous “first three songs only” rule.
The rules of concert photography are bullshit. You wonder if great concert photographs are even being made anymore. Sure, it’s fun playing with the colorful lighting of a modern concert, but I’ve never taken a concert photograph with soul under these tight rules.
I think back to the amazing work of photographers like Jim Marshall, who shot amazing candids that captured the passion and genius of legendary performers like Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana and Johnny Cash.
The photographs I took of the Deftones back in 1994 had that feel. Their shows then, in a small dingy club, were full of energy and magic and my photographs captured that.
When I got home I called the office and reported that I had been kicked out of the show and wouldn’t be sending a photo. Later I looked at the meager six frames, finding one that wasn’t completely awful.
I sent it in. What can I say? I love the Deftones. But this is, hands down, the worst photo I’ve taken of them.
This really ticked me off. Because it wasn’t one of the new people. This was a reporter that I’ve worked with for twelve years.
I shrugged it off and went on with the shoot.
And later I realized that in some cases it’s better to be unknown.
So just to be clear, I’m not Rick or Steve. I don’t look anything like Al, Paul, or Jim. And I’m not Fran or Chris or Leah or Danny.
Whether you believe him to be a prophet of God or not, you’ve got to be impressed with LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s stamina. At the age of 96, he leads a worldwide religion. And retirement is not an option. I’ve been on assignments following him throughout the United States and across Africa, and I’ve often found myself struggling to keep up with his fast pace. He seems to have hidden reservoirs of energy.
But as he ages, some are growing concerned with the image of him aging. There are those who would rather we not see photos that show the effects of age on the venerable church president. Maybe they think that such images highlight some sort of weakness on Hinckley’s part, or that seeing his physical frailty undermines the faith of his followers.
I disagree. President Hinckley is still coming to work every day, seemingly as sharp of mind as always. To me, this photograph of him walking into general conference illustrates that. Sure, he’s carrying his familiar cane and being helped to his seat by his secretary, Michael Watson. But remember, he is 96 years old. I feel that this photo says what I’m writing here: that the man is aging and yet still sharp of mind and wit.
I worry that with Hinckley getting older, the people overly concerned with his image may limit photographic access. And I don’t think these directives will come from Hinckley. The man is as humble as they come.
In the past, as church leaders Spencer Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson grew older, certain “close up” photos were discouraged. Access was limited. I work with one photographer, Rick Egan, who says he was once prevented from photographing Kimball in his later years. Here are Rick’s photos of that moment from a general conference in 1985:
Hopefully those times are in the past. I don’t think a photograph of an aging Hinckley affects anyone’s beliefs. If you believe that the man is a prophet of God, a photograph that shows he’s getting older shouldn’t alter your beliefs. And those who disbelieve will continue to do so.
The assignment was to photograph the Juneteenth Festival a week or so ago. Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery. And while Utah is mostly populated by whites, Salt Lake City has what seems like a festival every weekend for the diverse cultures who have gathered here. These are fun events, often filled with great food, live music and colorfully costumed dancers.
There wasn’t a lot going on at Juneteenth when I arrived. In fact, it was a little quiet. A band had just finished their set. And while I was interested in photographing the small time professional wrestlers, I passed. I needed a photo that went with the story and theme of the festival. I settled for face painting, kids playing, and a photo of a food vendor.
Then the announcer called all the kids over to the pavilion for a competition. An eating competition. A watermelon-eating competition, to be specific.
This is where it got interesting.
Of course I photographed it. As a news photographer you shoot everything and think about it later. It’s how you use the photographs that matters. You can do all of your thinking about how to use them later.
I got some really cute photographs of the kids eating watermelon. But there was that voice in the back of my head: Should I use these photographs?
On one hand is the argument that “it happened” and I was simply documenting the event.
On the other hand is the argument that the very image has been a stereotype since the days of slavery.
I sent other photographs instead and left the watermelon shots unedited on my computer.
What would you have done?
There’s an interesting column by Keith Woods, dealing with a similar incident. Click here to read it.