July 13th, 2015 by Matt Average
Doing a little something different for the Monday Photo Blog this week. Instead of a few quick nothing lines from me, I thought it would be a good idea to let the photographer share some thoughts on their work.
Pat Blashill, who has been on here a couple times in the past, photographed Modern Life Is Warfare a few months back, and I thought it would be interesting to see what he has to say, considering he was shooting bands way back in the 1980s (check your Big Boys reissues, or check out your parents copies of Forced Exposure and Scratch Acid records, to name a smidgen of what he’s done). Without further ado…
Back in the Pit
by Pat Blashill
I met John Eich, one of the guitarists for Modern Life is War, just before the band’s recent show here in Vienna, Austria. We were chatting about our day jobs when he pointed at my camera and asked, “So photography is sort of a hobby for you?”
Umm, sort of. Both of us were strangers in a strange land, but I was about to photograph his band, and I probably didn’t inspire a lot of confidence: a fifty-something gray-haired guy with an unspectacular Canon digital camera. Look out–old dude in the pit!
Both punk and punk photography were very different thirty years ago when I took pictures of bands like the Butthole Surfers and the Dicks in my hometown of Austin, Texas. Hardcore was new then, and only a handful of American bands were able to tour Europe like Modern Life is War can today. I shot black and white film with a 35mm Canon and a scuffed up Vivitar 283 flash. But that’s one reason I wanted to shoot a contemporary hardcore band like MLIW now: I wanted to know what has changed and what is still the same.
For one thing, I couldn’t find any 35mm film in time, so I had to go all digital. Once I got to the show, I had to pester club staff and the people at the merch table to find the band’s tour manager, and then keep insisting that I be onstage to get close enough for good shots—that was the same as it ever was.
John and bassist Chris Honeck and singer Jeffery Eton from MLIW were very friendly and professional fellas, which certainly can’t be said about all the Texas punks I photographed back in the day. And the Vienna audience were super sweet—nobody kicked me in the head or smashed into my camera—they were probably concerned for my safety.
The problems started when I began to shoot. My in-camera flash wasn’t powerful enough, and my Canon’s shutter lag meant that I missed a lot of shots. Eton is a skater, and when he leaps above the crowd, it looks incredible, but I simply wasn’t able to catch him airborne. Also, the stage at this venue, one of Vienna’s best, is at least five feet above the crowd, so it was tough to capture the interaction between the band and their audience. Eton made a comment about that between songs, so he may have been frustrated as well.
After all of my efforts to be able to shoot from the side of the stage, though, I finally had to jump down into the pit to get close enough to the action. Then I hoisted the camera over my head and shot without looking through the viewfinder. It worked. As the great (and doomed) war photographer Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t any good, get closer.”
Shooting my first hardcore show in years did not feel like old times–it wasn’t as violent, drunken or fun. I have probably become a more analytical photographer, especially because these days, I take a lot more pictures of non-human subjects, like buildings and trains. And I’m not sure how people mentally process images of punk rock these days. Most of the other photos I’ve seen of Modern Life Is War feature Jeffrey Eton mobbed by fans, or swimming through the crowd. Most of the concert photography I see on Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr is super colorful, technically impressive and very sharply focused. Like sports photography. I’ve never been a technically flashy photographer, but I’ve tried to make pictures that capture some of the sweat and electricity of a good show. I like these pictures of MLIW, but I have no idea what anyone under forty will think of them.
Two things happened after this show. Even before the band had finished playing, I resolved to shoot my next hardcore show with my old rig: a 35mm SLR and a flash mounted on the camera. But a few days later, when I found my old camera, I discovered that it was kaput. I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to find a repairperson to save this ancient contraption.
But a few days after the show, I got a nice e-mail from a stranger named Zaran. He explained that he’d been at the gig, found my MLIW photos on the web, and asked me to share more because he thinks they’re “awesome.” Even better, Zaran identified himself as one of the guys in my pictures. In one, he’s wearing a MLIW t-shirt and he’s inches away from Jeffrey Eton’s face. He looks like he wants to kiss the singer. And for me, the fact that Zaran experienced that moment, then found a picture of it, and then wrote me to say, ‘Thanks,’ is super awesome indeed.
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