sweat 'til you can't sweat no more

I'm sure there are other, more insightful similarities between the two gigs I saw and photographed last week, but in my mind and memory, there is one thing that unites them above all else: sweat. I'm not just talking a bit of upper-lip moisture, either. I'm talking about drenching my shirt, stinging my eyes, trickling down the back of my neck, threatening to drown my camera every time I looked through the viewfinder. I actually didn't realise I was capable of producing that much sweat. Twice in one week.

Both shows occurred during Melbourne's March heatwave, both were in venues that are notoriously warm when things get busy, and both were at capacity. The first was Saskwatch returning to Cherry for the first show of their March residency (above). The second was Royal Headache playing a wonderfully intimate show at the John Curtin Hotel (top).

I've been using the grainy black and white a lot for live stuff lately, and to be honest I think it's my go-to for this kind of thing. In large part, that's because it's the most capable film I know for low-light situations, but I also love it because it's different from most other black and white live stuff you see around the place. In the first guitar shot here (Royal Headache), it's kind of washed out and grey, and in the second (Saskwatch) it's got a lot more contrast. Usually I always prefer high contrast, but sometimes it's nice to have some variety, and there is something charming about the greyer image; again, the almost faded grainy look is just very different from most stuff I see, which is a positive .

I only used black and white for Royal Headache, but for Saskwatch at Cherry I decided to embrace the red curtain and shoot some slide as well. The way I shot and processed it really brings out extreme contrast and extra red, which again, makes them quite different from a lot of live stuff out there. Don't get me wrong - I am not against 'regular'-looking film, but with a type of photography (live music) that so often looks the same, it's important for me to experiment with how I can bring something new to the images. The intense contrast+red in these shots isn't my favourite effect in the world, but I do think it has potential, and in the second photo of these four, I think the lighting and contrast works beautifully, especially on Nic's face (centre).

As with the black and whites above, the first two photos here show how the same film and shooting conditions can produce pretty different results. The first of the two is really high contrast, while the second is a lot less intense, and red almost looks faded. I think in this case, I like the second, faded look better. Having said that, LOOK AT THE THIRD ONE! What an incredible image to have shot and not photoshopped or anything - just to have the red of the curtain and the red of the stage lights and the film producing this intense two-tone effect. I love this.

I just want to take a moment to celebrate this really animated image of the horn section. They're usually tucked away behind their very large and obscuring mic stands, so it's difficult to get a dynamic image of all of them. At this moment, they came out to the centre of the stage during their cover of Robbie Williams' 'Kids', and encouraged the audience to sing the refrain. It's particularly appealing to me because they're all active: Liam and Will are singing, Nic is wiping the sweat off his face, and Sam is encouraging the crowd to sing it loud. Great.

In my ongoing attempt to get something slightly left of centre, I often try to get in close and focus on small details that still capture the energy or some other essential part of the performance. Olaf's keys-playing is a good example, and works well here because you can see Rob's guitar in the background so the shot's a bit more dynamic. But really, the stars here are the ones of Nkechi. She's such an incredible photography subject when she's on stage, because the way she moves and the way she physically sings are mesmerising. If it weren't for all the dancing this band commands of its audience, I'm quite sure people would just be transfixed on Nkech the entire time. These images of her arm and her hand on the mic stand here are just two examples of getting in close to capture elements of her physical performance. I'd love to do this more with her, because by God, there are a lot of things to capture.

Royal Headache's lead singer, Shogun, is mesmerising in an entirely different way. He alternates between pacing frenetically across the stage and pausing to crouch and focus on singing intensely and beautifully. I was right up the front for this gig, which was great for shooting, but not great for my physical well-being; Shogun's freneticism is nothing compared to the brutal energy of Royal Headache's die-hard fans, who evidently love to shove, stage dive, crowd surf and smash shit. But I was tough! I was going to get my shots! A kick to the head, a stranger falling onto my lap and a million little bruises all over me weren't going to deter me! And my persistence paid off; apparently Shogun wasn't so sure of my physical capabilities and eventually insisted that I get onto the stage to shoot in order to be a bit safer.

I think this selection captures the energy in the room quite well. The square shots were taken on my Holga, using a flash - which I don't ordinarily do for fear of annoying people but I don't think any of these people even noticed it; with all that activity a flash of light is the last thing on their minds.

These capture the more subdued moments in the set, where the energy relaxed momentarily in anticipation of the next adrenaline surge. I feel really lucky that I was close enough to photograph Shogun like this; it's rare in any live situation to be literally face to face with a performer. In this case he knelt right in front of me to sing a little. Just perfect.

I wasn't sure about this one when I first saw it, but actually I really love it. The focus is on the guy in the audience, who is sweaty and looks exhausted, but also looks like he's loving it. Then you see the blur that is Shogun, and the movement implicit in that blur betrays the energy of the performance, giving us some idea of why the dude in the crowd may be so sweaty and satisfyingly exhausted. It just works really well for me.

These are just a few more I had to include. Like I think I've made clear above, they're basically an awesome band to watch and to shoot. I took a lot of photos but I felt that I couldn't stop because if I did I'd miss something amazing. These also represent a success story in terms of shooting at the Curtin, because in the past I've found the lighting really difficult. I think this film is the key. (Or shooting with a flash in rare cases.)

Both of these shows were incredible, and a privilege to shoot. Engaging performers, great musicians, responsive crowds and all-round awesome music is a pretty good combination for getting good shots, despite any technical obstacles that can (and do) arise.

So what I'm saying, in conclusion, is this: the sweat, the bruises, the exhaustion - one hundred per cent worth it. 


a few types o' portraits

One of my friends recently had a baby. This is relatively new for me; despite being 'of age', very few of my close friends have come to procreate. (Yet.) So when I told this friend that I would love to come and meet his baby, he invited me over and asked me to bring my camera. YES!

I've never shot newborns before, but I figured that there can't be much to it - they look so damned cute regardless of what the camera does. And I was right! What a beautiful picture of a beautiful baby.

Here's a couple with Dad a little more involved. They're so lovely, and one of the nicest things is, they really don't need a lot of forethought or analysis; they are gorgeous simply because of what is in them.

Now, I'm not saying Jim isn't naturally gorgeous... but these photos took a lot of forethought! Which is because, unlike some casual snapshots of a friend, these are carefully planned press shots for the one and only Grizzly Jim Lawrie. I'd never purposely gone after sun glare (aka lens flare) before, and I wasn't sure how easy it would be to achieve. But we both agreed that regardless of actual glare, we wanted to capitalise on the early evening golden sunshine - my favourite kind of light. As it turned out, the flare worked pretty beautifully too!

The first two of Jim are being used as press photos. I liked this one, but he thought it looked like he was holding some kind of intergalactic weapon. Fair enough.

So in the first instance, it was a friend's baby, where I could shoot however I wanted - very natural, very spontaneous and organic. Then there was the music press shot, where creativity is still prized, but you work within certain boundaries to achieve a previously agreed-upon goal. Now we have what is perhaps the least flexible type of portrait I've ever done: the actor's headshot.

I did quite a lot of research to figure out what kind of guidelines, or rules, existed when it came to professional headshots. My understanding is that agents and casting directors (is that what they're called?) generally don't want anything too 'different' - which for me means no grain, no wacky angles, no warped colours, no candid moments. It was an interesting challenge, and I think this image was a good result. I shot Rachel from above because everyone looks better like that (there's a reason all the stupid girls take their selfies with arms stretched up to the bloody ceiling), and I used a film with natural tones and fine grain. Look who knows if this is a desirable outcome in terms of the industry - but you can see her face, she looks pretty, it doesn't look airbrushed, and it doesn't look like she's advertising toilet spray. Also, Rachel likes it. So as far as I'm concerned, it's a winner.

Is there a conclusion to this somewhat strange mixture of portraits? Well, I guess it's that portraits vary a lot! But perhaps also this: even the most straightforward, rigid type of portrait can engage if you connect with your subject and capture something of who they are. (OK I guess that's not technically a conclusion, in that I haven't specifically discussed it in the body of the post, but I still think it's true so it will remain my final thought.)