Part and parcel of an aspiring music photographer is to begin at the bottom. Finding a mildly interesting pub with regular gig nights, photographing the bottom of the barrel bands performing there and hoping that an inebriated onlooker doesn’t take too much offence of you blocking their view momentarily. But is the experience equally as exciting, interesting and worthwhile as, say, a Noel Gallagher gig?
Certainly, shooting at pubs and cafes for the several months that we did didn’t provide the glamourous press tents, blinding lights and neither did it always supply the best music either. No, music photography in pubs is dirty, hands on deck work, and the stench of beer and cigarettes won’t leave your clothes for days. At festivals and larger gigs, a photographer is part of the furniture, people accept you with open arms and even allow you to pass through a crowd easily when they notice a camera around your neck. To a pub gig, you are entirely superfluous. You aren’t spoon fed at all like press might be at larger venues and events, which isn’t to say working at said venues isn’t hard or challenging work, but one must work doubly hard in a pub. Everything feels competitive, you compete against the people, the space, even your own equipment. Lighting at these places is terrible, to put it politely, more often than not. The space between yourself and the stage is usually no more than a couple feet, making work in these environments very hard, not to mention the physical strain of unsticking your shoe from the drying alcohol on the floor.
The experience of these small gigs is entirely different to one at a large gig, but that is where the beauty comes from. Never does a photographer feel more involved and more at one with their subject matter than at a pub gig. There is almost a literal connection between yourself and the middle aged man screaming at you from the tiny stage. No need for long lenses, and super sharp focus. The work you’ll make at one of these gigs is gritty, grainy and raw. There is something so candid and so veracious about a band with nothing to lose on stage, bone of the superficiality that I feel when working with world famous pop stars who actually have a reputation to uphold.
Yes it’s much less comfy and much harder, as well as the second hand cigarette smoke taking a couple years off your life, but the experience is all there. Sometimes it’s oddly refreshing to break away from watching and photographing an artist play on a big stage and put on a performance that fits with their image, and instead to watch a full time plumber break away from the monotony of everyday life and to perform with absolutely nothing to lose, where they embody their music, their performance, their passion