I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never taken photography classes. My
first "lesson" was courtesy of my friend Vicki Berndt, who had taken classes.
I had just bought a Pentax K1000 (for no other reason than it was cheaper
than the other brands in the store), and I was going to photograph a band
for a fanzine interview I'd done. Vicki's advice for live shows was, "Set
the shutter speed at 125, push the film to 1600, and open the lens all
the way." Oh, and, "Focus on the lead singer's microphone stand because
no matter how much he runs around he always has to come back to it." I
was officially a rock 'n' roll photographer!
My "technique" hasn't changed much since then, although I discovered that
setting the shutter speed to 60 works well when the band is standing still
and you're outside. Also, since I purchased a newer Pentax, I've come
to appreciate the "Automatic" setting and with a flash, I rarely push
the film any more. (Although I did have to apologize to Pennie Smith recently
for using a flash. Many years ago I read an interview with Pennie, whose
Clash photos I greatly admired, wherein she stated, "If you need a flash
you shouldn't be taking the photo." I happily followed this dictate to
the letter - mostly because I didn't have the money for a flash. I actually
felt incredibly guilty when I did start using one a couple of years ago.
When I confessed this to Pennie, she smiled benignly and told me it was
okay, "Concert lighting has become so bad lately you have to use
a flash to get anything!" I wonder if she was flattered that I'd remembered
her words of wisdom for all these years or thought I was a freak?)
As teenagers, my friends and I published a fanzine called Idol Worship
(which we facetiously subtitled "Home of the Lucy and Ethel School of
Journalism"). We asked Adam Ant if he'd rather be a saint or a sex symbol;
we asked Madness what they looked for in a girl; we asked Stiv Bators
what he liked to do in his spare time; we asked Johnny Ramone what kind
of shampoo he used; U2 drew us pictures on napkins. For some reason rock
stars found our approach to journalism charming. Many of them ended up
taking care of us - getting us into shows, arranging for transportation,
finding us somewhere to sleep, feeding us, getting us free records, badges
and t-shirts. Some of them became good friends (who were perhaps amused
to find us on their doorsteps in England when their US tour ended).
Other than occasionally using a Polaroid Instamatic to take pics of the
Ramones and the Dead Boys, I didn't get into photography until we'd quit
doing Idol Worship. Throughout the '80s and '90s I continued to
interview bands for fanzines like Rave-Up, American Music Press
and Teenage Kicks, but I couldn't always find a photographer who
shared my taste in music. It was easier to just take the photos myself.
And it was fun! Because I was mostly doing all this for my own
amusement, there was no pressure. If a picture came out nice, it'd go
in a 'zine with the interview. If several came out nice, I'd print up
extra copies to give to the band. Eventually, I learned to put my name
on the backs of the ones I gave to the bands. I'm still going to shows,
still taking pictures, and still having fun. I've been doing it for so
long I feel weird if I don't have a camera with me. Maybe one day
I'll figure out what an F-Stop actually does!