I took pictures of the first concert I attended: Steppenwolf at the Civic Auditorium in Bakersfield California sometime in 1975. I scanned some negatives recently, and was trying to isolate the date it happened and oddly enough the best source I’ve found is myself, nineteen years ago. The internet is a strange and wondrous place. It’s curious that I haven’t found the negative for the photograph I used then, but I found many others. Research has turned up things like another show from that tour filmed for Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert, but no precise dates. I have identified the bass player as George Biondo, and the lead guitarist as Bobby Cochran, a nephew of Eddie Cochran.
This was the moment that I discovered that photographing music was hard. I feel sorry for the oceans of people I see in videos that are watching concerts on their phones as they attempt to film them. I do not think, as many do, that photographing a scene removes you from the experience and makes you miss out. Instead, I think what happens is that your reflexive version of the experience concentrates on a different sort of rhythm– visual rhythm rather than musical rhythm. Both are interesting in their own way, but to photograph a scene “others” you from the crowd who have gathered to share an experience. Visual experience is a more solitary thing, I think. No one sees what you see, even if they feel what you feel. By trying to present your visual diary page, a lot is left off the edges. I forgot, for example, that Cochran used a a voice box like the one made famous by Peter Frampton.
Revisiting my old photographs for the first time in decades reminds me that I mostly took pictures for myself. Photographing bands, babes, or babies is an attempt to create a shared basis for conversation born from common desires. Photography was always, for me, first a method for making sense of the world. It’s a way of hanging on to things so that you can study them more closely, to deepen your appreciation and fascination with things that are traveling past us so fast that we barely have time to make sense of them, let alone find meaning. The change in the intervening twenty years since the last time I looked at some of these old images is the ability to research them more fully, and isolated details that I didn’t know at the time.
What I remember most about my photographic practice of the ensuing 1980s was that I put things up on my walls to look at them for a long time before I let them go. Somethings left the wall quickly, and others stuck around, becoming a theme for me. Bands, though I’ve photographed a lot of them, were never really the main reason I took photographs but instead a nicely distracted environment in which to work and think about what I could see instead of any sort of shared emotive experience. Instead, for the most part, I went to concerts to listen and feel the people around me rather than to look. It took me many years to figure out how to do both.