Stephanie and I arrived at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC just as Veruca Salt were going on stage. Outside the venue, I could hear the thundering bass and blazing rock guitars. Taped up on the walls all around Will Call were laminated 8×10 sheets of paper announcing “NO PRO PHOTO CAMERAS.” Determined to get something more interesting than iPhone photos and owning around 50 working vintage cameras, I figured I had SOMETHING with a non-removal lens (usually the standard for what’s allowed into concerts) but enough low light capability to shoot a concert with.
As we passed through Security, I held up my taped up 1963 Polaroid 100 Automatic Land Camera and said “I know it’s a big camera but it’s just a point and shoot! (which it is)” The guard casually uttered, “Yah, it’s cool” as if he was totally familiar with instant pack film cameras. It probably just looked like a wonky old antique (which it ALSO is!) He looked down at my little faded black Domke bag and I flung the top open “And this is the film for the camera.” The guard just nodded, I showed my ID, got stamped and I was in! I used to shoot concerts professionally but never on a camera like this. I wasn’t sure how it would work out but was excited to try!
Since the show had just begun, Steph and I quickly made a bee line for the stage where I could see Nina Gordon and Loiuse Post front and center. Nina Gordon and Louise Post, wow, subjects of every mid 90’s alternative rock boy’s dream!
I took the couple remaining shots I had left in the Polaroid from about 6 rows of people back from the stage. My exposure was too dark and I was too far away. In my eagerness to take my first good shot and overwhelmed by trying to handle the camera and film packs as well as all the resulting trash with swaying people right up against me in every direction, I ruined the first pack of film I tried to load.
I knew I needed more space to focus, breathe and do this right. I managed my way up to the very front row, just beside the press gate, the wall of tension separating the fans from the stage. I loaded the second pack flawlessly and pulled the black paper smoothly from the camera I was concerned about my proximity to a small line of Security standing beside the stacks of amps. Just because I got the camera in here doesn’t mean somebody else isn’t going to have a problem with it. There’s a veritable wall of camera phones and palm sized camcorders but it’s going to be the weirdo with the giant folding camera to get the boot, we’ll see….
When the moment felt right, I pushed in closer and fired my first shot, quickly pulling the paper advance tab and then frame 1 out of the old camera. As I was counting and waiting for the shot to process, two cute girls shuffled in front of me, both leaned into my ear as they passed and both made a remark like “I hope you aren’t planning on standing in front of us for the whole show”. To the second girl, I said, “No, not at all, please, go right in front of me.” As I fell back in the crowd a little bit to check my first shot, the blonde saw the photo, “Did you JUST print that picture?” “It’s I N S T A N T F I L M” I tried to clarify over the roar of the speakers “like Polaroid!” I could see her eyes widen as she looked down at the photo and tapped her friend to see. “That is AMAZING! Go ahead, you can get in front of us!”
Given where I was positioned, I figured I stood a chance of making friends with these two by giving them a photo and they’d let me move where I needed to. So I readied for my next shot and handed the blonde the print “This one’s for you!” “That is AMAZING!” she exclaimed again. It didn’t take long before I was blowing off shots left and right; the last print developing as it hung from my teeth while I pulled another print off the negative then passing the camera to Steph and she was taking some great ones too as we stuffed trash and prints into my Domke bag. Occasionally I noticed the girls taking photos of me shooting and of my prints with their camera phones. “You are an AMAZING photographer!” One of the girls handed Steph a cranberry vodka, we were all jamming and shooting, jamming and shooting.
While loading in another pack, I heard Security talking behind me; “Is THAT a pro camera?!” “No, well, it’s…. I don’t know!” I was very curious to hear the verdict but I wanted to shoot as much as possible before someone decided my rights were somehow different from all the people with camera phones.
Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Security leaning in towards my ear. “Let me see your press pass!” “I don’t have a press pass, I’m just here as a fan.” He wordlessly returned to the shadows near the stack of amps and said something to somebody next to him. I shrugged my shoulders and kept firing until I ran out of film.
- Veruca Salt rocked the house and I’m so glad that Steph and I got to see them as well as fire off, I think, some pretty neat photos.
- Just to be clear, I don’t condone sneaking professional cameras into concerts and taking photos of musicians without permission. However, with the prevalence of digital point and shoot cameras with advanced features and high resolution output, it’s interesting to test the boundaries and definitions of where what type of camera can and can’t go. I sincerely hope that nobody from Veruca Salt or the 9:30 Club had or have a problem with the photos that I took or how I took them. Moreover, I sincerely hope that someone from Veruca Salt or the 9:30 Club even sees these photos and enjoys them even half as much as I do! Nina and Louise, I’d be more than happy to mail you a print! These photos look even better in person!
- *Special thanks to the ladies who bought Steph a drink and allowed us room to shoot. I’d love to see what photos you got and to the brunette, yes, I’d love to photograph your wedding just as soon as you get engaged! 😉
- **An even more special thanks to Stephanie for never failing to inject spontaneity into my life!
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Awesome post! I always think it’s amusing when venues specify “no professional cameras.” There’s no such thing! It is the photographer who is the professional, not the camera. If they are trying to prohibit something, they need to be specific about it. No flash photography? Okay. No cameras larger than X? Got it. Etc, etc. Or do they just want to prevent *good* photos from being taken? In which case they need to prohibit cameras entirely (which would be a feat in itself in the age of camera phones).
Anyway, I’m glad you guys were able to take advantage of the opportunity and capture these!
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Very cool! Not a cheap undertaking, but worth it. I’ve never shot my Land Camera’s in such low light. Any other tricks or tips you can share?
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Hi Shaun! Thanks for reading and commenting! I will go check out your stuff in just a minute. It’s really a shame that the Land Cameras were never equipped with very fast lenses as 3000 ISO film of course, really excels in these situations and it would be nice not to drag the shutter. Which brings me to may main tip. I was handholding probably 1/15th and longer shutters and am not one to brace the camera on nearby objects etc. So for each shot, I really had to concentrate on staying still and holding the shutter release all the way through the second click so as to minimize shake. I also found myself studying the light very carefully before each shot then waiting for similar light to occur if the first shot was successful exposure wise. If it wasn’t, I’d lighten or darken as necessary and try again. This and the shutter drag were my main opponents. Shutter drag really forced me to wait for moments when the band weren’t moving too much also. I like shutter dragged motion shots but only if they are more close up, which I couldn’t get. Maybe the Polaroid telephoto attachment lens would have been useful but I have yet to buy one. One really has to be fluent with handling the film when shooting fairly rapidly and in close quarters like this too. I ruined 1 of 5 packs of film by misloading it and decided to write it off as a loss rather than try to make it work and risk losing moments while shooting. So yeah, somewhat tough but very fun experience!
I don’t know how I missed this before – damn….these are phenomenal!!
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It’s okay, I’m convinced that my posts go directly to a black hole somewhere but thank you for digging around and finding this. I am really happy to have been able to shoot some of the last Fuji peel apart film like this!