I was emailing with Adam last week — as I often am — and I realized, after pulling that 2009 photo of Hayes Carll for comparison to this year’s photo of Hayes Carll, that all of last week’s shows were bands that I shot very early on in my concert photography career. And, for the record, both in smaller venues than the Haw River Ballroom. So for the sake of navel-gazing, below are photos of Blitzen Trapper from the Cat’s Cradle (2009, 2011) and Haw River Ballroom (2013), as well as Langhorne Slim at the Cradle (2008, 2009, 2010) and the Casbah (2012) and Haw River Ballroom (2013, above). 2008, that Langhorne show, I shot that one on film.
I’ve never made any effort to hide the fact that I’m self-taught, as a photographer — I mean, aren’t most of us? You can take classes, but you really learn by doing it, and that’s teaching yourself — but it’s hard to see progress sometimes, or be happy with my current work, because I’m too close to it. And I love seeing new bands, or new-to-me bands — I like getting shots that don’t feel like the same photos over and over again. But there’s also something comforting in shooting the same bands repeatedly — why do you think I’ve seen American Aquarium and Holy Ghost Tent Revival close to a hundred times, combined? Because I love them, but also because I am comfortable photographing them — because when you stand things several years apart, you can genuinely see how your work has grown.
I can see how, even between early 2009 (Langhorne) and late 2009 (Blitzen Trapper), I got better at finding the light. I can see that I got better at framing, but also better at using dark space available to me. There are the bones of my current work in all my past work — I have always been fond of odd angles and shoes and hands and so on — but my current work has so much more to it. Meat on the bones, excuse the bad analogy. The work I’ve done between 2008 and now, when I put these photos together, it’s all worth it. All of it, even the parts that are exhausting. Maybe especially the parts that are exhausting.