I’m catching up today on a backlog of concert photos from the past week. Here you go…
MUCCA PAZZA March 6 at St. Paul’s Cultural Center. (Some of the photos are also posted on flickr.
Also on flickr: Close-up shots of the pipe organ at St. Paul’s.
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS March 7 at the Harris Theater. (A couple of shots are on flickr, too.)
I’ve posted a gallery of my favorite photos that I took at concerts in 2009. Visit www.undergroundbee.com/2009/bestphotos/best.htm to take a look.
First of all, let me stipulate that Sonic Youth is a great band. I’ve enjoyed their music for many years. Their new record, The Eternal, is a darned good one, and they played an excellent show Saturday night at the Vic Theatre. You can see my review of that concert on the Web site of the Southtown Star newspaper.
One thing you can’t see here on my blog, however, is the sort of photo gallery I post after most concerts. I did not take any pictures of Sonic Youth. The reason is that I refused to sign a legal contract that the band’s management required photographers to sign before receiving photo credentials.
Here’s a little bit of background to help you understand this issue. I’m a freelance journalist, and I take photos at about 100 concerts a year (more than 300 if you count all the opening bands and festival acts). I am doing this photography largely as a hobby, rarely getting paid anything for it. I enjoy seeing live music and taking photos. Many of the concert venues I attend, including Schubas, the Hideout and the Empty Bottle, usually let anyone take photos for as long as they want. Sometimes I get into these shows for free on the guest list, and sometimes I pay. At other venues, including Metro, the Riviera and the Vic, you generally need to get photo credentials from the band, label or venue to take pictures with an SLR camera, and you’re often restricted to taking photos during the first three songs.
I post photos from the concerts I attend here on this blog on also on flickr. I post anywhere from a few pictures to 20 or 30 of a band, and I leave the pictures posted on my Web site indefinitely. Bands, labels, online publications, newspapers and magazines sometimes ask permission to run my photos, usually asking for higher-resolution images — and usually offering nothing but a photo credit line in return. More often than not, I agree. Once in a while, someone offers actual money for the photos.
Some concert photographers do make money, of course. Maybe I will eventually. I daresay that many of the other photographers I know or encounter at concerts in Chicago are in a similar situation. With the rise of digital cameras, a lot of people (including me) realized we could take photos at concerts and thought, “Why not?” At times, the proliferation of photographers snapping away at a concert can be annoying, and I suppose I’m just as much to blame for that as anyone. (Hey, I do try to be as unobtrusive as possible, keeping aware of the fans standing or sitting near me.) With all these photographers out there (at least a few of whom have decent-enough SLR cameras and lenses to get good shots at dark venues, all of which will run you thousands of dollars), it’s becoming hard to demand much compensation for your work. That’s the law of supply and demand.
A lot of us are glad to get free tickets, the chance to photograph a musician we admire, and a little bit of attention from people commenting on our photos. I certainly don’t feel entitled to get photo credentials for every concert. It’s been a great privilege to shoot pictures of some fabulous musicians over the last few years. I know there are times when I won’t make the cut because there’s a limit on how many photographers you can cram into the space in front of the stage. You can’t always get what you want, right?
Some musical acts now ask photographers to sign a legal agreement — often called a “release,” “waiver” or “contract” — before they get credentials to take photos at a concert. I believe this practice is more common with big-label artists than it is with independent musicians. Out of the 300 or so musical acts I’ve photographed over the past year, only three asked me to sign a legal agreement: Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave and Sonic Youth.
Most of these agreements include a clause restricting how you can use the photographs you’ll take at the concert. This clause might say that the photos can appear in only one publication, and they might limit how long those photos can appear online. The agreement might also spell out some of the things you can’t do with the photographs — such as selling them or using them on merchandise like posters and T-shirts.
I can see why musicians want to prevent people from making money from photographs of them. That’s not something I’ve ever done, and I don’t have any interest in doing it without permission from the musicians. And even if I don’t try to profit from the images I’m posting, it’s hard to stop other people from grabbing those pictures and doing whatever they want with them. They’re not high-res images, however, and I doubt if anyone’s going to make much money selling a poster based on a photo lifted from one of my sites.
I suspect some musicians are trying to control their image by limiting the photographs that are out there online. That’s a lost cause. It’s too late to stop the proliferation of concert photos online. Even when the number of professional concert photographers is limited, other fans take pictures with their point-and-shoot cameras and cell phones. A lot of those photos invariably end up online.
And it’s not only a lost cause. Limiting the number of photos also hurts the musicians. The more photos of a band are out there, the more people are likely to discover that band. Fans enjoy seeing pictures of their favorite musicians, right? And how does the existence of all those online photos harm a musician? It’s all publicity and attention, which helps to raise a musician’s profile. Sure, not all of those photos are going to be great works of art or even flattering images, but there aren’t too many photographers going out of their way make musicians look bad.
Some musicians may be using these agreements for the simple reason that they don’t want to be distracted by photographers during their shows. Or they don’t want their fans to be annoyed by a bunch of photographers. I can understand this, but it’s something that’s usually dealt with by setting rules at the venue (such as that three-song limit) or just limiting the number of people getting photo passes.
Even though I think it’s silly for musical acts to ask photographers to sign agreements limiting the use of their pictures, I’ve agreed to sign some of these papers. When Nick Cave played last year at the Riviera Theatre, I included two publications on the form — this blog as well as the Southtown Star newspaper. I posted photos here and submitted one to the newspaper. When Nine Inch Nails played at Lollapalooza last year, I signed a similar deal, allowing me to post a picture for a limited time at the Southtown Star. I took photos but I did not end up publishing any.
Last week, I was excited at the prospect of photographing Sonic Youth. I was told I would be getting a photo pass, and I was planning to take a picture to run along with my review for the Southtown Star as well as a gallery of photos for Underground Bee.
But the day before the concert, one of the publicists for Sonic Youth’s record label, Matador, told me I would have to sign a waiver before getting photo credentials.
The first part of the “photographer release” was pretty standard stuff, similar to what Nick Cave and Nine Inch Nails had demanded. This section said:
“1. I have the limited right and permission to use certain Photos that have been approved by you solely in connection with one (1) article about you contained in [State name of publication].
“The Photos may be used only in an article, publication or other medium initially disseminated to the public within one year of the date of this agreement. I shall have no right to otherwise use or re-use the Photos in whole or in part, in any medium or for any purpose whatsoever, including, without limitation, promotion, advertising, and trade, without your written consent therefor.”
OK, this was disappointing to me, but I could deal with it. I would have preferred getting permission to run photos on my blog as well as the newspaper Web site. And I’d prefer to run them for more than a year. Why take the photos down after a year? What purpose does that serve? So at this point in reading the contract, I was grumbling but still planning to sign it.
Then I got to the second section:
“2. I hereby acknowledge that you shall own all rights in the Photos, including the copyrights therein and thereto, and accordingly, I hereby grant, transfer, convey and assign to you all right, title and interest throughout the universe in perpetuity, including, without limitation, the copyright (and all renewals and extensions thereof), in and to the Photos.”
WHAT?!? Sonic Youth is going to own the copyright on my photos? Now, this was a whole new level of musicians seeking control over the work of photographers. I’d heard that Morrissey was making similar demands of photographers recently, but this was the first time I’d ever been asked to sign such a deal.
A little bit of additional background. As a freelance photographer, any photographs I take are my intellectual property. In most cases, if I’m working for a publication, that publication acquires the first rights or some limited rights to run my photos, but it does not become the copyright owner of my work. The situation is different for most staff photographers working on the payroll for newspapers and magazines. Their photos are considered “work for hire,” and in most cases, the publication itself owns the copyright.
There’s also something called publicity rights. The basic idea is that the person in the picture has publicity rights. This is what prevents someone like me from sticking a photo I took of Sonic Youth on a billboard endorsing Snickers bars or whatever. As I see the law (and I’m no lawyer or intellectual-property-rights expert), there is bound to be some tension between the photographer’s copyright on an image and the publicity rights of the person inside that image anytime you try to make a profit from the picture. But that’s a legal question for another day.
The one thing I do know is that any artist should be very reluctant to sign over a copyright on his or her work to anyone else, whether it’s a photograph, piece of music, book or whatever. When the University of Illinois Press published my book, “Alchemy of Bones,” in 2003, I made sure that the copyright was in my name. The idea that Sonic Youth would completely own all the creativity and work I put into my photographs was totally unacceptable. Why even bother taking the pictures? Now, if the band or record label was paying me to take photos and then keeping the copyright on the images, that would be another matter.
That second section of the contract went on:
“I agree that you shall have the right to exploit all or a part of the Photos in any and all media, now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, in all configurations as you determine, without obtaining my consent and without any payment or consideration therefor.”
So, now the band is spelling out the fact that it could use my photos on album covers, posters, press releases or whatever it wants without paying me anything. That hardly seems fair, does it?
The legal agreement continues:
“I understand that you will give me appropriate ‘photo credit’ where possible. I understand further that all aspects of said ‘photo credit’ shall be determined by you in your sole discretion and that failure to accord said ‘photo credit’ shall not be deemed a breach of any obligation, express or implied.”
Well, gee, thanks for thinking of me. I’m so glad you might give me a photo credit… or might not.
“I further grant to you the right to use my name, likeness and biographical data in connection with the distribution, exhibition, advertising and exploitation of the Photos.”
OK, now I don’t know why the band would want to use my likeness. Maybe if I were a famous photographer. But if I were a famous photographer, I’d probably have enough clout to take pictures without signing this crappy deal.
The contract goes on … including a section saying that “I hereby waive all rights of droit moral or ‘moral right of authors’ or any similar rights or principles of law which I may now have or later have in the Photos.”
There was no way I was going to put myself into this sort of copyright servitude, so I told Matador Records that I refused to sign the legal agreement. I asked if I could still get a press ticket to attend the show without photo credential, so that I could write a review, and I did receive that.
I exchanged a few e-mails Friday with two publicists at Matador. They told me Sonic Youth’s management had insisted on using this legal agreement, and they said they would check to see whether it could be changed. I did not hear back from them after that, and went to the concert without a camera.
It’s particularly disappointing to receive this sort of treatment from a band like Sonic Youth, which has a reputation for its independent spirit. And based on everything I can see, the members of Sonic Youth really do seem to be nice people in addition to being talented musicians. I’m hoping they don’t realize how artist-unfriendly their photography waiver is. I would not be surprised if this legal agreement is an overreaction — an attempt to protect the band from unauthorized photography sales that goes too far. It’s a sledgehammer approach.
And so, in lieu of any photos from Saturday’s concert, I present some photos I took of Sonic Youth when they played at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival. The band let me and a bunch of other photographers take pictures that time without signing anything. Imagine that. I suppose these two-year-old photos (not my greatest work, I freely admit) are an example of the pernicious sort of old pictures floating around on the Internet, harming musicians by their very presence, which this legal agreement was designed to prevent. Here they are. I hope it doesn’t hurt too much, guys.
Some of my favorite photos that I took at concerts in 2008: 1. Cat Power 2. The Donnas 3. The Donnas 4. The Hives 5. Roky Erickson 6. Exene Cervenka 7. Fleet Foxes 8. Thurston Moore 9. Zooey Deschanel of She & Him 10. The Kills 11. Russian Circles 12. Icy Demons 13. Jarvis Cocker 14. Boris 15. King Khan 16. Dodos 17. Dinosaur Jr. 18. Gogol Bordello 19. The Raconteurs 20. CSS 21. Explosions in the Sky 22. Wilco 23. Brazilian Girls 24. Saul Williams 25. The National 26. Sons and Daughters 27. Monotonix 28. Neko Case 29. Mucca Pazza 30. A Hideout zombie 31. Nick Cave 32. TV on the Radio 33. Frida Hyvönen 34. The Hold Steady & Drive-By Truckers 35. The Sadies 36. Andrew Bird
I spent some time this week (too much time, really) tinkering around in Photoshop with one of my old photos. I’ve been meaning to try something like this for a while, and now that I lack a camera (a new one is on the way soon), my mind drifted toward experiments.
I took one of the photos I shot recently of Cat Power, split it up into 96 squares of equal size, and edited the squares independently, without worrying about whether they would match the adjacent squares. Then I reassembled all of the pieces. Click here to see the final photo.
I also arranged the squares into a film. If you’re expecting a Cat Power concert film, you’ll probably be disappointed … think of this of an experimental film. It runs about a minute and a half. Click here to watch the film.
(This review is also on the web site for the Southtown Star newspaper.)
Cat Power, the singer also known as Chan Marshall, was once notorious for abandoning songs or entire concerts before she was halfway through finishing them.
When she played at Chicago’s Vic Theatre two years ago, she gave an erratic performance, with some brilliant moments and lots of awkward silences. She was back at the same venue Sunday night (Feb. 10), but this time she exerted complete mastery over the music.
Although Cat Power is a strong songwriter in her own right, she focuses on cover tunes on her new album, “Jukebox,” and those songs dominated Sunday’s show. She chose a diverse lot of songs, ranging all the way from the Frank Sinatra hit “New York, New York” to Joni Mitchell’s meditative “Blue.”
Marshall showed a jazz singer’s sense of timing, letting her words drop behind the beat or run ahead of it. She almost always sings in a breathy tone, but she knows how to sing in a way that’s strong and breathy at the same time, pulling the microphone away from her face on the more forceful notes.
Freed from playing guitar or piano, Marshall seemed to feel an uninhibited freedom to roam the stage with her peculiar pantomime-like dance moves. She often crouched down low as she sang, making gestures with her hands that sometimes acted out the words of the songs – or just reflected one of her fleeting whims. She held her hands in prayer, she flicked her fingers with a fish-like motion, she pretended she was clicking a remote control, and she circled a finger next to her head (the universal sign for “crazy”).
One of the reasons Marshall probably felt so free on Sunday was the excellent band acting as her safety net. Billed as Dirty Delta Blues, the four-piece group plays a bluesy, rootsy style of rock music that evokes the days when Bob Dylan first went electric or the Rolling Stones recorded “Exile on Main Street.” The band also knows how to play simmering, quiet grooves — perfect for Cat Power’s ballads.
In addition to the tracks from “Jukebox,” Marshall and the band indulged themselves in several other cover songs, including George Jones’ “Making Believe,” Patsy Cline’s “I’ve Got Your Picture” and James Carr’s “Dark End of the Street.” It was only late in the concert that fans got a chance to hear Cat Power do some of her own songs, including the new track “Song to Bobby” — apparently, a letter of sorts to Bob Dylan — and a few songs from her popular 2006 release “The Greatest.”
Cat Power may have mastered the personal demons that caused trouble at her past concerts, but she still refuses to play by all of the rules. Instead of doing the usual routine of leaving and coming back for an encore, she remained onstage as the band left, spent several minutes tossing T-shirts into the crowd, basked in the applause and then disappeared.
Over the past week or so, I’ve been going through all those photos I shot at concerts in 2007, picking out some favorites. I tried to limit my favorites to one per band, with a few exceptions. Some of my choices are unconventional shots, not necessarily the photos that are technically the best, but the ones that capture a time and place for me.
There are three ways you can look at the photos.
As I mentioned in my post about the Waco Brothers, I ended up seeing 100 concerts and 305 musical performances (including festival shows and opening acts) in 2006. That’s a lot to sift through, and the vast majority of those shows were enjoyable to one extent or another.
My favorites were:
1. Sleater-Kinney, March 14 at Guerrero Produce Warehouse, Austin (SXSW Film Festival closing night party) (original review / photos)
2. Tom Waits, Aug. 11 at Detroit Opera House (original review)
3. The Wrens, April 29 at Schubas (original review / photos)
4. Radiohead, June 19 at the Auditorium Theatre (original review)
5. M. Ward with Oakley Hall, Sept. 8 at Metro (original review / photos)
6. Art Brut, March 15 at SXSW (original review / photos)
7. Okkervil River, Oct. 8 at Schubas (original review / photos)
8. Randy Newman, Nov. 3 at Orchestra Hall (original review)
9. My Brightest Diamond with Pedestrian and Via Tania, Nov. 11 at Schubas (original review / photos)
10. TV on the Radio with Grizzly Bear, Oct. 9 at Metro (original review / photos)
And in honor of Sleater-Kinney finishing No. 1 on my list for their blistering, intense performance that night, I am posting many, many more of the photos I shot that night. I was positioned almost perfectly at the front of the stage (perfect except that it was hard to get shots of drummer Janet Weiss), I had my new camera in hand, the music was mind-blowing, and the sights of these three ladies rocking out were fabulous. Click here to see my new gallery of 123 photos from the Sleater-Kinney … or, if you want to see all of the photos in sequence, click here for a Flash slideshow. Personally, I think the slideshow version is much cooler. Make sure to crank up “The Woods” while you’re watching. It lasts about two minutes. I did very little editing on these photos – no cropping at all, just a little brightening on a few of the images.
I’ve put together a page of my favorite photos that I shot this year at concerts. Click here to visit the photo gallery… Or click here for a Flash slideshow with all of the photos.
The page includes photos of: the 1900s, Acid Mothers Temple, Band of Horses, Brazilian Girls, Art Brut, Big Black, the BellRays, Bloc Party, Boredoms, Broken Social Scene, the Drive-By Truckers, Dr. Dog, Eels, Eleventh Dream Day, the Flaming Lips, Flat Five (Kelly Hogan & Nora O’Connor), Glossary, the Go! Team, the Handsome Family, Kanye West, M. Ward, Nickel Creek, Okkervil River, Lady Sovereign, Gnarls Barkley, Liars, My Brightest Diamond, My Morning Jacket, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Neko Case, TV on the Radio, Oakley Hall, Oneida, Os Mutantes, Palliard, Pernice Brothers, Portastatic, the Raconteurs, Radio Birdman, Robyn Hitchcock, Ray Davies, Roky Erickson, the Sadies, the Shins, Ryan Adams, Richard Swift, Scratch Acid, Sleater-Kinney, Sufjan Stevens, Tapes n’ Tapes, Tony Joe White, the New Pornographers, the Walkmen, Wilco, the Wrens, Yo La Tengo, Black Angels, Brakes, Bang! Bang!, Devin Davis and the Essex Green.
These includes photos I took in March at South By Southwest in Austin and at four big festivals this summer in Chicago: Intonation, Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and the Touch & Go/Hideout Block Party. And there are lots of photos from Chicago’s concert venues, including Schubas, the Hideout, the Empty Bottle, Metro, the Double Door and others. It’s been a blast taking all of these photos this year. I bought a Canon Digital Rebel XT in Feburary, and since then, I’ve shot more than 20,000 photos!
As a bonus, here’s a slideshow of the Go! Team’s Ninja dancing during the band’s concert this summer at Lollapalooza.