As Greater Manchester heads towards Tier 3 of the Governments new set of lockdown restriction, I find myself asking how much worse 2020 can get. I’ve also started looking forward to 2021, albeit with the same level of trepidation as a first time skydiving student, who finds themselves in that ‘arse-twitching’ moment between pulling the ripcord, and the parachute opening. Hope, it would seem, is an essential requirement during strange times that we live in.
I find myself reflecting on how 2020, and how it started with such promise; I was able to shoot the Pixies gig, and as someone who’s a fan, it was an absolute pleasure. It was one of the busiest pits I’ve been it, so you really needed your dancing shoes on, as not to get knocked over, but great fun all the same. As a photographer, I love shooting live music. It’s the energy that I feed off. The buzz that comes from the crowd behind you, and the artist in front, it’s a real adrenalin kick.
In the pit for Lewis Capaldi was great fun, as he has a great interaction with the crowd. He doesn’t just come on, sing his songs and then leave. There’s a real element of fun in his show, which is great.
Covering Morrissey at Leeds arena was a strange one, as we all thought we would be let into the pit, then suddenly we where led to the sound & lighting desk, and told that we had to shoot from there. Keeping in mind that the S&L desk is about 50 metres away from the stage, with a crowd of about 5000 people in front of you, you realise you just have to deal with it. Thankfully, I was able to stand on stand on the barrier that surrounded the desk, but I still had to crop into the image to get something from the frame. That’s one of the small mercies of using a Hi-res DSLR.
In the pit for The Stereophonics at Manchester Arena, for what was to be my last gig of the year, was an absolute blinder. We had been taken right to the end of the runway and told not to move. Just as I was worrying that I’m gonna have to shoot on a long lens, the bands tour photographer, Hans-Peter van Velthoven, leans over to me and says “Wait for chorus. That’s when the lighting really kicks in”, and he wasn’t wrong.
2020 suddenly decided to rogue, and before I knew it, it was national lockdown. During this time, as for most other working photographers, all the work disappeared. No gigs, no editorials, no fashion, no nothing.
Then, with the murder of George Floyd in America, there was this ground swell. Anger, disgust, and an overwhelming feeling that ‘enough is enough’, people from all walks of life, using social media, email, word of mouth, came together to protest. I now found myself documenting people power. Covering the first 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Manchester started as work. It was very much a case of, get the images, file them to an agency, and then hope that they sell. This was also the case for the XR (Extinction Rebellion) protests.
Now this is where I get all a bit ‘Hippy’, but I honestly believe that 2020 as a year, is not about Covid-19, but that it’s actually about change, and that it’s an opportunity for us all to do things in a better way. The only problem is, that a lot of people don’t like change, and so they fight against it. But without change, we don’t progress, we don’t grow, we fail to learn the lessons of the past, and so subsequently, we miss a golden opportunity for something better.
By the second BLM protest, and various other protests that began to take place, I realised that something changed, and I started to feel that for me as a photographer, it was much about ‘documenting the event’, rather than just feeding the media. Don’t get me wrong, I still file images to the agencies, but that’s not the driving force behind the process. So, I started to spend more time looking for specific images, talking to people, engaging with your fellow humans, and you soon find that, it’s the interaction that lays the groundwork for getting the images. This process allows for new connections to be made, and in time this leads to other images being made, such as the portrait of Rap/spoken word artist, Jay Chambers. Which brings me back to taking photographs of musicians, going full circle if you will.