This year was an interesting one. I don’t really know what to make of it. I think there was a big part of me that was feeling down because everything seemed lackluster in comparison to 2015. Last year started off slowly, but finished really strong, so I tried to have a positive outlook for the first quarter of the year. There were some new beginnings, but there were also some things that felt very stagnant. Apologies in advance if this post hops around instead of going in a more logical order.
I shot a ton in 2015, and while I was happy about that, I wanted to take a different approach this year. That meant trying for bigger things, not just more of the same. It was a struggle, to say the least, but I’ll get back to that later. Let’s start with something I did very little of: street photography.
I’ve loved street photography for a long time. It’s how I got started, and I would love to have done more of it. I just let myself go and didn’t shoot as much as I should have. When I would go out, I wouldn’t come back with anything I liked. There were occasional bursts of inspiration, like when winter storm Jonas hit (photos of which were featured by EyeEm and VSCO), but my moments were few and far in-between. Hopefully I’ll get back into the swing of things next year and shoot street more regularly.
As for music photography, it’s still a big passion of mine, but I had this strong desire to move beyond shows. I wanted to be able to tell stories that extended past the first three songs. I didn’t really get that accomplished, but I did get to do more portrait work with artists. I kicked off the year by photographing Hinds for an in-store event at the now-shuttered Other Music, and in May I got to spend an entire day with Vérité, which allowed me time to snag a portrait as well. Both of these were self-assigned, and I’m pretty proud of myself for successfully pulling it off. This is my music photography site, so I’ll be focusing on that from here on out.
There were some firsts this year. For the first time, I started shooting for The Bowery Presents. It was a long time coming—I first reached out to them back in 2014, and they asked if I was still interested. They’d end up being the source of most of my shoots for the year, and it made for some really memorable times.
I did my first (and so far, only) shoot for Pancakes and Whiskey in March, and in September I started shooting for Paste Magazine. Paste, in particular, was really wonderful to me. It felt great to be able to pitch something to someone and have it be well received.
Getting back to self-assigned work, I continued to directly contact artists that I like, as well as leveraging past work and social media exposure to get new opportunities. It was daunting, and not every request was successful, but some people were really receptive! Violet Sands, Skylar Grey, Kimbra (with her EXO-TECH collective), and SHAED were all examples of me working directly with artists or labels.
As for the social media leverage, I paid close attention to who was watching my work on Instagram and made attempts to work with companies who were already showing interest, even if it was minimal. This led me to shoot two festivals—Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival, and the The Meadows Music & Arts Festival. These were bittersweet and frustrating victories (which I’ll get to later), but victories nonetheless.
In February, I was notified that I had come in 1st place for a photography competition that I entered. I placed first in the amateur division, performance category with my shot of Gabby from Smoke Season. It wasn’t grand prize, but it was a pretty big deal for me! The photo ended up in PDN Magazine, and it’s the only time I’ve ever had any of my music photography in print.
Not everything was a success, of course. For every successful pitch, there were several that were turned down or just never got a response. That comes with the territory and I’ve tried my best this year to take it in stride. On the other hand, there were some situations where I thought things would go one way, and they turned out very differently, and I took those to heart. I was so excited to be shooting a festival for Billboard, and equally thrilled to cover The Meadows for Founders Entertainment. I worked something out where I’d get to cover each festival, but when it came time to actually shoot, things just didn’t go as planned. I didn’t get the access that I thought I would, and what I expected to be a really unique experience ended up being a bit of a bummer. That said, I still made the most of the situation and tried to take my best photos.
I had been trying to photograph Halsey at her Madison Square Garden show for months, and initially, any and all correspondence fell on deaf ears, but suddenly it didn’t and things seemed like they would work out without a hitch. Well, the day approached and as I understand it, no outside press was allowed to cover that show, and the people I had been in touch with for weeks never bothered to tell me that this would be the arrangement. It could have saved me a lot of anxiety, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
I thought that placing in a contest like the one held by PDN would really be a boost to my career. It wasn’t. Not only was I never contacted as a result of the contest, but I couldn’t even get the judges of the contest to respond to me. I had hoped that a contest being judged by staff at Rolling Stone, The FADER, and Pitchfork would at least give me a tiny edge in reaching out to them if I won, but it didn’t work out that way. All these little disappointments piled up on me over the year and I was just feeling so exhausted. I felt like I was spinning my wheels without any traction. Similar situations at my day job only compounded my misery.
I dropped my camera in October and it’s had performance issues ever since. I need to send it in for repair but I’ve been dreading the cost, and not being able to do my best work really took the wind out of my sails.
Then of course, there’s May 25th. That was a rough day. I was scheduled to photograph T.I. at Irving Plaza, and it unfortunately turned tragic. Not only that, but once I got home, I learned that my cousin had passed away from cancer. For obvious reasons, this was the most difficult day of the year for me by far.
It’s really easy to focus on those negative things and let them grow. I should know, because that’s what I spent a lot of time doing. It wasn’t until I sat down and really started thinking about things I accomplished that I realized their magnitude.
Just to drive the point home, here are some other great things that I didn’t mention: I started my third year shooting with Live Nation at Irving Plaza and Gramercy Theatre. A few of the photos I took of A$AP Ferg and Tory Lanez there were featured by The FADER on their Instagram (facilitated through a separate connection, not anyone affiliated with the PDN contest). Billboard ran my shot of Sia on their Instagram account as well. Two of my photos were featured by Nikon on their social media. Thanks to a friend, I had a paid, all-access gig shooting Duran Duran at The Apollo Theater. I got to spend time photographing some of my favorite artists, learned about new acts that I love, and I spent that time beside some of the most talented and lovely photographers I’ve ever met. Oh man, I didn’t even get to them!
The concert experience is so different for me. A lot of times, I don’t get to bring someone with me, or it’s on such short notice that no one is really available to come along. Because of that, I really have to rely on the others in the pit to socialize with. Thankfully, they have been wonderful. They’re people to confide in with mutual woes, they’re rivals, they’re music fans, photography nerds, and a great source of motivation and inspiration. If you think I’m pretty good, then you should take a look at the company I keep.
I suppose that my goals for 2017 are going to be the same as they were for 2016. I want to tell stories that extend beyond the pit. The first three songs is exciting, but I want those candid, behind the scenes moments. Let’s hope that works out. I also think I need to slow down a bit and figure out what my next move is.
I write these year-end recaps because they’re a good reminder for myself. I constantly struggle with my accomplishments and my confidence, so being able to sit down and make a stream of consciousness assessment of what I’ve done keeps me motivated, and keeps me humble. Let’s go, 2017.