Tag Archive for Photography

It’s Only Rock and Roll

The recent announcement of The Rolling Stones’ upcoming Dallas dates took me back to when I ended up a few feet from them and learned something from it.

When I graduated with a photojournalism degree in 1997 and landed my first job at The Paris News in Paris, Texas, I knew there was a lot to learn. I just didn’t realize how quickly the lessons would come or that they would stick with me for so long.

Within the first few weeks, I was tossed into a regular rotation of high school sports, storm chasing (“Oh, okay…that’s what a wall cloud looks like!”), car wrecks, house fires and a plane crash on a major highway. You know, the normal stuff.

Then came Mick and Keith.

keith300pxI was working in the newspaper’s photo office one day when the chief photographer stuck his head in. Apparently he had put in for a photo pass for the Rolling Stones’ show at the (then) fairly new Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and couldn’t make it. Did I want to take it?

I had spent my late high school and early college years in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas, cutting my photography teeth by shooting bands in what was then a burgeoning music scene. Aside from photography, music was one of my main loves in life and I dug every second of combining my two loves. So getting the change to shoot the freaking Stones?

Yeah, I could give up a Saturday night for that.

Once I arrived at the show, I quickly started thinking that maybe I was in a little over my head. I got my credentials and joined several other photographers in the staging area outside the Speedway, covertly checking their press passes: Associated Press. Dallas Morning News. Fort Worth Star-Telegram. And then there was green-as-you-could-get, 23-year-old me. Yikes.

I decided to just play it safe and hang back. Stay out of the way and just try to get something, anything, in focus.

The stage was in the infield area, so we boarded a van and were shuttled to the backstage area. We all filed out and were taken to the side stage are for the briefing. Essentially, it went like this: These are the lenses the tour photographer is using each night, so you might consider those. You’ll be split into two groups, one on the right side, one on the left. Mick and Keith know you’re there and will play to the camera, so don’t stress about getting shots. You’ll have the first two songs to shoot (which was and more or less still is the norm). The first song would be “Satisfaction”, so once the house lights went out, listen for the opening riff. Now the important part: The pyrotechnics that would be going off in front of us (!). Yes sir, you have my attention.

Along with listening for the iconic opening riff of “Satisfaction”, we were told to close our eyes and look down. We would hear a hissing sound, which would be the pyro getting ready to go off. Once we heard (and felt the heat of) the pyro, we were free to shoot away. If we looked up to early and saw the explosion, we would be blinded for the next few minutes and wouldn’t be able to shoot anything.

We were split into our groups in the photo pit in front of the stage and the luck of the draw put me with photographers from the A.P. and the Dallas Morning News. I knew both guys’ work and was intimidated beyond belief. We spent the short period before the show chatting and it turned out they were great people. Professional-level digital cameras had just come out and we were using them, commiserating about how bad the quality was (Google “NC2000e” and then thank whomever you choose for your iPhone camera). I was shooting film as a backup and they were somewhat envious that I still had that option.

The lights went out, the crowd roared and our adrenaline started flowing. Time to go to work.

We survived the slightly less than thermonuclear blasts in front of us and started shooting what still is one of the highlights of my career. In short time, I went into automatic mode: Once a card on the digital went full, I let it download to the disk and went to film. When the roll was done, I let it rewind and started shooting on a new card with the digital. Back and forth through “Satisfaction” and “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It).”

stones300pxIt was over far too soon and we were ushered backstage to hop in the van and be ushered back to the entrance. On the drive back there was a lot of banter about being that close to the pyro and how well the band moved for a bunch of old guys. Me? I was just happy I survived.

I processed the film and downloaded the images the next day, surprised at the number of keepers I had managed to capture. Almost 20 years later, I still have one of the images of Keith Richards shot on the film camera in my portfolio. The funny thing is I don’t even remember shooting it. It just showed up.

The lesson I took away from this was not to get caught up in what you don’t know or what you might screw up. Just do what you know how to do and everything else will work out.

After all, it’s only rock and roll.


Red Hot Temperatures and Bluebonnets

If you’re just here for the bribe (giveaway, drawing, whatever), feel free to skip the brilliant prose and head to the bottom for details.

Someone once said, “There are two seasons in Texas: Summer and not summer.”

In 2011, that was proved true, as the seasons went somewhere along the lines of:

Not Summer (Winter): “Ahhhh, yes. This is why I love Texas.”

Not Summer (Spring): “Eh, a little warm for this time of year, but it’s still oka…RUN!!!! A TORNADO!!!!!

Summer: “Man, I miss the summer of 1980. Oh look! Another small woodland creature just spontaneously combusted.”

Not Summer (Fall): “Can I come out of my house now?”

For about 10 minutes that summer, the traditional Texas bluebonnets appeared before realizing that natures’ broiler had been left on 350 degrees. Within that small window of opportunity, I managed to find a small group of flowers along Interstate 30 in Fort Worth that hadn’t yet been reduced to ashes and decided to photograph them.

Many people assume that professional photographers hit the shutter release and through the grace of God and Canon or Nikon, beautiful photos appear. We wished it happened that way too.

One of the results of the adventurous photo shoot.
(Click photo to enlarge)

For the bluebonnet photo, I parked on the side of I-30 and hopped out of my car as other vehicles whizzed past me just below light speed. After hiking up a small slope, I set my bag down, grabbed my camera body, made the lens selection and hit the ground to get the bluebonnet photo to end all bluebonnet photos. Then the ants found me.

Some men attract good luck, some beautiful women, others large sums of cash. I attract insects. With stingers. And bad attitudes.

The ants proceeded to let me know that I was not welcome in their ‘hood and drivers along a major D/FW highway were treated to a man who appeared to miss his medication that day, flailing on his back and repeatedly slapping his right leg. Something tells me Ansel Adams never had to deal with this. If he did, his biographer was kind enough to leave it out.

Once the ants were satisfied with their conquest, I finally got down to the business of making photographs. I found a group of bluebonnets that looked healthy and had great color. Balancing my flash on my camera bag to produce nice, directional lighting, I composed a shot and started clicking away. There were clouds out that day, so I had to battle the changing exposure between sunlight and cloudiness. I was in “The Zone.”

Then Fort Worth’s Finest decided to stop by.

For the record, I truly have the utmost respect for police. As a photojournalist I had a front-row seat for many of the things they deal with and I will testify, it’s a tough, thankless job. But that day, I really didn’t want to get arrested for taking photos of flowers.

The officer pulled up to the stoplight on the access road above me and curiously looked down in my direction. I looked up, smiled weakly and nodded, hoping my body language communicated that I was far too fragile to go to jail and be some large man’s girlfriend.

While he had every right to haul me off to the pokey for committing a crime against photography (felony cliché picture taking of flowers), he simply shook his head and drove off once the light turned green. I tried a few more angles and figured that between sweating my way to dehydration and the vicious ant attack, I was done.

Getting home and editing the shots, I surprised myself by choosing a photo that didn’t have the traditional blue sky, but the shot you see above that had darker clouds which helped the flowers to really stand out. In hindsight, it was well worth the adversities.

Just don’t tell the ants that. They’re already a bit full of themselves as it is.