Hi George. Please take this opportunity to introduce yourself and your website to us: I have been involved in music since I was old enough to get a record onto my mother’s turntable. I listened to my mother’s records and eventually began collecting records at the age of eight. It was the music of the early 60’s; Beatles, Stones, Animals… mostly ‘British Invasion’ stuff. In 1970 I quit high school and joined a band as a roadie. It was involvement with the music of the 70’s that eventually led to me starting our website – www.iamnotjerry.com to display gig photography.
How did you get started in gig photography? Around the time of the advent of digital point and shoots I began taking pictures of myself in front of the venue for a review on my MySpace page. At a festival in Florida in 2006 my friend Michael Stewart (who is a professional concert photographer) convinced me to move to a DSLR. I started with a Nikon D90/50/80 x 200. Michael remains my number one mentor.
What are some of your most memorable gigs as a fan? I would say The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream in 1969. In the 70’s it was The Marshall Tucker Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival with Tom Fogerty and Steppenwolf. I attended their shows probably 4-5 times each, maybe more. Van Morrison was quite memorable in the 90’s. The most memorable over the last 10 years was The Monsters of Folk with Jim James, Conner Orberst, M. Ward with Will Johnson of Centro-Matic. It was magical – a very moving experience.
And your most memorable as a gig photographer? Many shows have been memorable due to the band, venue or the audience. My most memorable was Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers with The Drive-By Truckers at the United Center (Chicago) in 2010. It was my first show that I shot in a pit and in a 20,000-seat arena. I was part of a large group of photographers and media people. Jon Reens of Live Nation personally escorted us from a waiting room through the crowd. I was shooting next to photographers whose lanyards contained Rolling Stone, Spin and other rock publications credentials. Many of my contacts I utilize today stem from people I met at that show. The stage was amazing. So much light that I literally stared at the stage as others shot. Before this I had only shot in dark venues with little to no light. It was also the first time I felt like I was real concert photographer.
Do you have a favorite live music photo? I do and it was unintentional. Rich Robinson was doing a solo show in a small club during a Black Crowes hiatus. I was able to shoot the first 2 songs. The lighting consisted of 3 spots; red, red and white. Rich can be a rather sober guitarist, so my focus was on his face and his Les Paul. I edited my shots to black and white to compensate for the red and there it was, Duane Allman incarnated as Rich Robinson.
What’s your favorite photo that you haven’t taken? Is there a greatest live music photo of all time in your opinion? That would be the final photo of Lou Reed by Jean Baptise Mondino, very powerful. I feel the greatest of my time is Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Festival during his strat sacrifice. The whole sequence is amazing.
Who are your favorite music photographers? Kirk West (film) and Jay Blakesberg. Jay’s work inspires me greatly. All my others favorites are people I work with; Paul Adams, C. Michael Smith and Justin Troner. There is a real sense of gratification to work/talk to those you admire.
What’s the story behind ‘I am not Jerry’? The name comes from festival/concert goers telling me I look like Jerry Garcia. I think the first was 2006 at Wannee when a guy said, “Hey Jerry, you’re alive!..” It became a regular greeting so when I was preparing to launch our website ‘Iamnotjerry’ seemed an appropriate name. Iamnotjerry began as a Jam Band focused website and has now progressed into all music website, covering all genres. Iamnotjerry has gone from just myself to having Paul Adams as co-editor, co-everything. Paul added his professionalism as a photographer, web design and business knowledge that has led to long-term gigs. We also have several photographers/journalists who cover shows/events and submit work for publication on Iamnotjerry.
So Paul, how did you get together with George? George actually stumbled upon this little camera shop I was running in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He had some questions about gear, and took a couple classes from me to fine tune his digital workflow. We would go back and forth about the shows he’d seen and the newest camera gear hitting the market. I was quite jealous and intrigued by his stories; George is a very animated and entertaining storyteller. In turn, I’d keep him up to date on his gear and give him suggestions on shooting techniques. We developed a pretty symbiotic relationship and eventually he brought me on staff to help expand his coverage and help put a polish on his website.
But probably the most memorable experience with George at the shop was when he brought in this HUGE scrapbook he discovered. It was a true and COMPLETE photographic document of the rock and roll life and times at this now defunct venue called Danceland in Cedar Rapids seen through the eyes of Kathy Wall from her wheelchair. The moment we opened that book, I literally freaked out, and immediately put on white cotton gloves. Kathy shot Roy Orbison, Duane Eddy, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everley Brothers, Link Wray and Chuck Berry just to name a few. The artists signed almost everything with personal notes to Kathy, and she even had their cigarette butts taped the pages next to the images. Their DNA! This thing belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It simply blew my mind. George had each page scanned to preserve these images as the book itself is beginning to decay. We threw some of the images up on IamNotJerry.com under the “vintage” tab in a section called Kathy’s Wall. We even got a note from Link Wray’s daughter Beth thanking us for getting these images out there for people to see. A true inspiration.
How did you get started in gig photography? Gig shooting started for me about a decade ago with this little neighborhood self-published rag called CRAM (Cedar Rapids Arts and Music). We were just a bunch of punk ass kids looking for a voice. At the same time, I had returned to school studying more photography. I was looking for something more fulfilling and creative to do with my life after dropping out of school for a while to travel and try to find a calling. I was appointed photo and layout editor for our school newspaper, so it was pretty easy for me to assign myself the gigs I really wanted to cover. But after school, I settled for a retail gig to support my ever-growing gear-lust and vintage gear collecting habit and was out of the scene for a bit. Then I meet George and he persuaded me (quite easily) to get back into shooting out.
Do you have any tips or essential advice you’d like to share with us? Jeez, not really. I mean I’m sure ya’ll know how to shoot, or you wouldn’t be reading this thing. I guess I might encourage everybody to never forget the wisdom of those who came before us. You’ve all probably memorized the quotes, but really take a moment to process their brilliance.
“F8 and be there” Weegee – There is nothing better than being in the right place at the right time. Don’t get so wrapped up with the technicals and the gear that you miss the moment. Get out of your head and into that defining moment. I know f/8 isn’t always practical; that’s not the point. Develop a familiarity with your gear where your brain processes the exposure and your fingers find the wheels without ever leaving the viewfinder. Practice everyday until the camera is merely an unconscious extension of your eye and you can get your ass back into the moment.
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” Cappa — Wide is good, but tiny folk lost in a sea of background is boring. Always get close, but please be respectful of everybody in the pit — even those bastard hobbyists lucky or rich enough to undeservingly find there way into a pass. They are people too, and who knows, they might just surprise you by picking up that lens hood you didn’t notice fall off. If ever this gig shooting thing becomes a drag because of hostility in the pit, I don’t wanna play. My best work comes when I’m smiling. Maybe this verbiage would work better for Eisenstaedt’s famous quote, “I have to be as much diplomat as photographer.” HA!
I could go on, but I’d rather go shoot!
No problem, thanks Paul.
George, other than for your own website, who do you shoot for? We shoot at all the venues in our area as well as venues outside of Eastern Iowa. We shoot for Frank Productions in Madison, WI. Frank Productions promotes shows/tours all over the US. We have shot for Hoopla; which is a web-based event magazine. We are currently working out the details with US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, IA to be their house photographers.
Where have you had your work published? Our photos have been published in several blues magazines, The Paramount Theatre’s Overture magazine, and online with Hoopla. Many of our photos are also on various band websites. Getting into magazines is one of our goals.
Have you got a particular style or approach a gig in a certain way every time? Prior to the day of the show I find out all I can about the band/artist and locate their most recent live show via photo or video. I study recent shots to help give me a heads up on what their stage may look like. I like to get to the venue at least 45 minutes before the scheduled start time. I find the house sound person and introduce myself. They usually will tell me how the sound check looked and what to expect. I then talk with security to make sure I have all the rules straight. Last but most important, I talk with to the people on the rail or in the front. I give them my card and tell them who I am and what I am doing, assuring them that I will be out of their way in 1-3 songs. Most times people are really cool and like the fact that they can go to our website and see photos of the show.
What’s in the bag Nikon D800, D300S, NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, Nikkor AF 50mm F/1.8D
How has your experience of all those live shows you’ve attended benefited your photography? It is enormous. From my very first shoot I felt like I belonged which eventually allowed me to concentrate on my shooting. I was always an equipment/stage junkie. At each show I would stand in front of the stage and check out the gear, stage, roadies and sometimes I would meet the performers. Having that background benefited me greatly from a connection perspective. My experiences allowed me to talk to promoters/bands and actually know what was talking about. In the beginning that was the only way I got photo access.
Do you enjoy a gig as much as you used to now that you take photos? Does it feel like ‘work’ or is it as much fun as going to a gig? I was afraid you would ask that one. The answer is no. I hope no one I work with or for takes this wrong because I am passionate about live music shooting. Truth is once the lights dim and the music starts I am in a zone. Often times I never really hear anything but my thoughts on where/what to do next. So I guess it has become work if that can be called working?
What’s your opinion on the widely discussed topic of artists / publicists’ photo releases? Bullshit plain and simple. We understand and abide by artist’s wishes as far as when, what and where to shoot. I have had artists ask not to shoot them from a certain angle or from a certain distance. Releases have gotten ridiculous. They often want sole ownership of all the photos then dictate which ones if any can be posted on my website… only! We have lost several shows because we missed the window of interest because we had to send the photos to the promoter / band before we could publish or post on the show. A Zappa Plays Zappa show was never posted. Personally I feel one factor that we / venues need to address is t shitty DSLR shooters who shoot without credentials and pass off their images as professional concert photos. I have seen people with $500 DSLR’s openly take shots throughout the whole show. There are many more qualified here to discuss this issue.
Does that mean you disapprove of photographers who shoot for free in the pit? Not really as long as their work is used for professional usage and not just personal use. We have run into venues / promoters who when we ask for minimal compensation they state that they can get photos free from multiple shooters. It takes quite a bit of time and money to keep Iamnoterry in operation so when we have an opportunity to be compensated for our photos and are cut out by a hobbyist, it then becomes yes.
What do you think can be done to improve the problems with these photo releases? Promoters need to better screen who they give photo passes to by checking track records. In the past, part of the process to obtain a photo pass was stating whom you worked for and where the photos will be published. I am sure this still happens for larger acts but the releases are moving too downward. Why punish the masses for a few jerk offs? Hell, when you find someone who has changed their image into a cartoon and is selling it on a coffee mug for $39.99 on Ebay; go after them, not us! Also – what I said before; STOP people from shooting without approval. It is out of control and so are their photos.
Some artists are now banning the use of camera phones and cameras in the audience – maybe that is a step in the right direction to bring some credibility back to gig photographers? CORRECT! I could not agree more. This would also help to lighten the release requirements. Although I rarely sit in the audience these days, but when I do they are frickin annoying. When the hell does anyone get involved in the vibe of the show? I personally know artists that have had enough. Not only due to poor videos on YouTube and shitty photos all over the web – but it offends them as they are working their asses off and they see phones going off non-stop. A manager of a well-known band who I know is seriously considering such a ban. He is also looking at a photo release because of all the photos out there…
Do you have any tips for gig photographers?
- It goes without saying, but you can never be too prepared.
- Pay attention to what is going on around you.
- Get a feel for the vibe in the venue.
- Know whom you are shooting.
- Remember no means no.
- Although I rarely adhere to it, try not to over shoot. Hundred shots of The Black Crowes is too much.
Do you have any tips or advice for gig photographers who are on the verge of going pro? I would advise shooters to make sure every photo released is their best. From here on out it is about gaining name recognition and allowing their photos speak for themselves.
George – thanks very much for your time and sharing your experiences & advice with us. We really appreciate it.
If you are interested in checking out more of George’s work he is one of our contributors. You can also check out his website iamnotjerry.com. You can also like the website on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Paul also has his own website you can check out along with his contributions to iamnotjerry.com.