Monday, February 2, 2015

Live: Metallica

James Hetfield, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Dec. 1986

I HAVE NEVER REALLY ENJOYED CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY. Which is a shame because I've done so much of it. While I'd love to exclusively feature my portraits and landscapes and still-life work on this blog, there are hundreds of live music shoots in my files that it would be unfair to ignore, if only because of the record they make of my technical progress over the years.

I've written about my portrait session with Metallica before, but I'd encountered the band a few years previous, when an assignment to interview Lars Ulrich for Graffiti magazine got me a pass to the pit at the Maple Leaf Gardens stop on the Master of Puppets tour.

Kirk Hammett, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Dec. 1986

I had only owned a camera for about a year when I took these photos, and if I was somewhat pleased with the results at the time, it was mostly because they'd turned out at all. They were shot with my trusty Pentax Spotmatic and whatever cheap telephoto lens I owned at the time. Thankfully we were still allowed into the space at the front of the stage to shoot back in the '80s, and I might have had more than three songs to get the job done.

The meter on the Spotmatic was hardly state of the art, and whatever lens I had probably didn't have a maximum aperture of less than 4.0 or even 5.6. But the real miracle of these shots is that they were shot on rolls of expired Kodachrome that I'd been storing in my fridge, a gift from my cousin Terry who worked at Kodak.

Jason Newstead, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Dec. 1986

I was poor and colour film was expensive and I'd been told that pros shot on slide film so I naturally used whatever cost me the least, but nobody would ever tell you to show up to shoot a concert with film rated at just 64 ASA. So of course the majority of my shots are either blurry or dim or both; the frames you see here are the best of the lot, miles from anyone's standard of technical perfection and the result of long sessions in Photoshop.

Thankfully no client was expecting to use these shots, though I did try vainly to interest Graffiti in running them with my piece. Luckily for them there were a wide range of photos of the band to choose from, taken by photographers who knew that fast film, lenses and shutter speeds are what you need to shoot live music.

But years later and with a couple of hundred shows behind me I'd be struggling to capture the loose, spontaneous feel of these pictures, using every ounce of hard-won technical knowledge to get something a bit better than just another sharp shot of a guy with his guitar on a stage.


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