Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Einsteurzende Neubauten

Einsturzende Neubauten, Toronto, July 23, 1991

IT'S EASY TO REMEMBER YOUR SUCCESS STORIES. If we're halfway sane, we try to forget about our failures, but some of them linger in our memory if they're particularly instructive or humiliating. This is what makes obscurity a gift: My failures were rarely witnessed or a matter of public record. In one case, though, I managed to get one of my failures documented.

I was a really big fan of the German industrial band Einsturzende Neubauten. It was easy to snicker at their very German image and avant-garde flamboyance, but their records were great and they could reach a peak of intensity live that most bands should have envied (in my opinion.) It went without saying that I always wanted to get a really good photo of any band I liked, so when the band came through Toronto for a gig at the cavernous dance club/concert space RPM down by the lake, I pitched hard for a chance to do the shoot.

Einsturzende Neubauten, Toronto,  July 23,1991

Shooting bands is difficult at the best of times; it's hard to get the same level of intensity from everyone in front of the camera, and group dynamics dictate that the band will go into any shoot subconsciously united against the photographer/outsider, whose motivations are presumed suspicious. In this case, I made it harder by choosing to shoot only with cross-processed slide film, but you have to try to understand my decision.

I'd shot enough bands by this point in my career that I knew I needed something to add some visual interest to what was, after all, going to be simply a photo of five men standing in close proximity to each other. I chose to use Agfa slide film for this shoot instead of the Fuji stock that I knew would deliver a fairly predictable result. Perhaps I did it because it was German, but I knew in advance that the results might be fairly difficult to print. I guess I was hoping that a chance element might produce an original result.

The band were more than usually obstreperous, and I spent most of the shoot being mocked or baited by lead singer Blixa Bargeld, whose very theatrical disdain only encouraged the rest of the band to treat the shoot as a bonding exercise just before they went onstage. It's not like I hadn't experienced this before, but for some reason I'd made the decision to ask whoever assisted me for this job - I wish I could remember who it was - to shoot a roll of me at work with a nice wide angle lens.

Shooting Einsturzende Neubauten, RPM Club, Toronto, July 23, 1991

This is one of the only documents I have of one of my shoots, and it's mostly a record of humiliation. I can see the frozen smile on my face, even from the back, as I'm cajoling Bargeld and the rest of the band to cooperate enough to present themselves to my camera with something less than boredom or contempt. I don't know why I expected anything less.

The results, when they came back from the lab, were mostly unprintable. Cross-processed film had a tendency to produce contrasty, saturated images, but the shadows on the Agfa film clotted like spilled ink and the usual green-blue colour cast overwhelmed almost everything else. It was difficult to remediate these flaws in Photoshop, so I can't imagine how difficult they were to correct in the darkroom. I'm reminded of why, even after relentless testing, I'd end up abandoning cross-processing, overwhelmed by the inconsistency of the results.

My favorite shot from the session today is the one below. The focus is unacceptably soft, probably because I snapped the shutter at the moment when the whole shoot was about to go off the rails, as Blixa had the band rally behind him to lampoon what he obviously saw as the risibly show biz idea of five guys posing for a camera backstage before a gig. It's a moment of almost pure contempt, but it cuts across Neubauten's forbiddingly Teutonic image almost enough to overcome its fatal technical flaws. Consider me humbled.

Einsturzende Neubauten, Toronto,  July 23, 1991

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