It’s Been a ClubZone Summer

It’s been a while since my last post but winter is upon us and the slow period during the colder months should let me get back to my old posting schedule. I’ve been extremely busy this summer which has been a big bonus as far as revenue is concerned, but it’s really put a damper on my creative photographic outlets. The more commercial work I drummed up, the less and less time I spent just having fun with photography. After four straight nights of shooting every weekend as well as a day job spare time becomes a precious commodity.

I don’t want to sound negative though, this summer has been my most successful to date when it comes to trying to make photography a financially successful. I’ve been shooting 3-4 nights a week for ClubZone since May, and through them have gotten a weekly column in 24 Hours, which has been great for exposure. Shooting clubs has also gotten me connections to quite a few people in the Ottawa modelling community, which is starting to pay off with modelling shoots and headshot commissions. I even got a spread in this months Faces Magazine and will have pictures in an upcoming issue of Umm Magazine.

Halloween was a great time to be shooting clubs as well, with the Monster Fashion Show at Mansion being by far the most fun event I shot over the Halloween Weekend. More pics will be forthcoming as I go through the backlog these last couple months have created in my editing queue but for now here’s a sample of Halloween on my Flickr. Stay tuned as well as I slowly make my way through developing the dozen or so rolls from this summers street photography, sitting in the fridge.

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Skull Fist Rocks the Capital at Mavericks

The most important piece of advice I can give to any aspiring band photographer is one simple word: Flickr! Out of everything I’ve done to advertise myself, Flickr has been far and away the best bang for the buck. I’ve gotten more exposure and more paying gigs through Flickr than from anything else. Properly tagged, with good descriptions and titles your photos can be searched and found by millions of people and the investment of time is minimal if you have a good workflow set out.

Case and point; I got an email last week from the band Skull Fist asking if I’d come shoot their show. I thought maybe I’d seen them play before, or talked to them at a previous show, but it turns out they found me through Flickr. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but as my Flickr portfolio has grown, it’s becoming more and more frequent.

As for the show itself, I haven’t had that much fun shooting a band in a long time. If you keep up with this blog you’ll know the one biggest complaint I have about live music is that many bands don’t pay much attention to performance aspect of the show. Live music should be larger than life, I’m not saying every band should go completely KISS and show up in spikes and make-up, but you should at least look like you didn’t just roll in from your day job. And move around a bit on stage, too many bands perform on stage like they’re

laying down a track in the studio. You might sound great, but sound is only one part of why people go see live bands. Well Skull Fist did not disappoint.

You may not like metal, but you have to give credit to any band that really turns it up to 11 to put on a memorable show. I`m going to make a point of shooting more metal shows in the future; my shots are only ever going to be as good as the band I`m shooting… lighting, gear, technique… these things are important, but they only let you reach the full potential of your subject. If your subject is boring, the best you can hope for is technically capable, but boring pictures. Well Skull Fist made me look good. They look the part, they act the part; Valhalla or bust… they`re here to rock.

I also have to give props to the crowd at Mavericks. A lot of my time shooting a show is spent looking over my shoulder for the inevitable flying beer… or body. I have a hard enough time avoiding the jostle at an upbeat alternative show, being a full line up of metal I was expecting WWIII on the dance floor. And while the mosh pit deserved it`s name, everyone was very conscious about giving me my space, in fact the crowd even came to my defense when the sole drunk that wasn`t with the program started getting physical with me.

So my thanks go out to the crowd at Mavericks… you let me get on with my business and good times where had by all. Skull Fist are currently touring eastern Canada followed by a tour out west then off to Europe, so check them out while they`re still on this side of the pond if you have a chance. Even if you`re not generally one to go to a metal show, trust me you will be entertained. You can see the rest of my shots of Skull Fist on Flickr, as well as shots from the other amazing bands in the line up: Aggressor, Black Moor and RottawaY.

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Down on the Corner: Busking the Streets of Ottawa

Ottawa has had a long tradition of great street performers, but in recent years the number of acts hitting the streets has been declining and we have Big Brother Business to blame.

Busking used to be a great way for struggling musicians and performers to make a buck and maybe get yourself noticed, but now businesses want to take a cut. City of Ottawa requires buskers to cough up $200 a year for a buskers license in order to work the Byward Market… but it doesn’t stop there, each financial district has it’s own Business Association that can levy it’s own fee for buskers… you want to work the streets in front of Parliament, that’s another license… you want to work Elgin… popped again… Bank St pull out your wallet boys and girls.

When I came to Ottawa for University in ’99 the Market was full of amazing buskers from all over the world. Acts from Europe and Australia especially loved coming to the Capital, ten years later I walk around the market and in a good week I see one fresh face I haven’t seen before. Mostly it’s the same half dozen acts that to be honest, have gotten lazy. Those that can afford the license now seem to think they own the place and don’t really have to try anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are still quite a few quality performers out there, the ones that really put on a show… engage the audience and really seem like they’re serious about it, Stunt Double Circus comes to mind. But you can tell there’s a lot of buskers that are pretty much just phoning it in now… it’s not enough to show up in dirty jeans and a t-shirt and bang out the same three songs all day if you want people to cough up their pocket change in a time where pocket change is getting harder to hang on to. And out of town acts are virtually non-existent so far this year, some struggle to just break even between room, board and travel expenses to tour different countries, being popped for a license on top of all that just doesn’t make Ottawa a financially attractive place to set up shop.

Busking has been integral to making the Market what it is today, and now business and industry is turning it’s backs on part of the reason the Market is so successful. Many great Canadian acts got their start busking, we wouldn’t have the Barenaked Ladies without it, but now it seems quality buskers might be a dying breed in this corner of the country. Be warned Ottawa, if this continues street theater will be gone from this town and it may never come back.

You can see more shots of Ottawa Street Music on my Flickr. If you see someone there, they’re worth checking out… throw them an extra buck or two. You may have seen my Stunt Double Circus pics already, but they’re definitely worth checking out in person if you get the chance.

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Raised By Swans w/ Pink Moth and Mouth at Zaphods

This Monday I shot a free show at Zaphods featuring Raised by Swans with openers Mouth and Pink Moth. The free concert series at Zaphods can be a mixed bag, sometimes great and sometimes not so much. The lineup this time was a bit of an odd mix. Mouth started off the show; two guys and a girl on drums who have just moved to Ottawa. Great energy and a great stage presence, definitely a band to keep your eye on. There’s nothing better as a photographer than shooting a band that really works the stage and moves around and these guys didn’t disappoint.

Next up was Pink Moth, a solo artist that mixed live guitar and haunting vocals with an iPod for a backup band. Easy on the ears, he laid down some hypnotic tracks that had a resonant musical quality. A great act, but to be honest I’d much rather listen to this type of music at home with a cup of tea and a book… it doesn’t make for the most entertaining live show.

The headliners, Raised by Swans, were recommended to me by a friend and were the reason I came to the show in the first place. They’ve been described as “The Canadian equivalent of Sigur Ros, Mercury Rev, or Radiohead – luscious, ambient, and dream-like” and that’s about the best description I’d be able to give. Great sound, great depth, but again… not the most interesting band to watch live. I know I’m biased being a photographer, but I go see live shows for the show that’s put on. If a band’s going to come and play in jeans and t-shirts, standing still for the whole set, to be quite honest I’d rather save the price of admission and buy their CD to listen to at home instead. This type of act usually sounds better on a CD anyways.

I’m not saying Pink Moth and Raised by Swans didn’t play great music, but I just wouldn’t pay to see their live act. In this respect Mouth won hands down for the night. They jumped, they screamed, they fought… they rocked, plain and simple. Without a doubt, buy a copy of Pink Moth and Raised by Swans’ album, you won’t be disappointed, but do yourself a favour and go see Mouth the next chance you get.

You can see more shots of Raised by Swans, Pink Moth and Mouth on my Flickr.

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Electric Six, Sweet Thing and Tympanic at Mavericks

I’ve been wanting to see Electric Six in concert for years now and they finally came to the capital. Best known for Danger! High Voltage, made popular by the first Charlie’s Angels flick, their tongue in cheek style is pretty unique and they put on an amazing live show.

I’m always afraid that when a band is touring with a new album they’re going to play that heavily and cut down on the classics but Electric Six did not disappoint; Gay Bar, Dance Commander, Improper Dancing and a couple other hits all made appearances. The opening bands did an amazing job as well. First up was Ottawa’s own Tympanic, followed by Sweet Thing out of Toronto. Check out either if you get the chance!  I’ll definitely be picking up Sweet Thing’s new release due out soon, but in the meantime you can grab a free track download from the band at sweetthingmusic.com.

For anyone shooting shows in Ottawa, I’m retracting previous statements that Mavericks is a poor place to shoot. They’ve done some remodeling; raising the stage and putting in better lighting. They’ve also removed the two huge poles that used to block view from the corners of the stage. They’re still not the best venue in Ottawa but have made a huge step forward. One thing you still have to watch for… it’s still the roughest bar in Ottawa. We waited for three hours at the foot of the stage making sure we had a great spot to shoot from only to be violently shoved out of the way by crazed and sweaty metal heads once Electric Six came on. Be prepared to stand your ground and keep your camera out of danger. I’ve never been a proponent of UV filters for lens protection, but after the amount of flying beer and sweat I encountered I may change my policy for Mavericks.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Mavericks in the future, they seem to be attracting bigger and bigger acts, and with the new stage and lighting aren’t a total pain to shoot now. You can check out the rest of the pics of Electric Six, Sweet Thing and Tympanic on my Flickr.

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The Burning Hell at The Black Sheep Inn

The Burning Hell

Made the trip over the border to Wakefield to see The Burning Hell at The Black Sheep Inn last weekend. Last time I saw Mathias at Zaphods it was a cold and blustery winter night and very few people braved the weather to see the show. This time the place was packed and were treated to an amazing show.

I’m still amazed at the high iso capabilities of the 50D, paired with my 85L I can get shots in even the dimmest bar.  My new (to me) ’65 Leica also arrived that weekend and I took it for a spin during the show, I’ll be posting shots from it in the next week or two… soon as I get around to developing the roll.

It’s too bad Wakefield is so far a trek, between the The Black Sheep and Cafe 1870 there’s always great acts playing. I try to make it out there when I can, but hopefully Ottawa will take the hint and start booking the same quality of music.  You can see more shots of The Burning Hell at The Black Sheep on my Flickr.

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Wax Mannequin Comes to the Capital

I’d been waiting a while to see this show. One of the best Canadian artists I’ve come across this decade, Wax Mannequin came to town to debut his new album Saxon. The openers where amazing as well. To be honest when I go to a show specifically for the headliner, I usually can’t wait for the opening acts to wrap things up as soon as possible but, Rae Spoon from out west and Mark Bragg were definitely worth hearing in their own right.  A face from the past popped up as well, Rajiv of Oh No Forest Fires came along to play bass for Mark Bragg.

All three bands looked great on stage, and god bless Zaphods for using well aimed spotlights. I tried some split toning as well as the usual black and whites this time. I won’t get technical, but careful split toning really helped control the shadow noise.

You can see more Wax Mannequin and friends on my Flickr.

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Two Pieces Accepted in AOE – Selections 2009

 AOE - Selections 2009

As I mentioned previously, I had entered four pieces into the Arts Ottawa East – Selections 2009 juried exhibit at the Trinity Gallery in the brand new Shenkman Arts Centre. Well, the jury is in and I had two pieces accepted to the show: An Urban Aesthetic and Post No Bills.

The exhibit opens on October 1st, but I’ll be attending the opening reception on the 7th from 7-9pm. There’s around forty different artists taking part so there should be something for everyone.

I had a hard time choosing only four images to enter, especially since it was a completely open exhibit, with no pre-selected theme or guidelines for submission. I wasn’t sure whether I should select four that spanned the complete range of my collection or concentrate on one style or subject matter. Originally I had quite a few of my colour shots in the short list I was considering for selection, but I took the advice of another photographer and chose a set of four black and whites to submit in order to keep the set looking focused as a group. Seems to have worked out in the end; Post No Bills was even selected to be on the promo card for the show, shown here to the left.

Stay tuned after the event for photos from the opening as I’ll be shooting the opening reception for Arts Ottawa East as well as attending as a featured artist.

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Nick Cave at The Ottawa Writers Festival

I was going to write about the juried exhibit I got accepted to, but that will have to wait, I couldn’t pass on doing a quick write up on seeing Nick Cave at the Ottawa Writers Festival.

When I first heard he was going to be in town, I assumed it was going to be with The Bad Seeds, but it turned out he’s on a book signing tour for his new novel The Death of Bunny Munro. Nick Cave is still Nick Cave so of course we went, and I’m glad we did.

Nick’s hilarious, and the excerpts he read from his book has convinced me to go pick it up. His talk wandered from his history with The Bad Seeds to his new band Grinderman, his previous book, And the Ass Saw the Angel, and even his failed attempt at pitching a script for Gladiator II (long story short, Russell Crowe beats up purgatory, then the Christians, then goes on to fight every war in history… alone).

I was in a pretty good position this time, last time at this venue I was mostly behind a three foot thick cement column. The light was pretty low and really pushed what Image Stabilization and the excellent hi iso capabilities of my 50D, it’s still comes as a shock that I can go all the way up to iso 3200 and still get usable files.

Definitely check out The Death of Bunny Munro if you get the chance, or pick up the audio book read, scored and with sound effects all by Mr. Cave himself. You can see a few more shots of Nick Cave on my Flickr.

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i(heart)music festival @ Cafe Dekcuf

Modernboys Moderngirls by J B Hildebrand

Matthew Pollesel founded i(heart)music in 2005 and has been doing an amazing job bringing lesser known Canadian acts to the masses since then. This weekend was the massive i(heart)music festival at Cafe Dekcuf. Spanning three nights and bringing together twelve great Canadian acts the festival was a blast. I missed a couple of the bands but the acts I did catch were amazing. You can find a full list of who was on stage at i(heart)music.net.

I won’t bother with a review of the show or my favorites as all the bands were top notch. They all put on a great show with a unique stage presence. I’ve wrote before about looking and playing the part being majorly important for emerging bands, this goes double when you’re playing in a twelve band, three day festival. Usually I have to make notes on each band so I can sort out my shots later, but everyone I shot stuck out in my mind visually and this wasn’t a problem.

I see so many bands that sound great, but look like mannequins on stage. If you’re playing a festival like this, you’ve probably got a decent fan base, but most people at the show were there to see one, maybe two bands, each night and hadn’t heard of the rest. This is a prime time to spread the word and you MUST leave people with an impression that’s going to stick, or they’re probably not going to remember you the next day. This is one of the biggest problems I’ve found shooting big festivals. If bands don’t have a unique look or stage presence… I end up with 500 shots of what may as well all have been of just one band. Luckily this wasn’t the case, every band I shot gave me a great set of pics to post.

Like bees to honey, shows like this always attract photographers and there was a really good turn out all three nights. I’ve got a slightly different style than most photogs I meet at shows around Ottawa but it seems to work for me.

First off… I rarely use flash. For one it bugs some performers, especially in a really dark club. Most bands are used to people in the crowd popping away with point and shoots, but the flashes on something that small aren’t really that annoying. Put two or three photographers blasting away at point blank range with pro flashes at center stage though and it’s enough to throw anyone off their game.

Giant Hand by J B Hildebrand

Secondly and more importantly for me… I hate the look a flash gives at concert. There’s a reason most bars turn the lights down really low… they look like crap in the light. If you take a look at most stages with the house lights on they’re hardly more than a raised wooden box with wires running along the walls, up the walls and on the ceilings. Half the time the walls and ceiling aren’t even finished, they’re just drywall or plywood painted black. Some bars don’t even have a permanent stage, it’s just a corner of the bar re-purposed for that night. Take this craptastic wooden platform, turn the lights off and throw on some spots… and suddenly magic! Same with the band… with the house lights on they’re a bunch of guys in plaid shirts and jeans, put a spot on them and suddenly they’re rock stars. Given this… why would I want to blast the band with half a million lumens of daylight balanced flash power and kill the mood completely. If I wanted my pics to look like that I may as well have brought my point and shoot like everyone else and left all my expensive gear at home because the pictures will look about the same.

Lastly, I tend to stay in one spot for most of the show. I come early, figure out where the best place to shoot from is going to be and camp out. I have all my exposure levels figured out before hand for all the main stage areas and I know what each of my lenses are going to see from my spot. I might move around a bit during the show, but not much. For one, this lets me be more consistent with my exposures as I’m not having to adjust for every new position. Also, it means I’m not bumping into people annoying them… and more importantly, my gear isn’t being bumped into by a hoard of energized… and inebriated… concert goers holding drinks, dancing around and definitely not thinking about the guy weaving between them with a big camera and unwieldy camera bag. I may miss some shots by not crowd surfing, but the last thing I need is to have a rye and coke dumped on two grand worth of camera equipment.

It’s always nice to find a new band to listen to, this weekend will probably keep my playlist fresh for months.  There wasn’t a band a wouldn’t recommend so if you get a chance to see any of them live… do it.  You can see more shots from the i(heart)music festival on my Flickr.

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