A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to photograph what might have been one of the most exciting live performances I’ve ever seen. Viridian are a feminist collective whose performances involve live improvisation with both visuals and sound which, in their own words, “re-imagines folkloric forms and tropes of femininity.” For me their performance had an ethereal and haunting quality to it, and it was absolutely outstanding.
They also transformed the performance room – St George’s Glass Studio – into a gorgeous space. I’d previously seen the room with the blinds down and no lighting when Yama Warashi played, but this set up really utilised the space in a much better way, with some intricate banners decorating the windows. I had such a great time capturing silhouettes against the colourful backdrop!
We also heard DM Withers talk more about the history of feminist improvisation and interview the band about their creative process. Something which came out of this discussion and really resonated with me was the notion of using restraint when creating works of art, and how this quality holds a real power within it. It got me thinking about the concept of restraint when applied to photography, and how central this concept is to my own approach. For me, taking photos of performers is often about knowing when to pause; it’s about connecting with the performance on a level which allows you to understand when the right moment is – and when the wrong moments are.
Having said that, I wonder sometimes if my restraint prevents me from getting the shots that I really want. Something I am often unwilling to do at gigs is take action which I believe might disturb the performers or the audience. I believe this unwillingness is often justified – because a good photographer should always be aware of their impact, and be able to work discreetly – but sometimes I look back and with the benefit of hindsight and can see that I was being overly cautious. On this occasion for example, I didn’t want my movements to be too visible to the audience because visuals were a big part of the performance. Unfortunately this meant that I couldn’t get to some of the angles I wanted, and as a result I wasn’t able to photograph all the performers to my satisfaction.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh on myself. To some extent I can only work with what I’m given, and it’s always going to be difficult to take individual shots of musicians who are grouped together in a small space.
I guess working as a photographer means working with my environment, and that means understanding what I can't do, as well as what I can.