living by proxy

I sometimes shoot live music for a Japanese magazine called Rockin’ On. Pretty much any project for them is fun because of the people involved. When they do a story on a band, they’ll devote eight pages to photographs and another eight pages to carefully translated questions about a band’s career trajectory and the underpinnings of their lyrical message. It’s not only interesting to their Japanese readers, but makes Western bands wrestle with questions English language journalists rarely get the space to ask (unless you’re reading Chuck Klosterman books, which I highly recommend).

So I shot portraits of Dave Grohl for the cover and the whole Foo Fighters band for the inside story. And although they wouldn’t announce it until the last moment, they were going to play the Troubador in about eight hours. For a band that plays to 20,000 fans, it’s rare to see them in a 200 person club.

dave grohl on stage at the troubador 2011

I showed up at the Troubador and stuck a big Foo Fighters WORKING label on my shirt to discourage the idea that I might be also having fun (and to make sure security wouldn’t tackle me). I wandered through the crowd, climbed onto both sides of the stage, perched up on the catwalks, and watched the fire marshall high five a drunk girl while they listened to Dave sing My Hero.

foo fighters rock the troubador 2011

The next day, portraits of Dave for the cover were first on the editing block. Most of my photography tends to focus on human connection and intimacy, and looking for a real connection in photos can be challenging when you have a short time to develop a rapport. Then I switched to the live shots. The thumbnail images showed an intimate venue with ecstatic fans reaching toward a larger than life singer. An enlargement revealed a different story, however. All those ecstatic fans reaching desperately toward someone they normally only see on TV or playing a stadium…actually had iPhones and Blackberries in their hands. No one was looking at the Foo Fighters performing six feet in front of them – instead they were looking at them play on a 3 inch video screen.

i don't remember the show, but my facebook shows i was there

Of course I was doing the same thing, but I was there working and while I love my job, I do take it seriously. I wasn’t posting a Facebook photo just to prove I was there, I was trying to capture the energy of the event for tens of thousands of Japanese Foo Fighters fans who would never see Los Angeles, let alone the Troubador.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Facebook and Twitter encourage people to share and I’ve spoken to friends who feel more motivated to do things solely because of their ability to share their experiences. At the same time, doesn’t this detract from the actual “experiencing” it part? Facebook and Twitter also detract from people’s verbal and written abilities – overall they are more visual outlets. I would like to read someone write about how they felt watching Foo Fighters perform (in more than 140 characters), rather than look at a blurry and noisy picture where I’d have to read to caption to even know what’s going on.

Maybe this is just part of digital life in 2011, but it’s such an example of carefully captured disconnection. We preserve so many of life’s little moments, yet we live them less fully.

As always, Louis CK sums it up quite well.