I actually took photos today! But I may get some more tonight, and want to do a longer post, so for now, we go retro.
As I’ve been skimming through my images, I have a couple of folders dedicated to scans of slides and negatives from long ago. This one is not quite the oldest, but it’s close. To the best of my research this was taken on October 17, 1987 at the Rochester War Memorial – it’s Nancy Wilson of the band Heart (framed by several other unknown people) during their Bad Animals tour, and the first real concert I’d ever attended. I had come prepared and had soft earplugs in, which paints me as far from hardcore, I know, but I could hear when I left the auditorium, while my friends could not.
Now, some notes about this. This was before I could afford to get serious about photography, and the camera I had at the time was a Wittnauer Challenger, which I would include a photo of except I lost mine about fifteen years ago and no one seems to have an image of one online – pretty rare, it seems (though whenever I checked it was never valued terribly high.) It was almost identical to the Wittnauer Professional seen on this page, so go there to get the idea. Fixed 50mm f2.8 lens, strictly manual, no exposure meter, and rangefinder focusing, not even a split-image screen (if that’s all gobbledygook don’t worry about it – just accept that it was not only difficult to focus in good light, much less a concert, it was also very easy to take images with the lens cap on.) Concert security searched our bags, and either they missed the camera or, quite possibly, giggled and let me keep it, just like they let people through with their 110 Instamatics and Disc cameras. The basic point about this is, I was guessing at adequate exposure, and with a 50mm lens, you pretty much have the same perspective as you would see in person – no telephoto, no magnification. Which is what makes this image pleasing to me.
At this concert, it was an open floor plan – no seating, just a railing about a meter from the stage to keep the fans at bay. They don’t do this anymore, with good reason: the attendees try to get as close as they can, and the press near the stage is unreal, and literally dangerous. As I squeezed in to try and make use of this basic lens, I was literally jammed in so tight among everyone else that I had no control over balance, which was demonstrated twice. Somehow, somewhere on the edge of the crowd, someone would lean or trip or something, and this leaning wave would sweep through the crowd, which was almost terrifying. I felt myself going over with everyone else but couldn’t move my feet to maintain balance – it was like being strapped in, my arms folded up and pressed to my sides, camera only a few inches from my face at any time. Both times it passed without disaster, but the impression was that I could lift both feet and wouldn’t have slipped a centimeter. I couldn’t begin to tell you how much of the sweat pouring off of me was someone else’s, but I imagine it was a lot.
I was only a fraction as experienced as I am now, and not paying a lot of attention to composition, so this is more of a lucky accident than skill, but I’m not sure I could get something that communicates “concert” much better than this, even with careful planning. The press of people, the mixed orange and magenta lighting, the speakers, and the beams of the stage lights all framing a full-length portrait of Nancy Wilson, guitar in hand, singing into the microphone (don’t ask – I don’t remember what song it was.) Nothing else on that roll even came close.
Heart wasn’t quite ‘stadium rock,’ and had a lot of ballads thrown in, but many of the attendees felt it necessary to thrash their hands in the air in one way or another, because that’s what you do (there really is no other reason.) You can tell this is old because there are no smutphones blocking the view, not to mention the eighties-style hair and clothes, pretty much dictated by the record companies because the Wilsons hated the image.
By the way, as I type this, Heart is playing in North Charleston, South Carolina, maybe three hours away from here. That’s pretty impressive longevity for a band, you have to admit – but it’s also what made me push the image up, having discovered this during my research last night.