This shot was the first successful one I took in Whelans. The first night I tried to photograph there was at a Xiu Xiu gig and I was immediately faced with the problem that I couldn’t hoist the camera up far enough to clear the balcony railing. The next time I went, I solved the problem by poking the camera through the railing, but got the exposure all wrong. The third time was a Dublin Metal Events gig, featuring Polish metal band Vader, and the shot above is from that night. It’s not Vader but one of the support acts, As You Drown. I didn’t photograph Vader because by then the balcony was rapidly filling up with punters, and I didn’t want to be the annoying person with the camera getting in everyone’s way.
One of the first challenges I faced when starting to do this project was this: how do you calculate the exposure for one of these photographs? With “normal” photography you can use a light meter or stick the camera on auto, but when you are using exposure times that stretch into minutes all that is out the window. I started by bringing a digital SLR with me and running off test shots with that. I would leave the shutter open for 30 seconds, experiment with different f-stops, see which one looks right, and then do a calculation to tell me what f-stop I should use for an exposure of 4 minutes or so. I pretty quickly realised a couple of things though. The first one is that f32 is almost always right. The second was that if you are dealing with exposure times of a couple of minutes then an extra one or two minutes makes little difference. The difference between 4 and 8 minutes is only one stop and that’s well within the latitude of b&w film. So my motto from then on was “bang it on f32 and leave the shutter open for as long as you like”. The other thing I realised was that dicking about with two cameras – taking them on and off the tripod etc – was a real pain in the ass, so I just stopped bringing the digital after a few shoots.
I was pretty excited when I saw the results of that night. I like the way the blurred movement conveys the intensity of the music and the performance. It’s pretty obvious from looking at the picture that it’s loud and frenetic, and I think you would get that even without the tell-tale wall of Marshall amps at the back. I didn’t initially see Whelans as a good candidate for this project, as it was impossible to get the crowd in the picture – the balcony extends quite far forward towards the stage – and having the crowd in there as well was how I saw it working. However, looking at this one, I began to see how photos that just concentrated on the stage and the performers could work well too.