I’ve spent a large proportion of my life listening to bands, going to see bands, playing in bands, so this project of mine is a natural way of extending that interest (obsession?) into photography. However, I was adamant when starting it that it should not be just about the music I like. This is about exploring how performances manifest themselves visually through extended time exposure photographs and so it should not matter at all what sort of music is being performed, whether it is any good or not, or whether I like it or hate it.
The above shot is one of a few attempts I have made to photograph in the Button Factory. The Button Factory used to be known as the Temple Bar Music Centre. It’s right in the middle of Dublin’s Temple Bar district which, depending on who you talk to, is either a thriving centre of arts and creativity, or a tacky dump where drunk stag party tourists go to get pissed and vomit all over the streets. Regardless, the Button Factory is a great venue and particularly great from my point of view because it has a nice balcony overlooking the stage that more often that not, is not being used by punters.
The first time I went it was a slow Monday night with a jazz orchestra playing. There were not many people there and even the presence of Mary Coughlan on a few songs didn’t liven up proceedings very much. The photographs I took were poor – badly exposed, and a yawning chasm in front of the stage where the crowd should have been. The second time I went was to a u:mack gig with Silver Mount Zion playing. I was a big fan of Godspeed You Black Emperor! when they first appeared, and in fact, saw them play a mesmerizing gig in this very same venue some years ago. But I lost interest in GYBE! as time went on – I felt their later records didn’t really match up to their first one. So, up to now, I hadn’t paid much attention to Efrim Menuck’s new project, Silver Mount Zion (or Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra to give them their current full title). Big mistake – SMZ were superb in the Button Factory: a completely engrossing and thrilling night of music. GYBE! were entirely instrumental, but Efrim sings in SMZ, and I think this adds a whole new dimension to the music. It’s leaner and tighter and more compelling, but hasn’t lost the epic elongated flow that made GYBE! so great.
While taking photographs I abandoned any notion of controlling the time of the exposures and just let the lengths of the songs dictate. Open the shutter at the start and close it at the end. SMZ have long songs so many of the exposures were over 10 minutes. The above is the best of the bunch and easily my favourite shot at this stage of the project. I had always envisaged the crowd being part of the photograph but hadn’t manage to achieve this yet. This time it worked perfectly – the audience were packed right up to the front of the stage and as fully engrossed in the music as I was. There’s enough detail there to give a sense of them but not so much that it distracts from the swirl of movement that is on the stage.
I knew when I was taking these photographs that they were going to work. I don’t think I would have had that feeling if I was watching some garbage on the stage. A week or so later I returned to the Button Factory on a Thursday night to photograph a gig by an Irish band (who shall remain nameless). They were truly dire – technically excellent but cocky and obnoxious (they spent part of the gig boasting about how they were recording their album in the US and had a song, I kid you not, extolling the virtues of lying in order to get further in life). I did the same things I did at the SMZ gig but the photographs didn’t come out well at all. Maybe it was the wildly inappropriate and over the top lighting that was employed that ruined the shots, but I like to think that it was just because the band were shit – and somehow my camera knew this.