Right from the start I saw Dublin’s Vicar Street venue as being ideal for this project but it took me quite a while before I managed to get in there to try it out. The venue management were very helpful and open to the idea from the start, but the problem was that it’s a rare occasion when the Vicar Street balcony is not full of punters. My chance finally came on March 3rd thanks to Leagues of Foggy Notions who was promoting Daniel Johnston there. Johnston had the BEAM orchestra in tow which made for a pretty interesting gig and a more interesting photograph than I would otherwise have got.
Venues like Vicar Street are pretty problematic for this project. A powerful lighting rig means that there’s a big difference between the level of light on the stage and the level of light off the stage. You can go for a shot where the stage is properly exposed, but then the crowd is completely dark and no detail can be seen. Alternatively you can try and get some detail into the crowd but invariably that means that the stage is totally overexposed and just a blast of white. This is not necessarily such a bad thing. In fact it is pretty much in keeping with the photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto, which were partly the inspiration for my project. Sugimoto made a whole series called Theaters, where he used a large format camera to take long exposure pictures inside movie theaters. He would go into the theater during the afternoon, when there was almost no-one there, set the camera up at the back and make an exposure that is the whole length of the movie.
It’s impossible to see what’s happening on the screen in one of his Theaters shots. The exposure is so long that the screen becomes completely white and in effect, the film becomes a light source that illuminates the rest of the scene. Of course, in a movie theater, everything except the screen is completely dark. In a music venue there is still some level of illumination off-stage. It is possible to use the Sugimoto approach but that entails not seeing what is on the stage at all and I think the movements and patterns created by the performers are important. So what I am trying to do is to strike the right balance so that you can see both. The Daniel Johnston picture at the top of this post was the only one from that shoot that managed to nearly do this, but the stage is still a bit too bright for my liking. Next time I’ll get it right .. hopefully.