By Marc Millman
The one thing that I always tell people when they ask me about becoming a photographer is that you have to follow your dreams. There is no question that you need to put in the long hours learning your craft. And, of course, these days everyone (myself included) wants to make it all about the equipment. But for all the hours you spend behind the lens and sitting at your computer culling and then editing images (the modern equivalent of the darkroom and light table), it is best to have some sort of endgame in mind. For me, that has been relatively easy to envision. I love music and people and I need to be able to convey the excitement of life through my imagery.
I shoot events such as weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs along with family photo shoots when I’m not out at night shooting concerts. My belief is that “anyone can be a Rockstar” at the right time in life. My goal is to convey that feeling in the work I present to the public. Musicians along with their managers and publicists seem to find my unbridled enthusiasm, yet laid back demeanor as the perfect combination with which to work. Ultimately though, I like to think that it’s just the way I see things which is influenced by all the time spent at the MoMA, Whitney & Guggenheim museums as a kid and looking at my father’s Kodak 35mm slides.
In January 2014, I was hired to do a photo shoot with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe while they were in town for a weekend-long stand at the original Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg. It turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year and just after one of the many snowfalls we had that winter. I prefer to shoot outside since my portraiture is generally done with natural or available light. But this was a day that I knew we needed to be inside. Luckily my friend and possibly greatest ally, Rock impresario Peter Shapiro had a space nearby that was being used as satellite office space for both his newly expanding Brooklyn Bowls venues and Relix Magazine
I got to the location early to scout the space. The only person there was the booking agent for the Bowls. I asked him if he was excited about the new venue preparing to open in Las Vegas. He was very enthusiastic about how things were shaping up for the first run of shows. When I asked him whom he had so far, one name popped out at me: Jane’s Addiction. The band was set for a three night stand as a the first big name to play the venue. And even better, they would perform their classic album, “Nothing’s Shocking” in its entirety each night! My mind was abuzz with thoughts of what this would be like. I knew I had to be there. But first I had to shoot the Tiny Universe.
We had a good time that afternoon. The band came decked out in black suits with white shirts. I captured some fun images including one I though of on the fly where I had them mimic the classic Madness album cover from “One Step Beyond…” They were even willing to go outside for a few clicks of the Nikon D4. I think being a Southern California band made the idea of snow exciting to them.
When I got into the cab to head back to the City after the shoot, I sent a text to Pete thanking him for use of the space…and telling him that I heard about the Vegas shows and had to be there. He told me he would make it happen. The next few months passed quickly. And before I knew it, I was landing in New York from a week covering the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I then headed home to swap clothes out of my bag and spend a few hours with my wife and daughter before flying out to Sin City for three days with the man who created Lollapalooza and his band. I had no idea what was in front of me, but i was ready, willing and able.
After landing and checking into the hotel, I received a text telling me that I might not have access to the pit. This made my stomach drop out. How could I have been flown across the country to cover the first big shows at this incredible new venue and not be able to shoot the band from up close?! A few minutes later, I received another text from the production manager telling me to come over to the venue. When I arrived, I was told that the band’s manager wanted to meet me. My introduction to Peter Katsis took place backstage while Dave Navarro sound checked his guitar rig. Peter had asked the venue if they had a photographer in town they trusted. They informed him that I had just flown in for the shows. He explained to me that he had a few VIP guests attending opening night. He hoped to get some photos of them. There was a chance that they would even join the band backstage at some point for a picture. He also told me to have fun and gave me “All Access” to shoot from anywhere I wanted in the venue for the whole show each night.
And needless to say there were plenty of outrageous images from the three nights
I returned from my Vegas trip and tried to settle back into my regular routine after almost two weeks spent in the Big Easy & Sin City shooting bands. Summertime for me generally means long stretches away from the craziness of New York City and concert stages. I choose to spend most of it with my family, on the beach out on Fire Island. But the experience of working the three nights in Las Vegas stayed with me. And towards the end of the summer, there was an announcement that Jane’s Addiction would be headlining the second CBGB‘s Festival in Times Square in October. I didn’t hesitate to reach out to Peter Katsis.
That call landed me my first images run in Rolling Stone magazine and Billboard. And it happened simultaneously when the publications ran the above photo of Perry Farrell crowd surfing in the center of Times Square.
It was another awesome set from an incredible live band. I could not have been more thankful to the band and the management for allowing me yet another great opportunity.
In late March of this year, I received an email from Peter Katsis asking how large I could print the image of Perry crowd surfing. After a little back and forth, I ordered a 30″x 45″ metal print and shipped it to him. When I checked back a few days after I received notification that it was delivered, his response was “can I get two more at the same size?” A moment later I received a separate email in which Peter asked if I was free to shoot The Smashing Pumpkins the following week at the Beacon Theatre. I checked the dates and confirmed the middle of the three nights, but only after requesting that I be given “All Access” to shoot the band from wherever I wanted and for the whole show. Besides the standard first three song rule which limits a photographer to no more than 15 minutes on average to capture the performance, The Beacon is notorious for pinning the photographers to the extreme left or right orchestra aisles since there is not pit to shoot from. It is nearly impossible to make a memorable image from those vantage points Knowing the type of imagery Peter wanted, I had to gain these concessions.
On the night of the show, I arrived at the stage door to meet Peter. I was greeted with a big smile and hearty handshake, handed an All Access laminate for the tour and told to have fun. That’s exactly what I had. The show was great. Billy had found these four incredible old theater backdrops. Each one was used for a section of the night to help set the mood. And unlike the early loud Alternative Rock they became famous for in the 90s, this show was acoustic-based. Billy and original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin were joined by current touring guitarist Jeff Schroeder and two female multi-instrumentalists. The audience was treated to a career retrospective including the second segment of the evening known as “The Siamese Suite,” which was made up of seven songs from Siamese Dream, the album that launched them to super-stardom.
I went home electrified by the performance and got right to work editing the images. I sent Peter a handful that night and more the next afternoon. He had requested I not post anything before he had a chance to review them with Billy. I waited several days and heard nothing. The radio silence had me crazed. Were the images bad?! I finally reached out and the response was that they loved them and would be back in touch shortly.
The following Monday my phone rang. It was Peter with an idea. Could I fly to Chicago that Thursday? The band was playing a homecoming show at the Civic Opera House. My schedule was free that day. The arrangements were made and my flight information and hotel reservation arrived the following afternoon. The one thing that I wondered about thought was the reason for the trip. Sure it was the band’s hometown show, but the set was the same each night. And only extremely wide images of the almost 90-year-old theater would look any different form those shot in New York City. I had my sneaking suspicions, but nothing concrete to back them up. The week before playing the Beacon, the band played The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles only four nights after kicking off the current tour. And during the Siamese Suite, original guitarists and co-founder James Iha joined the band onstage. I couldn’t imagine any other reason to fly me to the Windy City.
On Thursday I arrived at O’Hare midday and settled into my hotel. After a little excursion wandering the city, I made my way to Gene & Georgetti Restaurant for a steak dinner. On my way to the venue my phone rang. Peter called to tell me that James would play and nobody knew. The crowd went wild when he walked onto the stage. There was incredible energy in the room and I felt honored to be asked to capture it. When the show was over I got to meet Billy and the band. He told me really loved the images from the beacon. He felt I captured what he was trying to convey to the audience. It was an incredible feeling to receive praise like that from an artist of his stature.
A week later I was on my way to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. As it turned out, the Pumpkins were playing the beautiful restored Sanger Theatre my first night in town. And although shooting the local Funk legends, The Meters that night, the timing and location allowed for me to get a third round in with Billy and company.
I’m currently working on an interesting long-term project involving both bands. In the next few months there are shows with Jane’s that I look forward to, as this time they will be playing 1990s’ Ritual de lo habitual in its entirety.
And after that, perhaps a return to Chicago… But in the meantime as I sit here editing another Bat Mitzvah for young woman whom shown like a Rockstar herself last month, I think back over the last 18 months and find this ride to be truly incredible.
It takes a lot of hard work, a completely unstructured schedule, very little sleep…and the love and support of my wife and the smile of my daughter to keep pushing forward. Combine that with a few allies like the two Peters and perhaps you can actually catch a bit of a break in this business known as Concert Photography. And as for those two other metal prints of Perry? One ended up being a birthday present for the man himself and the other is in the lobby of the William Morris Agency. You really never know…
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