Music photography is not as glamorous a field as it makes itself out to be. To really succeed in the industry takes thousands of dollars in equipment and education, not to mention countless hours of practice and study. And the payoff ain’t exactly grand. Some local band asks you to take pictures of their next gig—offering a guest list spot and maybe, maybe a few beers in return. Sure, you’re trading in your Friday night to snap pics of some mustachioed college dropouts who believe loudness and feedback is directly proportionate to talent, but in the end you get something to add to your portfolio!
The band may credit your carefully-edited photo on their Facebook page or on a flyer—after they’ve bastardized your work by adding cookie cutter “vintage” effects, Microsoft-generated “reflection” borders, or garish text in poor font choices. But at least you, as a photographer, are getting your name out there—and as with anything else, it could lead to something bigger.
Luckily, the current exhibition at Whitdel Arts (an extension of the CAID—Contemporary Arts Institute of Detroit) gives much-needed recognition to some of the city’s most hard-working photographers. The three artists in the group exhibition, Doug Coombe, Trever Long, and Marvin Shaouni, have long since been capturing the live atmosphere of Detroit music in still shots. From dingy rock shows in dive bars, to the hypnotic, fluorescent sights at the annual Detroit Electronic Music Festival, all genres of the enigmatic live music scene in Detroit are represented.
The photographers’ personal styles vary: Coombe, a resident photographer for The Metro Times, tends to capture an iconic look to his subjects, either in live settings or posed. Long, a recent College of Creative Studies graduate, is the youngest of the group; his photographs deviate to a dreamier place, with striking visual effects. Shaouni, who is a musician himself, focuses not only on the performers, but also on the atmosphere and energy the crowd provides.
Subjects include pre-stardom shots of some of the biggest names in Detroit music, from Eminem to Iggy Pop, Kid Rock to the White Stripes. There are the indie favorites that have emerged over the past decade: Brendan Benson, The Electric Six, and Mayer Hawthorne. Then there are the underground favorites: The Detroit Cobras, The Gories, and cult R&B icon Andre Williams.
And of course, there are pictures of the lesser-known bands, the ones who may have never made much of a splash outside the Motor City, but whose images still resonate with local history. Longtime music scenesters may find a sense of nostalgia in seeing photos of bands they remember from years past. After all, Detroit is very supportive of its homegrown music scene; every year the city hosts the Blowout festival, dubbed as the largest local music festival in North America.
The exhibition runs now through April 28th; high quality reproductions of the photos are available for purchase. Whitdel Arts, located at 1250 Hubbard in Detroit’s Mexican Town neighborhood, is open to the public 12:00-3:00 on Saturdays, and by appointment. Contact exhibit curator Lisa Krug for more information.