The promoter of the Oakland summer concert series was sitting at a small table to the right of the
stage wearing a white hat and a black shirt. Miserable combination to photograph as it's easy to either underexpose or overexpose and no film that's ever been invented has the latitude to render a full tonal range from black to white. Like shooting at the beach. The print either shows nice white clouds with your girlfriend a faceless black blob or she stands out in splendid color in a halo of washed out ocean and sky. Some days you may prefer the one, some days, maybe, the other. Sometimes, unfortunately, you get both. I thought about how I was going to shoot the promoter.
I shift the Nikon with a 135mm medium telephoto lens off my shoulder, wrapping the camera strap around my hand and wrist and walk over to an empty block of chairs in front of the stage. The band is setting up their equipment. The promoter doesn't give me a glance. A line of sunlight and shadow now runs across his face. An even worse combination to photograph. Why even mess with it? Well, what can I say? I like the hat.
I normally shoot with a 50mm lens, a street shooters lens, but shooting people's faces at any distance at an event like this makes the longer 105mm or 135mm worth the effort. I have a 50mm in my pocket. I'd come early to see who was playing and to get a feeling for the crowd.
When I took up photography again I thought concerts, great, I'll shoot pictures of these concerts across the street from my office. Oakland sponsors outdoor concerts in front of their City Hall during the Wednesday lunch hour and then follows up in the late afternoon with a blues series down the street. These more jazz/pop oriented sessions are held here in the City Center on Thursday during noon.
Jerry Brown, the former governor of California - governor "Moonbeam" to many - is the current mayor of Oakland and he's not adverse to experimenting with off the wall promotions like these. I like the whole idea. It's a nice place to go after a long day, unwind and shoot some pictures. The crowds are interesting.
The band starts with their first number, a vocalist, guitar, keyboard, acoustic bass, tenor sax and drums. I move up and circle the stage shooting my first roll of film, all done in a little dance with the performers. Photographers are part of their business and if you look like you know what you're doing they will play to you and the camera. And then, after a while, they'll forget you're there and get on with their playing and that's when you can really start the shoot.
I move continuously, looking for opportunities, walking in picture time, focused on the event, holding the camera on the subject's face and waiting for the moment. I'm getting better at this, finding a timing that requires you to anticipate, to shoot the photograph just before the photograph appears. Zen photography, if you will, and when it's right there's nothing like it, and when it's wrong, well, you make a lot of mistakes.
I see the chairs have filled and the promoter has moved to one of the tables toward the front. I sit down behind him and switch the 135mm with the 50mm from my pocket. The photograph was shot using Ektachrome 100s slide film at f8 and 1/100th of a second.