Year in Focus: The ND Community’s Best Photographs of 2015
To paraphrase the great Sinatra song, it was a very good year for No Depression. It was also a year of transition — the folks behind this publication streamlined both the website and the newsletter, and published the first print issue in seven years. It was also a transitional one for photographers, from being featured in the semi-weekly newsletter to the establishment of this weekly column, which I am fortunate to helm. But two things have not changed: ND community photographers’ dedication and the quality of their pictures.
A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that, since we have readers and critics polls for outstanding albums of the year, it would be fitting to end the year by featuring some of the outstanding photographs. Just as musicians are artists, so are writers and photographers artists — all three require talent, experience, and perseverance.
Non-photographers often ask me what camera they should get to take good photographs. Unfortunately, most think that having a good camera makes you a good photographer. It does not. It can, however, enable you to become a better one. It is an oft-quoted axiom that 95% of photography is in the photographer’s eye. It’s a way of seeing things — things that others do not see.
Case in point: during college I spent many Saturdays working with and teaching children about photography. Each week they would be given a 99-cent plastic camera and a roll of film. On the next Saturday, we’d develop the film, make contact sheets, and print a few. As children have a unique view of the world and have not learned what cannot be done, more often than not their pictures proved that axiom.
We can also talk about composition, depth of field, the grey scale, rule of thirds, cropping versus composing within the frame, and, most importantly, how photography is about the capturing of light. However, the photographer who wants to capture live performance faces some significant challenges. First and foremost is the absence of light — and how the available light all too often changes. The concert photographer has to slow down the shutter speed, which can blur the action. They must increase the ISO, which increases the amount of grain/noise, and open up the aperture, which decreases what’s in focus. They must also ask themselves: should I take a close-up, wide shot, or medium shot — when and of whom? As the photographer often has limited access and time to take the photos — usually just the first couple of songs, if they are lucky enough to have a pit area — they have to cover a lot of ground in 10 or so minutes.
These are just some of the obstacles your intrepid photographers face. And we still have to see the performance in a way a casual observer may not see it, in order to get those special shots. And, if we do our job right, hopefully we’ll capture one shot that is extra special. We also have to use cameras with larger sensors and better lenses to capture more of what little light there is and still keep the photos from being blurry. Next time you see photographers at a concert with big cameras and bulky lenses, know it’s because those things are necessary, not because we like to lug all that stuff around.
Finally, we have the photographer’s style. We all know the basics, have similar set-ups, and can be at the same performance, but we can get different results because of what we “see” and how we see it. Ideally, the end result is a captured moment in time that gives you the essence of the performance.
When I decided to look at ND’s best photography of the year, I did not know what I was in for. There were over 2,200 photos published on this website this year. I reviewed them all, selecting as I went. At the end of that process, I found I had way too many, I stopped counting at 50. It took quite a while and some fretting to get it down to a manageable 20. I’ve included them below, in no particular order.
I also want to thank all our photographers for going to so many shows all over the world, but it seems most of them are in the US, Australia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. I specifically want to acknowledge the photographers by name whose work is featured this week: Michael Bialas, Peter Dervin, C. Elliott, Pierre Eriksson, Steve Ford, Todd Gunsher, Jill Kettles, Sterling Munksgard, and Kirk Stauffer. They should be familiar names to you as their work has been featured on ND’s print pages, newsletters, and within this column many times.