Why I Quit Being A Rock And Roll Photographer

20 Jun

AAA Robert Plant & Alison KraussImage

For a period, I was one of a handpicked few, who were allowed access to nearly any music event that needed publicity. From the Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, to Rage Against The Machine, Jars of Clay, and Switchfoot. It was a crazy ride that I got involved in through a series of synchronistic events that began in 1994. But once I was in, I took advantage of every opportunity presented, to the limits that my family responsibilities of working full time at the Post Office, and raising 7 kids allowed.

Life is a strange adventure that all the planning and deliberation cannot predict the outcome of. I’ve seen the mighty fall in the prime of their lives, while I’ve also seen the weak rise up and do mighty things in their old age. My life has had so many stages, twists and turns that when an assortment of friends from over the decades describe what I was involved in at the time, they seem to be talking about different people.

Back in the late 1980s, I considered myself a frustrated and washed up 40 year old former minister had been who had seen the prime of his life pass him by without producing the ministry that he trained for and was committed to. I dedicated my life and creative energy to Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel, but found myself sitting in a pew rather than preaching from a pulpit, like I thought God wanted. In my frustration I returned to my original calling, which included photography and decided that if God didn’t want me to be a minister, then maybe He wanted me to be a photographer. So I took all the creative skill that I had and channeled it into my camera by photographing every aspect of my life, both private and public.

By 1994 I met John Gordon at the Salem, Oregon Post Office. He invited me to attend a Grateful Dead concert with him, and through his connections I got permission to photograph the entire event, including the band performing. This began a series of events that took on a life of their own, and a few years later I was freelancing for a dozen music and news publications. One thing led to another, until I was turning down concert offers and selectively choosing who I wanted to cover.

As I wrote more, I got more of my photos published and was hanging out backstage and after concerts with the performers. I started to interview them and began working with The Wittenburg Door, the world’s only religious satire magazine that I had been reading for the past 20 years. I was at the peak of journalistic success and looking forward to retiring from the Post Office in a couple more years, when the bottom fell out of the analog music and publishing industry with the advent of the digital age via the computer and the internet. It was a double-edged sword that killed both the publications and record companies that I worked with, while creating new ones or old ones adding web sites and e-zines. In the frantic scramble that resulted, I continued to work with hard copy and digital publications that continued to publish my work and they would even ocassionally pay me something. In 2008, The Wittenburg Door, after 35 years of publication, ceased to exist as a living entity. Instead it became to the Jesus movement, what the Grateful Dead represented to the hippie counterculture. Then in April of 2013, the last publications I worked with,Β  Blues Revue and Blueswax ceased publication, but at 65 years of age, it really doesn’t matter.

In some ways I felt that my era was over, and that my legacy of photographs were all in the form of analogue film. I purchased my first digital camera in Spring 2012, when I purchased a used Nikon D70 body, for my lenses. Since then, I’ve use the digital camera for concerts, except for my last big concert, which was Bruce Springsteen, for which I used film. However the frustration involved in all the restrictions at that event and the distance and obstructive heads in the way made me not want to even bother anymore. Even with a photo pass, sometimes the rules put in place make it nearly impossible for anything less that the most determined, aggressive and thoroughly well prepared photographer to get decent images. At this point in my life I don’t have the energy to do all that, while enduring mosh pits and over-enthusiastic fans. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to photograph, meet, interview, and write about some of the biggest names in music. However, this is the end, as Jim Morrison sang, back in 1967.

4 Responses to “Why I Quit Being A Rock And Roll Photographer”

  1. Steve June 30, 2013 at 10:51 PM #

    Hello Dave,
    I understand your frustration in not being able to fulfill the ministry work you believed you were called to. I did part time evangelism for 30 years and met pastor after pastor who felt threatened by my ministry and many who actually worked in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to tear me down. I attend church very sporadically these days and still pray much and read the Bible about 3 hours a week, but as for church, there’s no enthusiasm for it.

    I slowly and painfully learned a lot about many in church leadership; things I will not go into here. I live in Vancouver, WA and have relatives in Salem and get that way a few times every year. Maybe we could meet sometime.

  2. Steve June 30, 2013 at 11:01 PM #

    Sorry, I got your name wrong Bob,

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