Low Light, Mid-Life Blues

You wouldn’t know it from looking at most of the pics in my camera roll, but I spent a lot of time and money in years past on the photographic arts.

In high school I dusted off Dad’s old Yashica 35MM and learned the fine points of f-stops and shutter speeds. In ’03 I bought my first digital SLR and even did a paid wedding gig. Around the same time I inherited a Nikon FA and rediscovered the joys of film, even going so far as to take a community college course that gave me my first darkroom experience.

In the early aughts we smuggled “compact” digital cameras into as many as shows as we could. Bouncers have long since given up; can’t tell people entering The Fillmore that they’ll have to leave their phone in the car. Ironically, many smartphone cameras take better pictures than even my modestly professional kit from just a little over a decade ago. But we tried like hell to get photos back then. Of us, of the band, of us with the band when we were lucky.

Also ironically, with the increasing ease at taking decent low-light photos, comes my decreasing interest in bothering. Last month we were back at The Rickshaw Stop one night after seeing Beach Slang. This was our second go at Mr. Little Jeans in this venue, over a year since the hilarious Cinderella, Your Parking Spot is Going To Turn into a Ticket at the Stroke of Twelve sprint down Hayes Street. And, once again, we were perched way up high, in the bar area above the balcony, without much of a vantage, much less camera angle.

Soren Bryce at Rickshaw
Soren Bryce at Rickshaw
So this is what most of my pictures look like now. I’m too old to force my way to the front of the stage if I haven’t already camped out. The photo of Soren Bryce – a charmingly confident set from a young girl who may soon be dealing with more attention than she realizes – represents our initial view.

Mr. Little Jeans at Rickshaw
Mr. Little Jeans at Rickshaw
MMJ, confident beyond measure that we could do better once Mr. Little Jeans took the stage, dragged us from that perfect old man roost and offered to lead through the dancefloor crowd. I wasn’t having any of that, and perhaps a little perturbed that we had given up our prior spot, I stubbornly stood as close as imagined propriety would allow. Which ended up being very far from the stage. The photo of Monica Birkenes represents what I strained to capture. MMJ, I fear, might have been completely swallowed up by the crowd.

I reflect on this today, because MMJ and I are headed to The Masonic to see Morrissey. She’s been excited about this for months, buying the tickets the first day that they went on sale. I’m excited too, but I’m also bracing myself for very deliberate attempts at gaining better vantage points all night long. Luckily, I won’t ever feel too old to be jockeying for position. Even luckier, I doubt I’ll be asked to take any pictures.

Painted Palms atop Haus Hipstamatic
Painted Palms atop Haus Hipstamatic
Gig flashback! Reminds me of the first show I attended in 2014. I was invited to a small gathering of folks on the rooftop deck of Hipstamatic’s HQ to see Painted Palms play a three or four-song set. This being SF, and probably even more significantly, this being Hipstamatic, the vast majority of the crowd was watching the entire performance through their phone’s viewscreens, rotating through one imaginary lens or one virtual filter after another. And I, of course, couldn’t resist. I took one of the shittiest, most boring photos of my life.

Here I was atop the City I love, home again, and finally alive for the first time in years. I band I liked – a local band no less – was playing a few feet in front of me on a perfectly warm and star-filled night. And I was excited by my Black Keys extra-grainy “paper” and some silly lens named for an era that felt hip and nostalgic (honestly, I think it might have been called “1985”). The crap photo is in perfect contrast to everything I should have been taking away from that experience.

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