My 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival coverage for Chicago magazine. As always, many thanks to Megan Lovejoy.
Photos in rough chronological order. Artists include: Hundred Waters, Factory Floor, The Haxan Cloak, Sun Kil Moon, Twin Peaks, Wild Beasts, Dum Dum Girls (portrait), The Range, Pusha T, Danny Brown, St. Vincent, Diiv, Deafheaven, Earl Sweatshirt, Perfect Pussy (portrait w MarnieTheDog), DJ Spinn w/ Treated Crew, Grimes, and Kendrick Lamar.
After battling for images all weekend inside jammed photo pits filled with many inexperienced photographers shooting for mysterious media outlets, I wonder why I put myself through the trouble every year, and more alarmingly why I get so many inquiries from young photographers asking how they, too, can join in on the fun. Complaints aside, getting such intimate access to artists I love even for a few brief minutes is fun and addictive. Pitchfork is both my favorite and not-so-favorite festival to document. On the bright side: the lineup is typically top notch (this year was fantastic, I thought); the layout is manageable; the VIP area (yeah, yeah) is full of familiar faces I only occasionally get to see and bottomless free Goose Island. On the bummer side: The photo pits are frighteningly crowded during most acts and security is quick to cut off photographer access at the earliest sign of trouble, namely in the form of people having “too much” fun. I joked that anytime anything interesting happened, we got booted from the pit. I Get it, though. With so many people jammed into a confined area, crowd surfers can be dangerous.
In order to avoid a potential mess, security cut off the photo pit to Beck before many in line, myself included, were able to enter. I was patiently queued up as asked but the line was shut off and my night was ended early while the dozen or so people who cut in front of me got their shots and I spent the three songs pleading to anyone within earshot. “You’re a loser, baby.” Beck sang from the distance seemingly directly at me. Perhaps feeling slightly bad, the fellow managing the pit eventually let me inside just as Beck was wrapping up his third song, thus resulting in the photographers exiting while I hastily tried to capture whatever I could. After getting off a few worthless frames, a large security guard covered my lens with his hand and threatened to smash my camera if I shot any more photos. None of this is uncommon but it was, perhaps, the moment I realized I am too jaded and too experienced to deal with the odd hustle necessary to properly document festivals. I hate to sound like a bitchy photographer (I take photos for a living!) and realize I’m the only person upset about any of this but I think that leads to the point I’m trying to make. With so much coverage on endless websites, the trade-off becomes quantity over quality. The never-ending supply of young shooters willing to do whatever it takes to get into the pit has created a market where nobody gets paid and those of us with a bit more experience, who’d still do it just because we love to shoot live music, are turned off by the frustrating hoops we have to jump thru in addition to working for little money (if any) and busting our asses all weekend, not even getting to cover the act we most wanted to cover. I was that young shooter myself once and likely annoyed plenty of people in the process of getting to where I am now. Life is a learning process. I’d love to shoot more festivals but I think it’s time for me to rethink my approach and let the endless stream of young shooters have their go and learn to become the frustrated old guy I am turning into myself.
With a bit of irony, I came home sulking from missing out on Beck and when I logged into Instagram, the first comment was someone asking for advice on how to shoot festivals. There is no good advice to give on how to get into the strange world of festival photography aside from: just grab a camera and go do it.