Assignment 2: The Show Must Go On

For my second assignment, I knew I wanted to take photos of a story that meant something to me.

If we have to take photos for class, why not take photos of something I’d like to remember?

The first thing I thought of was the one thing I love most: live music. I knew of a few singer-songwriters touring around the Midwest who were stopping through Champaign-Urbana over the weekend. I had my project.

There’s plenty of troubles for touring musicians in the DIY (“do it yourself”) scene, and most of those are rooted in financial issues. When people aren’t coming out to shows and buying merchandise from the artists, they often struggle continuing their string of shows—sometimes forcing them to take long breaks between tours or even stopping them from performing live all together.

Friday night’s show at Error Records in Urbana, Ill. was quite the reminder of those struggles. Kansas City singer-songwriter Doby Watson, who has been an actively touring musician for most of the last decade, was on tour with his friend Austin Swearengin, another singer-songwriter from Minnesota.

Touring bands mostly rely on local artists to draw crowds out to the shows and sometimes the turnout for performances end up pretty empty. This was the case Friday night for Watson and Swearengin, who told me their tour had lackluster turnouts up to this point. But still, showing off an admirably common characteristic for DIY musicians, they continued touring.

I knew I wanted to capture both essences of what was happening that night in my photos: the nearly empty venue and the dedicated musicians who still played, despite playing to almost no one. My goal in capturing those two features was to get wide shots that showed the empty crowd in front of them and then tight shots that showed the emotion the musicians still maintained to deliver throughout their performances.

An enormous struggle in accomplishing that was trying not to disrupt the show, having been extremely exposed in a crowd of three-to-four people. Most people sit still throughout stripped-down shows in order to avoid disrupting the show any further; however, I needed to be mobile to get the shots my project required. This called for jumping a personal hurdle: excusing humility.

While still trying to be as quiet as possible, I got up and moved around the room in order to capture the shots. In the end, it wasn’t as humiliating or embarrassing as I feared it would. More importantly, I got the shots I needed to tell the story I was assigned to complete. And that’s part of the job.

You can see my final project here.

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