I just realized that I totally missed the Tenth Anniversary of the first time I ever shot the Zeros (Kansas City’s New Wave 80s cover band), and what a pivotal moment in time that was for me. And it really is incredible to realize that it’s actually been ten years. At that point in time, I had absolutely no vision or even desire of ever making money at photography. It really was just a thing I was doing for fun. But that night of June 30th, 2006—yes, wrap your head around that year again—at the Voodoo Lounge at Harrah’s Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri was truly a watershed because it shifted the trajectory of my life in an entirely new direction that I never anticipated. The people it’s led me to, the friendships that were made, my current means of making a living today, even loves gained and lost, can all be traced to that night.
It wasn’t actually the first time I had shot a band; the summer before I took pics of another KC-area cover band called Identity Crisis and the week before the Voodoo show I had taken pics of Kansas City’s U2 tribute Rattle and Hum (albeit with a crappy fixed lens Sony camera, a relic from an earlier era when cell phones weren’t yet capable of taking decent pics, remember those?). But neither of those nights quite had the impact that the Zeros’ Voodoo show was to have for me. I had seen the Zeros frequently since the first time I was introduced to them the previous November (2005), and I had just started to meet the band and their circle of friends that spring to the point where they knew me by name. For several months I had been thinking about taking photos of the band; I just thought it would be neat to go to a show and take photos. That was it.
I really didn’t know what I was doing, technique-wise; I was shooting anything and everything that I thought might be cool. I was on my third digital camera, a Canon Digital Rebel XT, which I think was an 8 megapixel camera, and I think I was using a Sigma 18-125mm 3.5-5.6 lens. I hadn’t even yet completely understood the value of a fast lens (aka something with a fixed 2.8 aperture) and I didn’t even own a flash yet. The only thing I really did know at that point was the usefulness of cranking up the ISO of the camera in order to get the shot in a low light setting like this. I think that was my ace in the hole at that point in time that enabled me to set myself apart, whereas I think most other “proper” photographers were all insisting on staying as close to ISO 100 as possible in order to get a “clean” shot. I didn’t care about the noise or grain that a high ISO caused; in fact, I kinda liked it because it made the pics grittier and more edgy (or so I justified it to myself at the time, heh). Even looking at the photo above of bassist Brad Gaddy, you can easily pick out technical deficiencies with it, especially the slight motion blur and being a bit out of focus maybe; if you’re a photo snob you might sniff at the grain caused by shooting at ISO 1600. But all that’s irrelevant compared to the vibe of the photo and the way the light and fog are casting rays of shadow from him. It just captures a mood and the moment. Is it a great photo compared to what I’ve done since? Probably not as I’m a far better photographer today. But it remains great because it was the one that defined what I was to become.
Things didn’t necessarily change overnight for me; it was really only in looking back after a couple of years that I was able to see how pivotal that night was. The year after I got my first paid gig—50 whole dollars to shoot Kansas City’s Beatles tribute Liverpool back at the Voodoo Lounge!—and then from there I started assisting Joshua Hoffine shooting weddings for one summer in 2007, and suddenly it all started expanding and growing exponentially, one band’s friends leading to the next band’s friends and then co-workers approaching me about shooting their weddings and on and on and on until it became this thing. It took me from being the guy who was known for being a good drawer to the guy being known as the photographer. And it’s been a fantastic experience that’s opened the door to experiencing some of the best events Kansas City has to offer to traveling to none other than the Bahamas for assignments. And as I said, it’s led me to some of my closest and best friends today. It’s really special to be able to look back on and pinpoint such a vital and positive moment in one’s life.