Thursday, February 14, 2013

Music Thursday - Lost in Music & Found Dancing on the Road - Saša Huzjak

I've been attending concerts for quite some time now and I'm sure you've noticed my concert reports, however nicely written at times, are often accompanied with just dreadful photos.

Why is that?

Well, I love coming too early and snooping about rehearsals but it doesn't seem ok to me to photograph artist in this "private time" so I rarely do that. After the concert starts I care just about the sound. I stand wherever the sound is best and I do not care much if I see performers at all. So I take all my photos from wherever my acoustic sweet spot is.

But, on the other hand - I love seeing good concert photos! - so today let me introduce one of the masters in the field, Terapija co-founder, music enthusiast, concert photographer and my dear friend Saša Huzjak.

DF: "About" page on your official web says: "I've been concentrated mainly on music, especially concert (live performance) photography. I started probably as most music photographers do - because of the pure love for the music." So, do you remember which concert was the breaking point in which you stopped being concert-goer with a camera and started being professional photographer?

Saša: Firstly, out of due respect for colleagues photographers who live only from photography (feat I immensely admire, especially today when it's so poorly paid job), I'd like to point out that, beside photography I have web-design as my "day-job". But, it makes me very happy to be able to make professional turn into photography and earn more of my living doing that.

As for your question, I had that desire from first concerts where I wished to capture that "live performance energy" at first filming it and later using cheap digital camera. Although I completely agree that it is not equipment that makes the photographer, but the other way around, good equipment is nevertheless very important for concert photography. In most cases, especially in smaller clubs, there's usually not enough light so professional equipment, for nice photographs no matter the conditions, is essential. I was so disappointed with first results I even stopped photographing concerts for a period of time and then I bought my first DSLR camera and my love was rejuvenated. In the last few years as this became serious engagement I invested a lot of money into equipment and I believe it returned in the form of better photos, more contact and cooperation with different media, bands and festivals.

DF: Do you know during the concert/shoot which photos are going to be the best? Do you sometimes download them to your computer and have few groups like: "I like these best" and "This are best for publication"?

Saša: Sure, sometimes while pressing the button I just know this is going to be The One. Photo of Vuča from Darkwood Dub thanking the audience during Trenchtown Festival in Palić (Serbia) was a moment like that - I knew that instant I've captured a great photo. Even today that is one of my favorites.

Digital technology today eased the process quite a bit - you can immediately check the photo to see if there's enough exposure, if it has contrast and the like, so everything is simpler. After the concert I always make first selection, choose and process best photos and send them to media that commissioned them. But, it happens that I return to those photos later and find some jewels I did not notice at first [smiles].

About  the groups you mentioned in second part of your question, absolutely! Depending on where photos will be published there are different standards: newspaper photo implies a degree of information about performer/event and art photo can be completely void of that, like blurred expressionistic detail of a guitar, or something, that band will be thrilled to use as an album cover [winks laughingly].

DF: One of your special interests and a group of wonderful photos that can be seen on your web page is your project "Lost in music". How come you're not lost in music while your subjects are? Is it difficult to be concentrated like that?

Saša: I have to admit that while I'm taking pictures I'm completely lost in visual part of the performance and fully concentrated on performers. At bigger concerts there is usually "3 songs, no flash" rule - what means that us photographers can photograph first 3 songs of the performance with no flash concentration usually isn't a problem. Things get trickier on longer concerts with many bands or during festivals spanning over couple of days, but it's all in a days work and I do not pressure myself over that.

DF: Lately you've been working a lot with professional dancers - do you see it very different from concert photography, dance being much more visual than performing music? Do you prefer working with that permise of visuality?

Saša: It makes me very happy that I started working with Plesna Izba Maribor so soon after I moved to Maribor (it's been 8 years already). Plesna izba Maribor is dance institution with 26+ years in educating young dancers, producing dance shows and organizing dance festivals. Through their work I first started to photograph dancing and I'm endlessly grateful for that [smiles].

Dancing is my second great love in photography and I would like to work within it even more, same as with theatre photography, and there are many similarities with concert photography: it all happens on stage, with similar lighting, photographer has no influence over his models and everything happens very fast. On one hand dance is more visual, as you have already noted, but on the other hand dancers have their story that they perform with no regard to photographers and audience, while concerts have that great dimension of interaction with the audience, and occasionally ... even photographers.

DF: Your photo "Bodies in Urban Spaces" was recently commended in the Arts & Culture category of this years Sony World Photography Awards - tell me, how many people are there in that doorway and how did they get stuck like that? [Laughter] It was taken during workshop with Chris Nash, one of world renowned masters of dance photography - was this part of the workshop? Does that explain other people holding cameras in the picture?

Saša: Workshop with Chris Nash was one glorious experience, partly for Chris himself who is one great "down to Earth" guy and professional and partly because all of colleague photographers I met there. Not to forget young and talented dancers!

Workshop was part of Front@ modern dance festival during which this spacial installation, authored by Willi Dorner, took place. That means that installation itself was not part of the workshop but it was great addition to photographing young dancers in the street [smiles]. So, young dancers were going through Murska Sobota performing this installation and - the other exhilarating thing was the audience! For such a small town there was quite a crowd that followed the installation through and over the town. Something excellent!

This photo to be commended on this prestigious photography contest was nice surprise (although I secretly hoped that would happen for one of my concert photographs) and I am very pleased, nevertheless. This could prove to be a sign for me not to limit myself just to concerts and dance shows but to photograph more of life - you never know where that can take you!

DF: Today being Valentine's Day I have to ask you something special... You recently made wonderful promo pictures for Slovenian-Croatian band Helika - one that has recently included your "better half" Špela Huzjak - how was it, working with your spouse?

Saša: Thank you, that was one great experience because Dario's (singer & lyricist) music is really great and I loved it from the first time I heard it, even before while he was still making instrumental music for student films of his Zagreb friends (you can hear some of that on Helika bandcamp page). Dario moved to Maribor from Croatia pursuing love, same as me, us meeting was just a question of time [laughs].

So, guys recorded this album and my Špela joined them and became, with her violin and electric effects, vital addition to the band. That was really visible during their recent performance at Maribor when she could not play due to illness - it was great, but with all hands on deck it sounds even better.

About working with my wife... maybe that would be an issue if this was her project or if she was only one I knew from the project, but since I knew guys from before and they're all great people our partnership did not have much influence. Maybe it would be better said that her feminine energy transformed some of our ideas. And maybe we're both such professionals we don't let our personal relationship interfere with our work [laughs].

DF: Living in a time where every phone has a camera we see bunches of wannabe photographers and the truth is that lots of this photos are simply not good, especially when talking about pictures that should serve musicians as promotional material. Helika band must have loved such a valuble addition - getting professional photographer along with accomplished musician - I hope you struck a good deal there!

Saša: [Laughs] That's one sensitive subject for me, surely! I know what you're talking about and I have to admit I am often surprised by poor quality of all kinds of photos, not just music ones. Sadly, I think that it mirrors a bigger problem of our time - world today functions according to: "faster, stronger, more" mantra where quality is not so important as speed and quantity are. We live in extremely visual world but it seems that our tolerance for kitsch rose sky-high. I see that also in my day job, design. Most of Today's newspapers publish photos that don't even have basic technic conditions for published media fulfilled. What is important is who is on the photo (even if it's some local starlet that noone will remember tomorrow). I do not like that - I prefer for the picture to have value apart from current moment - whoever there is in the picture, world renowned celebrity or local demo band. You can clearly see the difference at yearly publisher awards - they feature beautiful photos and it is a shame that they do not come from daily papers. But of course, other issue responsible are finances - it is cheaper to pay 50 kn for cell-phone photo from readers than it is to pay professional photographers. To return to your question, young bands are no exception there, especially today when no established record labels are standing behind performers as they used to. At that time labels financed visual image of the band because they knew that will help with sales.

If we're talking about photography itself I do not think that it is wrong to be "wannabe" photographer. I think that is a legitimate road that I myself had walked upon. When looking at who is to blame of the poor quality I would say editors, and lack thereof. There is nobody telling: "Look here, I cannot print that because this and that, and what are the grounds for a good or bad photo. If there was some such voice then young aspiring photographers could learn and improve their skill. But, due to issues I already mentioned it amounts to a bigger problem.

As a music photographer my ultimate dream is to travel with the band I love and document their tour, life on and behind the stage, on the road, faw away from home - but not as a paparazzo but as a life documentarist, like David Belisle with "R.E.M.: Hello" or Bob Gruen with The Clash, or Irfan Redžović with Dubioza Kolektiv. As far as Helika is concerned they told me I'm their "fifth Beatle" - which is a great complement to me and I believe working with them will get me closer to my dream.

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