(modern life is war, ottawa)
I assume that you started out by taking pictures of punk rock bands. Did it start off as an artistic thing or more out of a need to document something you were a part of?
Taking photos at shows was something I started early on when I was only starting to learn darkroom stuff but before that, I had become pretty active in videotaping bands both from Ottawa and from out of town. Sometimes I tried to do both but this usually proved to result in total disasters. But yeah, whether I was using a still or video camera, it has always been about creating a document of something that meant, and still means, the world to me. Still though, the document is only half of it. The other half, I don't know, I hope it comes out in the photos when people look at them.
(stage dives at DR. PEPPER ADDICTS show, tel aviv)
Has the motivation behind your photography changed over time? Does it depend on what the subject of the photo is?
Well, in terms of music stuff, in some ways it has gotten more ambitious but also, over time in terms of music stuff, if you look at my photos chronologically, you’ll see that I’ve turned the camera away from the stage more and more. Ultimately though, for me, it is about creatively capturing moments. It could be anything...bands playing, people hanging out or the Queen of Denmark. Mistakes are made but the point is that nothing can be arbitrary. I have to go in with a plan. It isn’t enough to randomly snap photos, I have to operate within the spontaneity of life and make sure that part of myself goes into everything I do.
(i refuse, ottawa)
Punk rock bands often try to emphasize that there is no difference between them and their audience. Do you think the act of taking pictures of bands playing can be seen as reinforcing the division between audience and performer?
I know some bands feel strongly against being photographed for whatever reason but the reason they need to make this point at all is because it’s something they struggle with. Without wanting to discredit punk rock, if I was in a band and my mission was to be in a band that put itself at the same level as my audience, I probably would quit music altogether. Musicians create music because they are driven to create and punk rock is an amazingly democratic venue for this sort of creation where, ideally, everyone is welcome and given the support that’s necessary but lets be honest, you perform live or release a record because you hope others will want to listen. Otherwise, you'd get Henry Darger about it and keep your gift to yourself.
I think that now more than ever, to be a musician or a photographer or whatever isn't enough. All in all, you need to be a creative person. You also need to recognize the benefit of surrounding yourself by other creative people. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you think photography disconnects you from the audience, you're sort of an idiot. All it does is give you another medium to bring you closer.
(white sands, new mexico)
You’re usually right up front getting really close to the band while taking pictures at shows. Do you feel self-conscious about being in front of a bunch of people? Do you ever wonder if you're bumming people out by blocking their view or blinding them with your flash? Has anyone in a band or an audience member given you shit about taking pictures?
It depends on the show. I never mean to but it has happened that I've gotten in the way of some good mosh times or that the sound of my shutter was actually louder than the music being played. I usually try to gauge the situation in the first few songs and decide if I should stay or bail. Above all though, I'm there for the same reason anyone else is: to listen and watch to a band I'm really into. If it's any consolation, getting too close has cost me hundreds of dollars in repairs.
(tel aviv beach looking towards yafo)
Did you openly embrace the use of digital cameras immediately or did you originally have some reticence because it wasn't "keeping it real" or anything of that sort?
There was a time when digital SLRs just weren't accessible to people like me and even if there was a potential for savings in the long run, I hadn't been able to justify the expense of a digital camera body until someone stole my old 35mm. Only then, and six months later did it make sense to head in that direction. Years ago, I read a comment about how amateurs cared about film and pros cared about light. At this point, the film vs. digital debate is pretty dead. If you understand light and can work with it, you can capture this with the digital point and shoot you got for Christmas just as well as you can with the large format camera that you'll never be able to actually afford. I think the only difference at this point is the aesthetic quality that comes from it but that's part of a greater artistic discussion - the same one that asks: camera phone or $8000 digital SLR? These are two digital cameras that produce two different aesthetics. The important thing is that film or digital, photography is still photography. “Keeping it real” through film is equivalent to holding on to romantic aspects of mid-90s hardcore. It's nice but it doesn't mean that what you make now is less honest or true.
(man at western wall in old jerusalem)
With the rise of the digital camera, it seems like someone is always taking pictures when they're at a show, bar or party. Does this make it harder for you to distinguish yourself as a "photographer"?
When I see people with any kind of camera taking it seriously, I get stoked. I made a lot of mistakes when I first got into it (I still make tonnes) but I was lucky enough to be surrounded by some awesome people involved in music in Ottawa who were shooting photos and we all looked out for each other. It's amazing to me that a lot of people just getting into photography have never and will never will touch film. Even if I almost exclusively shoot digital now, dealing with the economy of film still influences my process in shooting. Just because I can capture over 500 images on one card doesn’t mean I’m going to shoot endlessly until I get something. There’s still a lot of waiting involved. With newer, digital photographers though, I sense a different visual aesthetic and a lot of it gets me jealous. In terms of distinguishing myself, I think that when you're in the moment, I do think it's important for photographers not to alienate those around them and hopefully I succeed at this most of the time. To be approachable is also important and, in the end, making sure that you show your work is very crucial as, if nothing else, it can prove that if you pissed someone off, it wasn't for nothing.
Paul wants you to know that his website is www.lechampiondumonde.com.