In this dizzying digital age, concert photography is everywhere. Attend a show at any sized venue these days, and tiny glowing screens light up every corner of the room. From the sea of smart phones in the audience DSLR-equipped shooters crammed into the pit in front of the stage, everyone seems to be angling for the perfect shot of the act who is performing.
But does all that Instagramming and online slideshow-ready photography really capture the full experience of being out at a show?
It’s a question Duluth artist Kip Praslowicz has been pondering since he first started going to concerts—specifically the ones that happen during the first week of May each year as part of the Duluth Homegrown Music Festival, a citywide celebration that draws out the most vibrant of Duluth’s nightlife.
“When I go to any event, I watch and see where all the photographers are focusing and just walk away, and find an area where they’re not. Just to see what’s there,” Praslowicz says, chatting over brunch on the final day of Homegrown 2013. “I don’t feel the need to jockey for a position to take the same photos everyone else is. Cover the other 300 people that are there, instead of those four [on stage].”
What Praslowicz quickly discovered, however, is that the other 300 people at a concert are typically standing in the dark. Rather than blind the people in the crowd with a bright flash, he knew he had to figure out a better method. Through trial and error, he learned that he could load his camera’s flash with Infrared and block out the light with a red filter that minimizes almost all of the flash while still lighting his photos. The result is stark, high-contrast black and white photography that captures the chaos of the concertgoing experience from the eye of the storm.
“The invisible flash method I use, it’s more about being nice to people. Because I can’t shoot from a foot away from someone’s face with a full flash without getting them very angry and ruining their night. But this one, they didn’t even see it,” he explains. Because of that, he’s able to shoot his subjects from just a few feet away, capturing intimate and truly candid moments—an art that’s all but extinct in this age of endless iPhone selfies and posed, smiling photographs.
Praslowicz, a two-time McKnight grant finalist, shoots exclusively on film. His “real work,” as he calls it, is taking portraits using a large format 8×10″ camera; and for his nightlife photography he had to find a sturdy instrument that could withstand the nights of crowd surfing, flying beers, and rowdy attendees. He settled on a Leica from the ’50s and wrapped it bright green flourescent tape, making it easy to find him amid the sea of people at Homegrown.
“A lot of the tape is there to hold settings into place, so the shutter doesn’t spin into a place that will ruin the flash. Over the years, I don’t know if it’s the fake blood or alcohol has gotten into other parts, it’s kind of hard to set, but once it gets there it stays good and tight, so I don’t have to worry about checking it as much,” he says, chuckling.
Though his Homegrown photography is more of a hobby—his large-format urban landscape and portraiture is his main focus, and will be featured at the Duluth Art Institute in December and eventually released in a book—it’s such a unique technique and aesthetic that it has already set him apart from other concert photographers in Northern Minnesota.
For more of Kip Praslowicz’s one-of-a-kind nightlife photos, see his full Homegrown gallery here.