Festival Survival Guide pt 1 – Preparations

This is how happy you become if you are well prepared for a festival. Photo: Janne Wass

This is how happy you become if you are well prepared for a festival. Photo: Janne Wass, Tuska 2010.

I post a lot of pictures and text from different festivals, but they mostly have to do with the music and less the overall festival experience. So I thought, now that I’m doing a real camping festival a long way from home, why not make a little Festival Survival Guide.

I am heading off to Ilosaarirock in Joensuu in Eastern Finland tomorrow (Saturday), with headliners like Mustasch, Portishead and Alice in Chains. I did a quick headcount and came to the conclusion that it is probably around my 50th or 60th festival, depending a bit on what you consider a festival. So at this stage, I should have some idea of what I’m talking about.

I will be updating this blog out in the field, so stay tuned for more, but let’s start with covering the basics.

Get your tickets in advance. Thet may be sold out by the time you get to the entrance. Photo: Janne Wass, Baltic Jazz 2011.

Get your tickets in advance. Thet may be sold out by the time you get to the entrance. Photo: Janne Wass, Baltic Jazz 2011.

Preparations

The key to a good festival experience is preparation. The better prepared you are for all eventualities, the smoother everything will go.
1. Tickets. Don’t rely on buying a ticket at the entrance. They are often sold out.
2. Travel. Where is the festival? How will I get there? How will I get back home? Good to know this stuff in advance, don’t you think? The festival websites usually have good information on transportation. It’s worth checking out if there are special festival transports, some organisations rent special buses that you can book yourself onto, and it’s usually cheaper than regular public transport. If you are travelling by car, make sure to check out where you can park. And if possible, book your return ticket before you go partying – that bus money has a funny way of disapperaring once the fun begins …
3. Accommodation. There are usually a few different options. If you want the full hotel experience, start booking as soon as the festival dates are announced. Hotels (and most hostels) are filled rapidly if it’s a big festival, especially if it’s a small town. Most festivals have some sort of school or public hall sleeping arrangements – more info is usually found on the festival’s website. A good idea is also to check out different couchsurfing and airbn’b-sites. A lot of people like to make a little exra buck by renting out rooms for the duration of the festival. If there is decent public transportation or you can get someone to drive you, it might also be a neat idea to try and get accommodation somewhere outside the city where the festival is taking place, It’s usually cheaper, too. If you decide on camping, we’ll cover that later.
4. Timetables. Don’t do minute-by-minute timetables for yourself, they only stress you out, but it’s nice to have some idea of when to be where and see which band. It’s a bummer to pay 100-150 euros and then realise that you missed your favourite band because you were playing strip poker in the tent area (not that I would ever).
5. Documents. Plane, bus, train tickets, festival tickets, ID card – all these are naturally essential to have in advance. But I also recommend printing out a festival area map, a city map if the city is not familiar and a concert program – these are not always available on the festival. Just in case, the local taxi number can be handy. Today there are naturally all sorts of festival apps and stuff, but you never know what the reception is like at these gatherings.
6. Packing. Oh this is a science all of its own, we’ll get to that later …

It's the small things that matter. Photo: Janne Wass, going to Ilosaarirock 2014.

It’s the small things that matter. Photo: Janne Wass, going to Ilosaarirock 2014.

Packing

One of the most crucial parts of getting the most out of your festival experience is knowing what to bring with you and what not to bring. Of course this varies depending on the person and the festival, but I have come to learn that there are some basic truths.
1. How to pack. As a general rule – keep it light and portable. When it comes to clothes and stuff – keep it to bare minimum. This is a festival, not fashion week. If your bag is so heavy you can barely lift it, you are officially moving – not travelling. I recommend an old school backpack. Unless you are going straight from the station to the hotel, don’t bring a roller suitcase. Especially not if camping. The general rule for packing backpacks is: heavy stuff on top, light stuff in the bottom. Strap all you can to the backpack, it leaves your arms free and lets your hips take the strain, if properly packed and strapped.
2. Sleeping gear. As covered above, there are many different varieties of festival sleeping. If you’re not sleeping at some sort of hotel/hostel, I recommend bringing a sleeping bag/blanket, a bed sheet and one of those rock hard camping ”mattresses” made out of foam plastic – sleeping pads I think they’re called in English. Pillow is optional. They take up lots of packing space, but you can sleep almost anywhere as long as you have a pillow. If you have a vacuum packer – you are awesome. Some people use blow-up mattresses and pillows, personally I’ve never really gotten used to them.
3. Footwear. Girls – leave the heels at home. There will be mud and gore. You only need one pair of comfy, durable shoes – be it doc martens or sneakers or some other type of footwear. If the weather forecast says rain, rubber boots are nice – although they are heavy to pack and not very comfortable to walk in. An extra pair of lightweight sandals can be nice. Don’t bring your best fancy shoes, they’ll be ruined.
4. Clothes. As aforementioned – this is not fashion week. Everyone will be dusty and muddy and sweaty. One set of change in basic clothes per day should cut it – that is underwear, socks, t-shirt/top/sweater/dress/whatever your taste is in these matters. Bring a warm sweater/coat and an extra pair of pants for cold nights. And a rain coat. Swimwear if there’s a beach nearby. And that’s it, really. A hat, if you must. Because hats are cool. Not fedoras, though. Go nude, release your inner hippie. Go commando. Swing that thing. Release the milk factories. It’s the summer of love. (No, don’t, really. Woodstock is gone. It’s just bad taste. Unless you are really, really hot. Then go for it. But beware the consequenses.)

Camping is fun, but it requires a few extra necessities. As - well at tent, for example. Like the one I had last year at Ilosaarirock, that I still haven't got back. Photo: Janne Wass, Ilosaarirock 2013.

Camping is fun, but it requires a few extra necessities. As – well at tent, for example. Like the one I had last year at Ilosaarirock, that I still haven’t got back. Photo: Janne Wass, Ilosaarirock 2013.

5. Camping gear. So, we are going camping? Then number one is the tent (unless you are sporting a trailer, in which case you are one lucky guy/girl/person). There are cheap ”festival tents” you can get at departments stores. I got mine at Clas Ohlsson for 36 euros. And apart from sleeping gear, that should really be all you need for camping. Bringing grills and gas stoves and stuff like that is just overkill and unnessecery junk to pack. Festival camping areas usually have some sort of grill area and food stands. Some dry groceries or canned food may come in handy for breakfast or nighttime snack, and a bottle for water is essential. Don’t bring a bloody jerry can, though, there are water posts at the festival. A camping chair can be nice if the ground is wet, but a plastic sheet of some sort can sort that out.
6. Sanitizing and medicating. Bring your basic toiletries. There is usually a designated shower area, water posts and porta-loos at the camping area, other accommodations usually have the whole works. Paper towels or toilet paper is a festival goer’s best friend. Always keep a bunch with you. Wet sanitizing napkins are awesome for post-festival-day-cleanup. Important: if you are on any kind of medication, or have any sort of allergies, bring your drugs. Other: a) pain killers are absolutely essential for hangovers, sore feet and backs, blisters, headaches etc. b) sunscreen. You will be outside all day in the middle of the summer. c) Diarrhea pills. I cannot tell you how many times my festival companions have been happy I’ve had these with me. Between the dubiously cooked festival grub, all that alcohol and all those dirty porta-loos, you are almost guaranteed to get the runs at one out of three festivals. It’s ugly but true. d) Contraceptives. If you want to get laid – go festival camping. It even works for me, and that’s saying a lot. And by contraceptives I mean condoms. You don’t want to get those nasty festival crabs. e) band-aids. Good for blisters, scratches and I once repaired a pair of pants with band-aids and a safety pin. True story.
7. Other stuff. a) a small mag-lite. Handy when camping. b) needle and thread, safety pins. Takes up almost no space, but you are so happy to have them when you rip a pair of pants or a top strap. c) a piece of string, rubber bands, duct tape. Will repair absolutely everything. d) scissors or a pocket knife. You can’t bring it to the festival area, but might come in handy when camping. e) a couple of plastic bags. Good to keep things dry, to collect trash or sit on when it is wet. f) phone charger. It’s a bummer when your phone dies and you can’t find your friends. Nearby cafes or bars can usually charge them – some festivals even have charging services.

A trusty old backpack, a cheap festival tent, a sleeping pad, a disposable duvet cover for hot summer nighs and a pair of comfy shoes, and you're all set for camping. Photo: Janne Wass, going to Ilosaarirock 2014.

A trusty old backpack, a cheap festival tent, a sleeping pad, a disposable duvet cover for hot summer nighs and a pair of comfy shoes, and you’re all set for camping. Photo: Janne Wass, going to Ilosaarirock 2014.

8. Don’t bring: a) umbrella. They are forbidden at most festivals: you can poke people’s eyes out with them and they block the view of the bands. b) spiky stuff. All sorts of bracelets and collars and such made of spikes and nails will be confiscated at the entrance. c) professional cameras. Only accredited photographers can use professional cameras at festivals. Professional basically means any camera that has removable lenses. Pocket cameras are usually fine. d) your own booze. This varies from festival to festival – but generally you have to leave your own alcohol at the camping area. e) any valuables. Festivals are great places to either lose stuff or get pickpocketes at – and don’t ever leave anything of value in your tent.

Well, that’s about it. You are now ready to go pogoing. See you in the moshpit. Stay tuned for more festival secrets in later posts!

If you're lucky you might even get to meet your idols. Photo: Janne Wass, Sauna Open Air 2013.

If you’re lucky you might even get to meet your idols. Photo: Janne Wass, Sauna Open Air 2013.

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My new baby – thank you, my friends!

My new crowdfunded camera, a Canon 7D.

My new crowdfunded camera, a Canon 7D.

My new camera arrived in the mail today!

As I mentioned in my previous post, my camera malfunctioned on me during a festival this summer. During a rapid firing session aimed at Nightwish singer Floor Jansen there was some sort of shutter problem, the mirror suddenly decided to latch itself onto the roof of the camera house and refused to come back down. As I had the mirror box replaced a year and a half ago, and it cost me about 300 euros, and it was a Canon 50D, and you can get a used 50D for about 300 euros today, I really didn’t feel like getting it repaired again – and to be honest, at the time I didn’t have 300 euros to spare. So I thought, what the hell, I was going to upgrade any way sooner or later, I’ll just save up and buy a new one.

The only problem was, I am going to New York this winter and all the money I can put aside really has to go into that trip. So I decided to just suck it up with my old spare camera, which really is quite inadequate if you want to do anything serious, but I thought I could manage half a year without any serious photography work.

But lo and behold! – a group of 37 fabulous friends ganged up and passed the hat between them so that I could buy myself a new camera! So in early September I was presented with the most amazing birthday gift of my life. (I had turned 30 three months earlier.) Not only did I get a beautiful card that played Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Were Made For Walking, with a promise of a HUGE sum (well we’re talking three digits, but as far as birthday presents go, that is gigantic!) of camera money. A good portion of them also turned up for a very sneaky surprise drinking night, and awesomeness ensued, needless to say.

Well, I was stunned for a good few hours and didn’t really know what to make of the situation, and probably didn’t thank everyone involved as well as I should have. But it certainly reminded me (not for the first time) of how incredibly lucky I am to have such awesome friends. And with this blog post I want to thank each and everyone involved for the small sum you all contributed with – but more than anything, for the thought behind it, which in the end means so much more than a new camera. Thank you!
And needless to say, I think no less of the friends that didn’t contribute, it was all a matter of who the instigator of the prank knew, more or less.

And the result: I decided to go with a Canon 7D, since it is a camera that I am somewhat familiar with, it is a good fast shooter and holds up well in low light circumstances, such as gigs. It is also a step up from the XXD series, and it is not a full frame camera, which means all my old lenses will work with it. And with the onset of the new 6D and 60D cameras, people seemed to be slumping away their old 7D:s to manageable prices.

After vacuuming the web for a few weeks and almost getting ripped off by a scammer, getting beat to the chase a couple of time, I found a decent offer of a slightly used 7D for 700 euros, which meant I didn’t have to add too much to the gift money. Another contributing factor was that the guy selling it was a professional photographer (and massager, bizarrely), so I was pretty sure he had kept it well, I suspect as a backup camera. You can check out his portfolio here, btw.

 

Crystal Rain at Semifinal, Helsinki around 2010.

Crystal Rain at Semifinal, Helsinki around 2010.

And tomorrow (umm, today, it’s 1:30 am) I’ll get the chance to take the new baby for a spin at the cult festival Trash Fest in Helsinki. It’s really a one of a kind thing, conceived by American Jo “Mama Trash” Sheldon, that brings together glam/sleaze/goth rock bands from all over the world, many of who return year after year, making it a great family reunion. This is the 6th installation, and for me it will be the 3rd visit. I’m also a bit excited to have my gig photos as a backdrop for the band Crystal Rain, that I have followed on the Helsinki gig circuit for some years, and was happy to shoot promotional shots for earlier this year. You can check out pics from earlier Trash Fests here and here, and Crystal Rain shots here and here.

ToxicRose at Trash Fest V at Gloria, Helsinki in 2012.

ToxicRose at Trash Fest V at Gloria, Helsinki in 2012.

Once again, a huge thanks to everyone who financed my camera, and if you’re in Helsinki, come and check out the bizarre event that is Trash Fest this weekend in Gloria! Cheers!

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Janne learns to shoot pt4 – Festivals

Summer is now officially over, and so is the festival season. Continuing my annual posts on how I’m learning to take decent pictures, I thought I might share some thoughts on festival photography. If you want to read my previous text on my process of learning how to shoot, please check out my posts on your first camera, club shooting and my rambling on outdoors night shooting with flash. But to the festival shooting [DISCLAIMER: This post is “as long as a year of famine” as we say in Swedish, so proceed at your own risk]:

1. How to get a photo pass?

Getting a photo pass is step number one, and might be tricky if you are new in the game.

Getting a photo pass is step number one, and might be tricky if you are new in the game.

If you are new to the game, this is the first and biggest hurdle. Without a big name in festival photography or the right connections, this may be tricky. Here are the steps and tricks you might take.

Get a system camera. Without one, you probably will not get access to the photo pit.

Find an outlet. Most festivals require you to register via a media outlet. If you don’t have one, check with these: local papers, student papers, music magazines, culture magazines, e-zines and websites. There are also dozens of festival photography websites around today.

Start a music blog. This is what I did. It might not get you access to the big ones, though, and it also requires a bit of journalism.

Get accreditation. Sometimes your newspaper/magazine/media will take care of this, but often it is up to you. Most festivals have an accred/media link on their websites, where you apply for a photo pass. Remember to check it out at least a month before the festival, some tend to close media accreditation quite early.

Start small. If you work on your own, don’t just try to get into the biggest festivals, seek out small ones that might accept small blogs and zines.

2. Preparations

Make a detailed list of what bands you are going to shoot. Here I have even used colour coding to mark out the different stages they play on. Might seem silly, but it's surprisingly helpful.

Make a detailed list of what bands you are going to shoot. Here I have even used colour coding to mark out the different stages they play on. Might seem silly, but it’s surprisingly helpful.

Good planning is half the work. If you show up out of the blue, it will be a mess. Plan everything in advance, all from when to arrive, what to shoot, when to take a break, when to do interviews, how to travel and sleep, what gear to bring, what clothes to wear and what additional props to bring.

Planning. On most festivals with multiple stages you won’t be able to shoot all bands, and you want to keep a lunch and coffee break at some point. Check out what you want to shoot in advance. Make a minute-by-minute timetable so you know when to be where. This makes life so much easier.

Clothing and stuff. Wear comfortable clothes. It’s well and nice to look cool in leather and stilettos, but it will take its toll on your feet, back and legs in the long run. Pack a rain poncho even if it looks sunny. Sandals are nice, but you might hurt your toes if someone steps on you in the photo pit. I always bring a small medical kit for headaches, blisters, rashes, cuts and undesired bowel reactions to festival grub, as well as some toilet paper, you never know with those portable loos. On small one-stage-festivals, I recommends some good reading material, like, you know, a book.

Transport and accommodation. Plan how you move about. Buy train or bus tickets early, and check out the layout of the city or area the festival is located in. If you decide to book a hotel, do so very early, they tend to fill up quickly. Jot down the local taxi number and keep an emergency cash stash somewhere on your person in case of pick-pockets. You don’t wanna get stranded.

3. Gear

My kit at Down By the Laituri 2012. Two cameras, four cheap lenses, and stuff.

My kit at Down By the Laituri 2012. Two cameras, four cheap lenses, and stuff.

Camera & lenses. You don’t need a full frame 6000 euro camera and top of the line lenses (although they do take better pictures). You will do fine for example with the Nikon 3000 series or the Canon 600 or 700 series. As for lenses I currently go with a three or four lens combo: 1: A good low light lens (I use a Canon 50 mm f/ 1.8, cheap and reliable). 2: A wide angle lens, great for dramatic close-ups. A fisheye can give wonderful shots, but a really wide fisheye can be very limiting in a concert situation. 3: A good tele zoom with a minimum range of 200 mm. Crucial for big stages and crowded photo pits. Currently I use two zoom lenses, one short (17-85) and one long (50-200). The shorter one I sometimes leave at home. All of the lenses I use are very affordable.

Other gear: Proper batteries, the ones that come with the cameras are often second grade. Keep spares. A battery grip is handy. Bring a battery charger. Also buy some heavy duty memory cards, you won’t get very far with 2 or 4 gigas. Always have camera cleaning and drying equipment with you; if it isn’t rainy, it will be dusty and sometimes the bands will throw or squirt or blow shit at you.

Extra: If you have a spare camera, bring it. My camera suddenly malfunctioned at Ilosaarirock this summer and I was very, very happy to have my old D400 as a backup. You can also use double cameras while shooting, so you don’t have to stop to change lenses. Don’t bring a laptop if you’re not sure you’re gonna need it. It’s a lot to carry around and internet reception is usually poor. Many festivals have computers you can use in the media area.

4. Arriving

Look up the media area. There you can usually do interviews, rest and have a cup of coffee. This picture is from Baltic Jazz Festival.

Look up the media area. There you can usually do interviews, rest and have a cup of coffee. This picture is from Baltic Jazz Festival, Radio Vega interviewing the board chairman and the festival director.

Try to check out the festival area as soon as you arrive. If you don’t have to shoot the first band, skip it. You’re here on duty, so take advantage of everything the festival provides you with. Seek out the media center and check if you’re allowed in the VIP section. There will usually be a workspace, some sort of lounge, sometimes computers, internet access, coffee (for free if you’re lucky) and sometimes even free snacks. It also tends to mean shorter toilet and bar lines. Seek out the person responsible for media at the festival and get this person’s phone number and e-mail. Check out the layout of the festival area, where photo pit entrances are, is there an interview area, a media entrance and so on.

5. The photo pit

It's not always easy being a festival photographer. When Ozzy doesn't foam you, The Flaming Lips smother you with ballons, as here at Pitkä Kuuma Kesä in Helsinki 2009.

It’s not always easy being a festival photographer. When Ozzy doesn’t foam you, The Flaming Lips smother you with ballons, as here at Pitkä Kuuma Kesä in Helsinki 2009.

As a rule, photographers are allowed to shoot the three first songs of a gig from the pit. But there may be exceptions, so seek out the photo pit entrance at least five minutes before the shows starts. The entrance is usually on either side of the stage. Keep your photo pass and wristband visible for the security guards. If there are special rules, the security personnel will let you know. Obey the rules, they are often for your own safety, as some bands use pyros and other dangerous stuff.

6. Mind your manners!

There are some unwritten rules and good manners to go by in the photo pit. It can sometimes be crowded, but try and keep it civilized. 

No flash. Flash photography is usually forbidden.

No climbing. Without special permission, don’t climb the stage or scaffolding. It may be OK to step onto the crowd fence at the back of the pit.

Don’t push and shove. It may be crowded and you may lose the money shot because someone stands in your way, but pushing will ruin the shot for the other guy, may be dangerous, and it is simply rude. A gentle tap on the shoulder will do the trick.

DON'T DO THAT! Keep your elbows below your head when you shoot, or you'll block the view.

DON’T DO THAT! Keep your elbows below your head when you shoot, or you’ll block the view. This is Finntroll at Tuska in Helsinki, by the way, probably 2009 or 2010.

Keep your hands and elbows down. When standing in front of other photographers, don’t lift the camera above your head, and keep your elbows tucked in and pointing downwards. Otherwise you block everyone behind you (and it is actually better for your back and shoulders). If you need to shoot from above your head, do it from the back of the pit.

Crouch when moving. When walking sideways in the pit, crouch down so your head isn’t in the way of the other photographers.

Remove your photo bag. If it is crowded, please leave your photo bag beside the stage.

Don’t occupy the best space. If there is a very good space to shoot, don’t stay there for too long. A couple of minutes will do, then give other people a chance to get a good shot.

It’s not a competition. Yes, we all want to get the killer shot. But a nice, polite rotation will give everyone the chance to check out the best angles. We’re in this together.

7. You are the newbie

tuska_kid

You might feel small in the beginning, but watch and learn from the old guys and girls, they are usually sweet people. This one from Tuska Festival in Helsinki.

Showing up for your first festival with your cheap camera and lenses can be very intimidating. Trust me, I know, I still feel like the awkward cousin from the country with too short trousers. Everyone’s got cameras the size of footballs and lenses longer than your arm. They all know each other and chat away in little groups and look like this is just another day at the office. Someone asks about your camera and you feel a little ashamed of your small Canon 600 and don’t quite know the tech stuff, umm, it’s the … uh, the lens that came with the camera? Like 55 something?

Don’t worry. They all started out somewhere, too, and most of them tend to be pretty nice and helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice if you need it, people like to be able to show off their knowledge a bit. Then there are those who like too make you feel small by pointing out that the lens you’re using really isn’t any good, but don’t mind them. Remember that it is the photographer that takes the pictures, not the gear. I have seen photographers with kits worth five times more than mine who take really boring pictures. Nice and sharp, yes, but really boring and unimaginative.

Talk to the bouncer! He is nice.

Talk to the bouncer! He is nice. From Flow Festival in Helsinki.

If you’re not sure of the drill, ask the other photographers or the personnel at the stage. Watch the other guys and learn, that’s what I still do to this day.

8. The glamour, the parties!

Sometimes you do drink beer with the artists in the VIP areas, but unless you are as well connected as Kjell Hell, that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Warlord Nygård of Turisas, Carolus Aminoff (aka Kjell Hell) from Bob Malmström and some drum tech whose name I've forgotten at Tuska VIP area.

Sometimes you do drink beer with the artists in the VIP areas, but unless you are as well connected as Kjell Hell, that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Warlord Nygård of Turisas, Carolus Aminoff (aka Kjell Hell) from Bob Malmström and some drum tech whose name I’ve forgotten at Tuska VIP area.

I’ve been shooting festivals for six years now, and there are a few reoccurring beliefs that I always have to debunk.

You do it to get free entrance to festivals. Wrong. I do it to get good photographs. Sure it’s nice to see great bands, but the truth is that I barely get to see more than the three songs I shoot, and when I shoot I don’t really concentrate on the music. When it comes to festivals that are not in Helsinki, I have to pay for train or bus tickets and accommodation, which sometimes means hotels. This is sometimes far more expensive than the festival ticket to some small festival in Kotka, that I would never ever go to see if it wasn’t for some band that is interesting for my blog.

You get to meet all the bands backstage and drink free booze. Wrong. With a few exceptions, the media is not allowed backstage. Sometimes there is a VIP section, but drinks are mostly the same price as any other bar at the festival. You can sometimes hook up with some artists there (Tuska is one example), but it is mostly other media types and VIP:s such as sponsors, music biz employees and minor celebrities who get freebies.

You just take some pictures and have a good time. Wrong. I am mostly on my own at small festivals that none of my friends go to. It can be tedious as hell. I’m overweight, have bad ankles and flat feet, which means sore feet, blisters and an aching back – it can be grueling sometimes. Sometimes it is blazingly hot and I get sweaty and gooey and sun-burnt, other times freezing, windy, muddy and rainy. And extremely boring at small festivals with only one stage – listening to one bland metal band after the other, just waiting and waiting for the next one to start. On big festivals I mostly run from stage to stage, as the concerts tend to start 15 or 30 minutes apart. Since there is seldom any place to sit, it is a lot of just walking and standing.

8. The good part.

The photographs. That is what it is all about. Like this one of LCMDF at Spot Festival at Aarhus,, Denmark in 2012.

The photographs. That is what it is all about. Like this one of LCMDF at Spot Festival at Aarhus,, Denmark in 2012.

Of course it isn’t just all pain, or I wouldn’t do it. Music and photography are two of my passions, and music photography maybe my number one passion. It is all about the pictures and the process. It is exciting to try and find new ways to shoot bands, to try and capture the energy of the artists onstage and hopefully be able to convey the feeling of the festival situation. It is magical to me. And for me in particular, it is about following the bands I write about in my blog – that is why I started taking music pics in the first place.

It is always nice too hook up with colleagues. Like these people from YLE at Spot Festival in Aarhus, Denmark.

It is always nice too hook up with colleagues. Like these people from YLE at Spot Festival in Aarhus, Denmark.

And of course it is nice to see friends and colleagues from time to time. The festival photography circle is a pretty closely knit one, and there are photographers I have gotten to know quite well over the years. It’s always nice to catch up and have a chat. I sometimes bump into other colleagues from the world of media or music, and we might have a beer or two – and it might even lead to wet after parties or backstage boozing, but that is certainly the exception rather than the rule. It is fun when it happens, though. But these are people I drink with anyway, so I don’t really need to go to a festival to do it.

9. The pictures

Capture the passion of the artist, like I've attempted to in this picture of Chisu at Kivenlahti Rock 2012 in Espoo, Finland.

Capture the passion of the artist, like I’ve attempted to in this picture of Chisu at Kivenlahti Rock 2012 in Espoo, Finland.

I haven’t written much about the actual photography, since it is pretty well covered in my previous blog posts. But the festival situation is a bit different from club shooting, due to the three song limit. So a few words on that as well.

Don’t shoot at random. It is tempting to try to use every single second of the three song slot. But firing off like a machine gun at everything that moves means you don’t have time to think the shots through, and will leave you with tons of bad pics to go through. Be patient with the trigger.

Catch the moments. A guy and a guitar or a head with a microphone isn’t really that fun. Watch the lights, wait for that moment when an artist does something unusual or powerful, and that’s when you pull the trigger. Explosions, energy, laughter, rage, impressive stances, facial expressions, dramatic lights, interesting angles, all these are stuff to look for.

Get to know the artists. If you have never seen the band before, take a few minutes at the beginning of the first song and try to work out what you should be focusing on. How do they move, which one of them has the charisma that registers on camera? What are the stances and mannerisms you want to catch? What makes this artist special? How does this artist make you feel? That is what you should ultimately try to capture.

Capture that right moment, like here with PMMP at Ilosaari Rock in Joensuu, Finland.

Capture that right moment, like here with PMMP at Ilosaari Rock in Joensuu, Finland.

Be systematic. Although you should always keep an open eye to what is happening, it is good to have a certain pattern to what you do. I tend to try and start out with the wide shots, since it gives me time to observe the artists, the stage and the lighting. That’s about half of the first song. Then I focus on the individual artists to see how they render in the shots. Now we’re halfway through. During the second half I try to catch the most interesting one of the artists on stage and really squeeze out that killer shot. Of course this system never works one hundred percent. Crowded pits and tall stages that obscures much of the band leaves you shooting whatever you can get – and so you try and make the best of the situation. But at least it is good to have some sort of system in the back of your mind.

10. Publishing.

Find the pics that really stand out from the mass, like when Michael Monroe lies down in front of you and looks straight into the camera at Kivenlahti Rock in Espoo, Finland.

Choose the pics that really stand out from the mass, like when Michael Monroe lies down in front of you and looks straight into the camera at Kivenlahti Rock in Espoo, Finland.

Don’t spam. If you shoot for a magazine or newspaper, you probably get one or two shots published. But most of us tend to publish online. And here the rule of thumb is (sorry Krista Siegfrids): less is more. Whether you post to Facebook, a webzine, a photo page like Flickr or Tumblr, a blog or something else, choose a few good ones. Otherwise the good pics will drown in all the mediocre ones.

No identical doubles. If you have the guitar player in whole figure on five good shots: choose one and discard the rest. You have nine good face shots of the singer? Choose the best.

Don’t publish. You haven’t a single good picture of a certain band? Don’t publish any. You have no good pictures of a band, and that band is Metallica? Well … choose the least bad one and do some cropping and editing magic and publish that one. But really, no picture is better than a bad picture, unless you are especially assigned to shoot that band.  

When you get a cool angle, beautiful lighting and a good looking artist, things just fall into place like magic.

When you get a cool angle, beautiful lighting and a good looking artist, things just fall into place like magic. Here’s Night by Night at Trash Fest in Helsinki.

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Konst för konstens skull

Hamlet: riktig konst

Hamlet: riktig konst

Suna Vuori skriver i ett långt debattinlägg på Helsingin Sanomat om konstens samhälleliga förfall i ett tidevarv då massproducerad Hollywoodfilm och konsol- och datorspel kör förbi den seriösa konsten. En kompis postade artikeln på Facebook och jag röt till.

”Vad är det där för elitismdravel? Varför är tavlor mer konst än videospel? Är fransk impressionistisk film mer värd än amerikansk actionfilm?
Antingen är folk intresserade av konst eller sen inte. På samma sätt som allt annat kulturliv i världen tvingas komma till rätta med den nya snabba, interaktiva värld vi lever i, måste också konsten göra det. Är konsten inte relevant, så är det konstens eget fel.”
Så skrev jag. Jag har inte ändrat mig, men ok, jag ögnade mest genom Vuoris text. Hon har vissa poänger, men jag håller ändå inte med – på flera punkter. Vuori har två huvudteser som hon på sätt och vis artificiellt blandar ihop. Den första är uppskattningen för konst, som hon menar att har försvunnit, att man i dag i stället för att uppskatta konsten för vad den är i stället försöker mäta den i pengar. Den andra är att konsten i dag trängs ut av pseudokonst som Hollywoodfilmer och videospel, som är ämnade att nå en så bred målgrupp som möjligt. I dag konsumerar vi underhållning för underhållningens skull, inte konst för konstens skull, skriver hon.

Min kompis försvarade förhållningssättet:
”Men om vi slutar bry oss om att se varandras skapande som ett personlig uttryck för vem vi är eller vad vi tycker, och bara förväntar oss att bli underhållna av varandra, blir vår dialog ytlig och kanske lidande. I ett större perspektiv blir detta ett samhällsfenomen som jag tror oroar både Suna Vuori och mig själv – vi har tröttnat på att bry oss om vad andra människor vill få fram genom att skapa – kanske för att allt redan är sagt, som NN nämnde, eller kanske för att vi blir så överväldigade av mängden – att allt numera är lika trivialt ur ett sociopolitiskt perspektiv. Kvarstår endast det ekonomiska imperativet, den enda okränkbara måttstocken.”

Graffitimonopol. Från bloggen Local Nomad: http://blog.localnomad.com/en/2012/12/03/graffiti-in-new-york/

Graffitimonopol. Från bloggen Local Nomad: http://blog.localnomad.com/en/2012/12/03/graffiti-in-new-york/

Om vi börjar med uppskattningen för konst. För det första frågar jag mig: Vem är det som har slutat uppskatta konst? Är det de politiska beslutsfattarna, kritikerna, medierna eller den breda allmänheten? Enligt statistikcentralen har personer i Finland som går på teater, konserter, konstmuseer och utställningar och ökat med mellan runt 5 och 10 procent beroende på konstform mellan 1999 och 2009. Dans och opera är närmast oförändrade. Det skvallrar åtminstone inte om att konsten i allmänhetens ögon skulle ha sjunkit. För alla konstformer utom de sistnämnda ligger deltagarantalet på över 40 procent av befolkningen per år. Svenska kulturrådet redovisar två kartläggningar på kulturdeltagande mellan 1989 och 2009. De visar en knapp nedgång på mellan 5 och 1 procent (beroende på undersökningen) för teaterbesök och samma siffror för bokläsande. Inte heller det skvallrar om någon massflykt från konsten under de senaste 20 åren.

Konstens andel av statsbudgeten har sedan 2004 stigit från drygt 330 miljoner euro till drygt 430 miljoner euro, så inte heller där ser jag något speciellt hot mot konstfältet. Kulturminister Arhinmäki har i år dessutom lyckats avstyra stora nedskärningar i stödet till Nationaloperan och Nationateatern, så det tycks också finnas försvarare för högkulturen bland beslutsfattarna.

Suna Vuori lyfter för sin del fram en romantiserad bild av den stora uppskattningen för konst på 1800-talet. Då var det sannerligen ingen som ifrågasatte konstens storhet, skriver hon. Men nu glömmer Suna Vuori att på 1800-talet var konsten ett elitens privilegium. Konst gjordes av de konstnärer som hade möjlighet att gå på konstakademi eller hade välbemedlade beskyddare inom den konstnärliga eliten. De flesta av dem var, som vi vet, män. Kvinnors konst var inte speciellt mycket värd, såvida man inte råkade vara en alldeles exceptionell talang som Jenny Nyström eller Helene Scherfbeck. Konsten debatterarades av universitetsprofessorer i akademiska journaler eller de nya dagstidningarna som också mer allmänt började finnas tillgängliga för pöbeln. I de stora städerna Borgå, Åbo, Helsingfors och Vasa fanns konstgallerier dit man kunde gå och beundra konsten om man hade tillräckligt prydliga kläder för att ta till sig dylikt. Däremot var det nog få i de fattiga torparstugorna på landsbygden som deltog i det konstnärliga samtalet eller gick på Svenska Teatern. Många av dem var dessutom analfabeter och kunde således inte delta i det konstnärliga samtalet även om de ville.

Parlamentshusets sol av Monet, från wikipaintings.org

Manneport av Monet, från wikipaintings.org

De var i och med folkskolornas utbredning och den av arbetarrörelsen påkallade välfärdsmodellen som också vanligt folk på 1900-talet kunde börja ta till sig och utöva konst. Dagstidningar, radio, bio, tv och senare internet skapade en revolution av massmedial konst och underhållning som plötsligt vem som helst kunde ta till sig. Med detta kom först följetongerna, dessa forntidens Kauniit ja rohkeat om arabiska prinsar från fjärran länder i Allers magasin. Strunt, underhållning och tidsfördriv, ansåg de flesta inom konstvärlden. Det samma gällde bland annat fotografin, som egentligen inte etablerade sig som en konstform i Finland innan 80- eller egentligen 90-talet. Fotografi var väl gott och väl som dokumentering, men konst var det inte. Även teatern och filmen har ju sitt ursprung som skådespel för folket, underhållning och tidsfördriv. Shakespeare skrev sina pjäser för att de skulle sälja biljetter. Populärmusikens historia som folkets opium behöver vi väl inte heller gå in på.

Problemet i dag är att alla plötsligt är kritiker och i den allmänna debattens ögon är det ingen skillnad på värdet av den senaste utställningen på Kiasma eller Kaija Saariahos senaste musikverk, eller på den andra sidan, det senaste avsnittet av Game of Thrones eller den senaste versionen av Assassin’s Creed. Underhållningen har nu tagit sitt rättmätiga värde i den sociala diskussionen, vilket betyder att vi nu har seriösa artiklar i tidningarna om hiphop och en kulturminister som anser att graffiti är en legitim konstform. En allt större del av detta tar också upp den plats av kulturdiskussionen som förut dominerades helt och hållet av så kallad finkultur, vilket skapar en uppfattning om att folk inte längre bryr sig om den traditionella konsten.

Promobild för spelet Assassin's Creed, i en branch som sysselsätter tusentals konstnärer.

Promobild för spelet Assassin’s Creed, i en branch som sysselsätter tusentals konstnärer.

Som statistiken visar betyder det inte att utövare av traditionell konst eller besökare för teater och konst har minskat eller försvunnit. Inte heller tror jag att det betyder att de som verkligen bryr sig om djuplodande, filosofiska samtal om konst skulle ha försvunnit nånstans. De får bara mindre utrymme och överröstas lättare av det flöde av lättsmält underhållning och pengastinn reklam som tutas ur alla strutar.

Sedan kan jag hålla med om att det finns ett problem i att allt mer görs i syfte att man ska tjäna pengar på konsten. Även dig, kära vän, håller jag med om att konsten inte ska mätas enligt den ekonomiska måttstocken. Men här är vi inne i ett djupare samhälleligt fenomen än konstdiskussionen, som har att göra med den nyliberala samhällssyn som är dominerande i dagens affärsvärld och politik, och i förlängningen även hos konstfinansiärer och personer på ledande poster inom konstvärlden. Detsamma gäller det mediala flödet där sensationsklickande som ska locka annonsörer blir viktigare än det seriösa samtalet. Då det blir mer intressant att se Beyonces bröstvårtor än att lyssna på hennes senaste skiva.

Promobild för Beyonce

Promobild för Beyonce

Vad jag vill med detta långa inlägg är kanske dels att ge en tröst till alla desperata konstutövare. Vi finns härute, vi som uppskattar konst, som fortfarande vill att konsten ska ge oss en insikt, en förståelse, en diskussion, en fråga, kanske en sanning. Vi bara hörs och syns inte lika mycket längre. För det andra anser jag att konstvärlden befinner sig i ett brytningsskede. Konst för konstens skull kanske inte längre är relevant. Vad är konst och vem kan kallas konstnär är frågor som igen har aktualiserats. Är konst fortfarande konst om den inte har någon relevans för andra än dess skapare? Kan denna nya situation då konsten tvingas konkurrera med underhållningen sporra till bättre konst? Konst som kan ta sin plats i flödet, eller ännu bättre, bryta flödet? Om konstens roll ska vara att skapa dialog, insikt och diskussion, får väl konsten se till att göra det. Om den inte klarar av det, kanske det inte är så bra konst?

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Den förlorade diskussionen?

The things that come out of your mouth sometimes ...

The things that come out of your mouth sometimes …

I mars 2008 satt jag på Svenska Yles nyhetsredaktion då tidningen Hymy gick ut med nyheten om att dåvarande utrikesminister Ilkka Kanerva hade skickat snuskmeddelanden till den då för allmänheten okända erotiska dansaren Johanna Tukiainen. Det måste ha varit en kväll eller ett veckoslut eftersom det inte fanns många andra än jag och en webbredaktör på jobb. Vi diskuterade om vi borde skriva ett telegram på det, men jag fnös och sade att det väl inte har nåt som helst seriöst nyhetsvärde. Han får väl snacka hur mycket snusk han vill med sina bekanta, tänkte jag. Men snart såg vi hur nyheten dök upp på seriösa nyhetssidor som Helsingin Sanomat och Hufvudstadsbladet och insåg att vi väl var tvungna att skriva en rad på det vi också. Knappt två månader senare avgick Kanerva som minister. Det var första gången jag insåg att något hade förändrats i Finlands medie- och diskussionskultur.

Nu ska jag komma med en liten brasklapp. Det här är inte en kritik mot medier, inte heller mot vare sig feminister eller antifeminister, rasister eller antirasister. Det är inte ett försök att förringa någons argument eller upplevelser, inte heller att styrka någon annans. Kanske är det ett försök att reda upp trådarna i min hjärna.

År 2008 markerade startskottet också för långdansen kring valfinansieringen i Finland, som var ett sunt tecken på att finländska journalister på allvar var redo att gräva i politikernas smutstvätt. Men på samma gång blev det starten för en trend med politiker som i stund och annan tjöt om medial häxjakt och mediedrev och inspirerade av våra lättstötta västra grannar började de frossa i ordet ”kränkning”. I svallvågorna blev också statsministerns ugnspotatis och ömhetsbetygelser nyhetsstoff. Året innan hade Sannfinländarna ökat sina mandat i riksdagen med 150 procent, till stor del tack vare Tony Halme med sin ”Exit only” tatuering ovanför rövskarven och bakgrundskrafterna i Suomen Sisu hade efter mycket målmedvetet arbete lyckats lyfta fram diskussionen om invandring i massmedier och politik. I Sverige ställde Feministiskt initiativ ett par år tidigare med Gudrun Schyman i spetsen upp i riksdagsvalet, vilket startade en eldfängd debatt om feminism, som sedermera också tog fart i Finland. Facebook och Twitter hade sökt sig in i den offentliga debatten, de traditionella medierna såg sig på nätet tvungna att tävla med skandalmedierna i rubriksättning och ämnesval och bloggar blev i allt större grad den nya arenan för samhällelig diskussion.

Medie- och debattlandskapet som vi känner det i dag hade fötts.

I dag blir jag själv allt tröttare på att diskussionen, oberoende av vad den gäller, är så polariserad. Man är antingen kulturmarxistblomhattstant eller nynazistrasist, antingen militant feministfitta eller kvinnohatande gubbslem. Antingen kränkt eller hatare. Alla bär vi i dag på någon form av radikalåsikt, det må sedan gälla jämställdhet, ekonomi, miljö, kultur, musik, politik eller religion. Varenda mening man yttrar blir ett ställningstagande. Och allt tas på fullaste gravallvar. Om någon i ilskan eller kvällströttheten skriver ett slarvigt formulerat blogginlägg som samlar kommentarer, lyfts det i medierna fram som ”uppståndelse” och så är diskussionen igång. Detsamma gäller om man som radiopratare slänger in en sarkastisk kommentar. Vågar man yttra fördomen om rika finlandssvenskar blir man svenskhatare och påtalar man Sveriges roll för Finland är man landsförrädare.

Alla diskussioner ovan är viktiga och BÖR föras. Men vi rutar in oss (jag är själv ingalunda oskyldig) i ett hörn om vi bara ser saker i svart och vitt. Därför har jag inte orkat ge mig in i diskussionen om kaktusgate eller näthat. Orkar inte ta mig an Janne Josefsson och Maria Sveland. Orkar inte med Paula Salovaara och Finland är svenskt. Det känns som om jag bara fortsätter tjuta i en förutbestämd kör, oberoende av vilken sida jag tar i diskussionen. För jag måste välja en sida för att skapa en klatsching rubrik. Jag skrev på ZXC Music tidigare om Krista Siegfrids och efterlyste medieläsningsförmåga och sinne för proportioner. Det gäller också detta. Och så kan jag väl lägga till hövlighet, avvägande och analys.

Å andra sidan är det fruktansvärt uppiggande att man vågar ta strid och jag högaktar alla dem som har mod att säga saker som måste bli sagda. Jag hurrar då någon antirasist ger Sannfinländare en verbal örfil så det svänger om det. Sidor som Jussi Halla-ahon kootut sanansa syömiset, Vita kränkta män och Kunnollisvaalit har gjort ovärderliga samhällsinsatser för att lyfta fram det unkna och murkna i våra nordiska folkhem. I politiken måste man ibland ta till storsläggan för att få fram budskapet och jag älskar en eldig debatt som kan hålla en hög intellektuell standard. Minoriteter och förtryckta måste få ryta till. Att föra väsen, dunka huvet i väggen, krossa glastaket  och med våld föra fram nya ämnen i den samhälleliga debatten är ibland det enda sättet att förändra samhället. “Mota Olle i grind” och “Släpp ingen jävel över bron” är de enda förhållningssätt man kan ha till rasister och högerextremister.

Och jag vet att jag borde ta alla de diskussioner jag inte orkar ta. Det är bara så beklämmande om all samhällelig debatt måste skrikas.

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Night tram

Night tram by JO_Wass
Night tram, a photo by JO_Wass on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
I took a walk in the southwestern parts of Helsinki one evening. The snow had temporarily melted away before the -20 centigrade chill reclaimed its grip on the city again. There was a slight drizzle of rain making the streets glow in the urban night.

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Stephen Maing

Stephen Maing by JO_Wass
Stephen Maing, a photo by JO_Wass on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
American documentary film maker Stephen Maing in Helsinki in 2012. He was visiting DocPoint Festival talking about his movie High Tech Low Life. Shot for Ny Tid magazine.

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