For most of the 1990’s, I knew nothing about photography. My teenage passion was for the rambunctious grunge guitar rock that, for a seemingly forgotten time, succeeded in knocking overproduced songs about consumerism off of the pop music charts.
The raw, distorted and fuzzy guitar assault of Veruca Salt goddess Louise Post could be strikingly angry, honest and vulnerable or manic and unstoppably excited. The textures she creates with her Gibson SG, Orange amplifiers and Boss effects pedals are organic, emotional and in blistering antithesis for everything smooth, sterile and superficial. Post plays every chord on my heart strings.
Then, of course, there’s her voice. Pure. Sonic. Bliss.
And after all, “the Seether’s Louise.”
We all imitate what we love. But often our first attempts are more copy-and-paste than inspired-by. And that is exactly what I did. Or tried to do! I spent countless hours learning Veruca Salt songs from American Thighs and and turning dials on my amp and effects pedals trying to replicate their music.
“I Dream In Black And White”
As a backdrop to my electric guitar noodling, I wallpapered my bedroom with photos of Louise Post and my other favorite musicians that I cut out of music magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone.
I was particularly drawn to high-contrast, grainy b&w photos of early Nirvana shows that I later learned were taken by Charles Peterson. Alot of early Veruca Salt photos were on instant film and I enjoyed Alison Dyer’s posed work. I think that some the best grunge, alternative and punk photos were the informal, least commercial-looking, in part because they tapped into the same ethos as the music they depicted.
Eventually I realized that I was no virtuoso and I grew up and moved out of my parents’ house. In my father’s words, I’d “ruined the drywall” of my old bedroom, so it was fully replaced. And while the exact dates of the destruction of my music magazine montage and the beginning of my photography career may not correspond directly, I like to think that the disappearance of the magazine-clipped photos of those 90’s rock gods, and goddesses, was inspiration for me to create my own concert images.
It turns out that like Louise Post sang on Spiderman ’79 , I too, dream in black and white.
Ghost Notes on Peel-Apart
By 2015, I no longer considered myself a grunge guitarist. Now, I was a b&w film photographer. Veruca Salt released the album Ghost Notes and they were touring. I attended their show at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC where I used to shoot for subKulture TV. Though I shot at this venue routinely in my 20’s, I was unable to secure a photo pass. So I showed up with a concert-rules-compliant 1960’s Polaroid camera and several packs of Fuji FP-3000b film. This is an old-fashioned instant film set-up with which you take a shot, pull a sheet out of the camera, count to ten or fifteen and peel the emulsion off of the paper print.
I walked through the dense crowd that night, taking photos of Veruca Salt and giving concert-goers prints in exchange for letting me get in front of them, closer to the stage.
I loved the instant film photos and experience of handing out prints, but without being inside the press gate, I was limited to wide shots. I also gave away a number of great shots that I’ll probably never see again! I was only a fan with a camera. I took the photos for myself mainly and they are my personal memories. There’s nothing wrong with that but it would be nice to do something more. So I wrote about the adventure on my blog, boxed up the prints and did what photographers do, move onto the next shoot.
And if you were wondering, the Veruca Salt song “Benjamin” is not about him. However, Ben kindly shared my blog with Louise. I’m told that it helped them reconnect after many years. It was great to see my photos serve some greater purpose. And out of this, I was able to mail Louise a gushing fan letter and one of my original prints from the 9:30 concert for her birthday in 2021. What an honor to share my work with her!
This year, Louise Post released her phenomenal debut solo album Sleepwalker. I am not a record producer but in my humble opinion, every track on it could be a hit single! And with the new album, of course, came a tour.
Ben was slated as an official photographer for Louise Post’s performance at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. He kindly connected me with Post’s manager to shoot her performance at Union Stage in Washington DC.
I was in! Thanks, Ben!
Sleepwalker on Tri-X
Her new band entered the stage to escalating applause and cheers, as siren, songstress, guitar goddess Louise Post herself stepped into the light.
Union Stage is much smaller than 9:30 so I had no problem getting physically, as well as photographically, closer with my Leica 50 and 90mm Summicrons. I shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 à la Charles Peterson but rated the film at an even more punchy 1600, no flash of course.
The band launched into “Closer” – a screamy dreamy track, complete with audience-participation-inducing “hey“‘s that signaled the start of a real rock show.
The crowd was a fun mix of old school geeks and rockers who’d been there for the entire Veruca Salt ride as well as plenty of newcomers, including a young girl with her mom whose pre-teen eyes glittered in the flashing stage lights.
I wanted to make emotional images, full of life and texture. I often set my shutter to 1/60th for some motion blur, a middle finger to what Ben calls “the video game look” that so many concert photographers produce lately.
Some concert photography is about helping people feel like they are there at the show. But the experience of viewing a grainy b&w photo is more like remembering something you didn’t actually experience.
I also shot some TMAX P3200, rated and processed at 6400. The grit of high-speed film echoes the overdrive in Post’s music.
I stood among the grooving fans, nodding my head to the beat, film in my mouth as I reloaded.
Louise Post wove a tight tapestry of classic Veruca Salt with infectious new offerings from Sleepwalker. The songs blended beautifully and Post’s energy was palpable. The only pauses were personal anecdotes and of course introducing her new colleagues.
Nicole Fiorentino played on Veruca Salt’s 2006 album IV and was with Smashing Pumpkins from 2010-2012. Her backing vocals complimented Louise Post’s voice perfectly. Fiorentino’s thundering bass lines neatly threaded the thick, textured guitar sound that we came out to hear.
Sleepwalker producer Matt Drenik‘s classic rock ‘n roller, guitar hero enthusiasm brought playful visuals with remarkable precision and more complexity than we know from Veruca Salt.
Louise and her new friends played hard and loud but they played tight and clear. They hit the crowd with a tidal wave of overdrive and eddying fuzz then skillfully surfed right through it.
During her encore performance, Post shared touching stories about fans and the messages they send her. She handed de-thorned, long stem roses out to some special audience members and told us that our support means more to her than any Rolling Stone or other music magazine reviews.
I was thinking of the articles and photos that brought me here, when suddenly, Louise reached out to me with a rose! Inside me, the teenager hunched over his Stratocaster simply fainted.
Post played “Shutterbug” next and the lyrics felt spot-on: “I’m right where I always dreamed I would be.“
I got home from the show just after 1am, returned my Leicas to their display cabinet and gently placed the rose beside them. I loaded the eight exposed rolls of film into developing tanks and passed out after a long evening. The next morning, I processed, dried, cut, sleeved, scanned, edited and uploaded my photos before Post’s next performance in NYC. After Louise Post graciously approved use of my photos via email, we began sharing, tagging and liking on social media. Any similarity to the hustle of a concert photographer in 1994 ended right there!
Next year will mark 30 years since the release of Veruca Salt’s debut album, American Thighs. Here in 2023, we can “bookmark” digital articles and digital photos in our web browsers so that we don’t have to ruin drywall or now-collectible back-issues of Rolling Stone.
But I have a better idea.
I’ll have to talk to Hamish about the copyright implications of this, and please don’t presume that I speak for all the fine photographers here on 35mmc, but I welcome everyone who enjoyed any of the photos in this article to hit “print” and put something that inspires you out into the real world. Don’t leave anything you love locked in the confines of your computer! Drag it out into the light and let it influence you every day.
This is what live music and film photography are all about, right? Being present. Sensory experiences. Interaction with the real and tangible physical world.
Be sure and listen to the latest episode of Music and Photography – #35 that I recently recorded with the very talented Billy Sanford for the Sunny 16 Podcast.
Thank you to my friend Ben, one of the coolest and kindest guys I know!
Thanks to all the folks who let me move to the stage at the 9:30 Club in 2015 – do you still have those Polaroid prints?And of course, endless thanks to Louise Post, an incredible human being – Pick up her new album, Sleepwalker!
Many thanks to you for reading!
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