A tale of two music festivals

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My musical taste is a bit eclectic.  The artists in my iTunes library range from Amy Winehouse to Ludwig van Beethoven to Garbage to The Dubliners to Katy Perry to The Rolling Stones.  Of course, there are limits to what I acoustically enjoy; I am not much of a fan of country (asides from Johnny Cash), and I do not understand the appeal of rap and hip hop.  That said, I have a great affinity for jazz, and as such, despite tasked with writing an analysis regarding a right of publicity case over the weekend, I took a few hours off this past Saturday to attend the annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival.  And of course, I brought a few lenses with me.

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If I am completely honest, my experience and expertise in “concert photography” is sparse at best.  Of course, I attended the various venues throughout Hyde Park and the University of Chicago to listen to the great music—photography, for once, was secondary.  Although already stipulated as a given, I must give much credit to professional concert photographers, who in addition to having to deal with the crowds and harsh lighting at music events, have been for some time now the victims of unrelenting copyright infringement and photographic theft by none other than the very performing bands and touring managers at concert venues.  (For a recent example, see the matter of the asshat Shawn Hamm of Three Days Grace and his delusional social media rant back in April of this year.)  As both a creator of original works of expression and an intellectual property junky currently studying to become an IP attorney, I find it incredibly ironic how members of the music industry, who had been at the forefront of the copyright war against unpaid music downloading in the peri and post-Napster eras, can be so quick to dismiss and disrespect a photographer’s rights over his or her artistic works.  To be fair, however, often in the music industry, artists are strong-armed by recording companies to sign away their copyrights.  Despite having studied United States copyright law (Title 17 United States Code) in great depth, it still pains me to see circumstances where in order succeed, a creator has to forfeit his or her rights due to industry power and standards.  That is one reason why I prefer France’s copyright and author’s rights system, droit moral.   I will, however, now refrain from this digression into IP law and return to the more relevant topic at hand: concert photography.

It can be rather difficult to tell a story through a still image of a musician performing on stage.  A slice of time at 1/160 of a second cannot exactly convey the sensation of actually being present to hear and feel the music move one’s soul.  What I learned that Saturday is that in order to make a good photograph at a concert, one must wait for a coalescence of different elements that may not even occur.  Otherwise, making a photograph of a musician alone while performing is no better than making a photograph of a sole statue in the middle of the frame—it is only one element that without anything else fails to tell a story.  (See my previous discussion regarding photographing the moon.)

It was not until later in the evening at one of the stages on the Midway Plaisance on the UofC campus that fortune fell upon me.  In a case of being at the right place at the right time, the performer at that stage at that time was Mr. Angel d’Cuba, a very animated and lively Havanan jazz artist whose musical styling is an amalgamate of jazz, salsa, Afro-funk, and soul.  Initially, I was seated a few rows back from the front, but after he started performing, Robert Capa’s words came to mind again à la Obi-Wan Kenobi: “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”  So I got up, casually made my way to the foot of the stage from the side, and blended in with all of the other photographers shooting away.  Not long thereafter, people started to dance on the wooden floor in front of the stage.  It was then that elements came together: a vibrant jazzman and energetic dancing concert attendees, under the dark blue sky and the glow of orange street lamps.

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival, however, from my point of view, was in stark contrast to another musical gathering months ago in the beginning of August that historically is a bane to my Chicago existence, bringing a pestilence of insufferable annoyance: Lollapalooza.

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I do not hide the fact that since moving to Chicago in the summer of 2010 that I have come to dread the weekend of Lollapalooza.  My animosity is directed not at the artists who come to perform but rather the people who flock to Grant Park and the intellectual and infrastructural disturbance they bring.  Perhaps it is my old age of thirty (thirty-one in a few days, incidentally), but I just do not understand today’s youth.  Call me old.  Call me a snob.  Call me odd.  I just cannot comprehend nor can I empathize with the mentality of the YOLO generation.  I cannot even compare today’s youth to the revolutionary counter-culture of the 1960’s; what we face here is not against the norm but rather IS the norm.  While they do not cause harm to me directly, the sight of the YOLO and Lollapalooza crowd represents the apathetic and self-absorbed society upon us now, an egotistical culture that feels entitled to everything without the stomach to earn something through hard work that demands blood, toil, tears, and sweat.  The Lollapalooza horde is evidence that humanity is de-evolving into a culture of instant gratification, of Instagram, of selfies, and of superficiality, while intellectualism and the desire to strive for a greater cause dwindles away to the sounds of “I’m So Fancy.”  It saddens me deeply, and every year, as I fight through the increased traffic and congestion caused by this festival and the havoc wreaked upon Grant Park–ravaging her luscious grassy fields into 1917 Belgium–I look and see the youth shuffling through the gates of Lollapalooza, I see our future, and I weep.

“I saw you standing at the gates
When Marlon Brando passed away
You had that look upon your face
Advertising space

No one learned from your mistakes
We let our prophets go to waste
All that’s left in any case
Is advertising space”

–Robbie Williams, excerpt from “Advertising Space”


All images © K. Dao Photography 2014, all rights reserved.