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This Frirday, two of our favorite live show photographers in the area are putting together an exhibit showcasing THE VERY best of their live show photography. Which promises to be amazing. So, on the eve before FULL SPEED AHEAD blows your mind, we sat down with Josh Sisk and Kyle Gustafson and had them each pick 5 of their favorite snaps from the show and sandwiched those with some probing questions about DC photo scene, photo friendships and other things both rabid and casual photography enthusiasts in this town should enjoy. So-enjoy. And see you Friday:


Double Dagger at the final Whartscape:


This one is great because Nolen, the singer of Double Dagger and an old friend, grabbed my camera from me and took this picture of himself while the camera was still attached to my hand, so I was sort of half being dragged on stage. Double Dagger has a song about photographers that is fairly critical, and he used to always mess with me (and the other photographers) when they played it… they have a great stage presence. One of my favorite bands, and the best punk band in Baltimore.

The Spark final show at Charm City Art Space:


The CCAS is a diy punk venue in Baltimore that has existed for over a decade now. The singer for the Spark, Mike Riley of Pulling Teeth, and the guy who is singing with him were both people who were involved from the beginning, so this was a great moment. Made more entertaining my the mini-drama in the background and the guy’s shirt, which I didn’t notice until afterwards. Happy accidents.

Future Islands at Taxlo:

Impossible to communicate the charisma and sense of import of Sam from Future Islands in a photo, but I really like this one. This band sounds like no other band I have ever heard and I think the photo tries to get at least some of that across.

Dan Deacon at Whartscape 2008:

Dan let myself and other photographers on to the stage behind him to get this. One of my favorite shots of a Dan performance that I have done, I love the “where’s waldo” quality of this… spotting all the people in the photo that I know from around town. His performances are all about the crowd so I try to make sure they are the subject as much as Dan is.

Scottie B & K-Swift (with DJ Class & Tittsworth) at the Paradox:


This is a sad one. This was taken only a few days before K-Swift passed away. I like that it has her and Scottie along with Class and Tittsworth… a mix of club music innovators both classic and coming up. Rest In peace K-Swift.


How did you get into music photography? And why music photography, why not something else?

KYLE: I’ve been going to 3 or 4 concerts a week since the late 90’s and I love photography so it was just a matter of time, really. I worked in the music industry in NYC for 7 years before moving to D.C. in 2004. In 2003, I started a blog called Information Leafblower and I wanted to have photos to go with the concert reviews I did there. Because I was doing the same for DCist, I bought a camera and taught myself how to take photos in the dark. Many cameras and thousands of dollars later, here we are…
JOSH: I do other photography also, not just music. Music is just what I am know for the most. And I love music and nightlife and always have, so
it’s a good fit for me… I was involved in photography, and music photography, in college but then I stopped for years so I’ll just address how I got back into it… basically I ran a punk/hardcore/metal record label called McCarthyism Records, and was involved in booking punk shows and the like. And was taking photos of the bands and eventually I realized that I liked the photography and design work more than other work involved. So I quit the label and started doing photos more seriously, which was a lot more fufilling. But I still loved music so music was a natural subject. This was at a time when Baltimore’s music scene was getting really interesting so it was a good time for me.
How did you guys meet?

We met while shooting Dan Deacon at Whartscape in 2008, which is funny, because we both included a shot of Dan from that day in this show without telling each other. Later that summer, I saw Josh at Rock The Bells and he told me his photo pass didn’t come through. I happened to have an extra so I gave it to him. Then he took this photo and this photo, which were better than anything I took that day. Jerk!
JOSH: I believe we ran into each other at the 3rd Whartscape… taking photos of Dan Deacon, probably? I had seen Kyle around before and had
followed his flickr. But I actually didn’t it was him since his flickr was under a nickname, ‘leafblower’. Then at Rock the Bells he gave me an extra photo pass which was great, as I was there to shoot one of the artists performing but their manager had neglected to get me a photo pass or even a ticket to the festival… haha. So it was a good coincidence that I ran into Kyle.
You guys have been at this for years-how have you seen the live show photography landscape in DC/VA/MD change over time? How different is it to shoot in 2011 than, in 2005 or 2001?
KYLE: The biggest difference between then and now is any asshole can buy a DSLR these days (kidding). Seriously, the entry bar is much lower now because cameras are so cheap. The glut of blogs and other media outlets results in more people in the front at shows with cameras. Back in 2005, there weren’t many people doing this. But I don’t mean to sound like I’m knocking it. Everyone has to start somewhere. If it weren’t for blogs and the like, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today-with a low paying second job that keeps me in front of my computer editing photos late into the night! I started shooting for myself and gradually worked my way up the ladder. That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to put in the time. There aren’t any shortcuts.
JOSH: Way more people shooting, the rise of blogs and so forth… I wasn’t shooting big concerts in 2001 so I don’t know how different that is
now, but now if you go to a punk show in a basement there will be 10 people with DSLRs firing away and it wasn’t like that in 2001 for sure. Also, since 2005 I would say you have to hustle a lot more to make money at it. The economy, the decline of  print media, etc…
What would you say is the dynamic between the are music photographers? Competitive? Supportive? Supportively Competitive?
KYLE: Supportive and competitive. I try and answer questions over email and Twitter when people ask them. I’ve certainly learned a ton from other photogs like Dan Boud, The Owyoungs, Douglas Sonders and Zack Arias, each of them is very good about being open and sharing tips and tricks of the trade. I want to be sure to give back as well. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to take better photos than everyone else in the pit with me. Most everyone has the same gear these days, so the line separating photogs is becoming more narrow. I’m glad to have great photographers in D.C. as “competition”, because that pushes me to get better.
JOSH: Supportive in general. There is a certain crowd of people you get to know who are there show after show and we are all pretty friendly to each other. Competition exists but especially among shooters who are working for a publication, you are too busy trying to get the shot your editor needs to worry about that stuff. Every once in awhile there is a dickish person in the pit but it’s pretty rare. Wait, is this the question where I am supposed to admit that I hate Kyle? Whoops!
What is the greatest show you shot and what is the greatest show you hope to shoot?

KYLE: The best show I’ve ever shot was Morrissey at DAR in 2007. I’m a huge fan and it was just me and Ryan Wakeman taking photos that night. I took probably my favorite photo ever during what was the best Morrissey show I’ve seen, so that night was a big win. The most memorable show was definitely Radiohead at Nissan (yes, THAT show) in 2008.  I got to Nissan/Jiffy Lube an hour before doors because there was no way I was going to miss that show. As it turned out, the photog for the Washington Post never made it in and they bought some of my photos to run with their review. That was the beginning of my relationship with the Post. I shot over 100 shows for them last year.  Obviously there have been some great experiences since then, but those two stand out. As for what I hope to shoot, that’s easy. The Oasis reunion in 5 or so years.

JOSH: This is a really tough one. I tend to think the shows more recently are greater, and I assume most people do, because as your skill level grows you find yourself judging your older work more harshly. I would say that getting the opportunity to photograph Hellfest in Clisson, France while on tour with Pig Destroyer was a pretty amazing one for a wide variety of reasons. Also shooting Big Ears music festival for SPIN was incredible because it was such an amazing event… easily one of the best, most casual and most interesting music festivals in the country. As far as the future… who knows. The thing I am most looking forward to is this year’s Maryland Death Fest at Sonar… always an extreme experience, and an amazing spectacle as well as a chance to see dozens of great bands.


Flaming Lips @ Merriweather, 2009


The Flaming Lips put on one of the best shows of any band but generally when you see photos from those shows, you see Wayne in the bubble. I like this photo instead because it’s more representative of the rest of their show– big and bright with Wayne smiling ear to ear. His pants are wet from the knee down, the lights on the stage set up are overpowering everything and of course, the balloon in the lower right. Shooting the Lips is an incredible assignment, there’s so much to capture–the bubble, the balloons, the dancing gorilla, the dancers on the sides of the stage, the confetti canons. You have to have your head on a swivel. But at the end, it’s all about the music, and I think this photo represents that well.

Flavor Flav @ Merriweather, 2009


Public Enemy was the soundtrack for a good chunk of my life in high school. So when they got back together in 2009 I was super stoked to get to shoot them. My first chance was at the Roots Picnic in Philly but I really didn’t get that many good shots. I was totally gutted, so I was very excited to get a second chance at them at Merriweather. I’d love to claim I framed this shot with this end result in mind, but honestly I was just trying to get a closeup of Flav while he was pointing my way. But when I got home and the photo came up on my computer screen, there it was. F-L-A-V-O-R  F-L-A-V spelled out right in his gold teeth. Best.

Dan Auerbach @ DAR, 2010


When I shoot the Black Keys, I generally spend most of my time trying to catch Patrick Carney making a crazy drummer face as he bashes away on his kit, but I really like this shot of Dan Auerbach lost in his guitar riff. It’s hard to catch a moment like this in the first three songs of a show. Bands take time to warm up and really get into a groove, so I’m always appreciative when I can get a shot like this so early in a show. Especially at DAR, where the lights (much like the sound) are atrocious.

Tabi Bonney @ State Theater, 2010
One of the great things about shooting concerts for the Washington Post is that I get to see a lot of acts I wouldn’t normally see on my own time. Local rapper Tabi Bonney is a perfect example. He opened 3 or 4 shows where I was there covering the headliner and impressed the hell out of me every time I saw him. For this assignment I was at the State Theater to shoot The Clipse, who were headlining, and Bonney was the first artist on the bill. I made sure I got there early to shoot him and got this great photo as a result. As with most hip hop shows, there were a ton of people on stage with him–photogs, video cameramen, dancers and Peekaso painting his canvases (far right of the photo), not to mention the people on the back of the stage checking their phones. So to get a shot this relatively clean was a small victory for me.

Janelle Monae @ Merriweather, 2010

Another example of when I went early to shoot someone on the bill before my actual assignment. I went to the Summer Spirit Festival at Merriweather last year to shoot B.o.B., but Janelle Monae was on right before him and there was no way I was going to miss her set. She is hands down the most energetoic and photogenic performer out there right now. There is no one else I’d rather take photos of. I’ve shot her four times in the last 10 months and would jump at the chance to do it again. So many shows I go to are just bands standing around playing their instruments with no energy so to get a performer like Monae on the other side of my lens is something I try not to take for granted. She’s so expressive and dynamic on stage that it puts everyone else to shame.

Hopefully, all this is leaving you hungry for more:

FULL SPEED OR NOTHING: Music Photography by Josh Sisk & Kyle Gustafson (details etc here)
Friday April 15th, 7-9pm
The Windup Space
12 W. North Ave, Baltimore MD 21201

The show runs through May 1st. Affordable drinks, excellent bar staff, great atmosphere and free snacks will be provided. Entertainment by DJs Simon Phoenix and King Gilbert. Official after-party is at Cullen Stalin’s Ice Age at Club Phoenix.