“What film camera is that?” the lady asked as I stood outside Studio 7 in Seattle’s SODO district.
“It’s a Canon AE-1,” I answered, holding up my 30-year old axe for her to inspect. That night it was equipped with the very best lens I had that fit – a 50mm with f1.4 aperture capability. There was also a wide 24mm lens tucked in a pocket so I could photograph an entire stage. I had the AE-1 with me to get film shots of the rock show I was attending that night. It was locked and loaded with black & white film. The lady smiled.
“I’ve shot a lot of film in my time,” she said. “I have a FM10 that I love, but haven’t touched in years.”
We talked some more about cameras and film. She was about five feet tall and in her mid-to-late 50s. She was dressed like she had just gotten off work at the convenience store – unassuming and utilitarian. On the street a person would never combine this lady’s appearance with the photography knowledge that was coming from her mouth. “What’s that one,” she asked pointing to my DSLR. “Canon 20D,” I replied.I was hoping that – between film, digital, best lenses I had, and a cameraphone – I would be able to document the night’s concert successfully. It was going to be hard, because the lighting inside sucked; I would be pushing the limits of both film and digital shooting a poorly lit stage. I commented to that fact with her.
“Believe me I know,” she said. “I’ve been shooting in this club for years. The lighting is horrible. ISO3200 minimum. This is one of the tougher clubs to shoot. In fact I’ve been at it since 1979. You a photographer?”
“Blogger,” I said, never comfortable identifying myself as a photographer. “A friend helped produce this show tonight, and I came to get my feet wet taking rock photos. I often upload the pictures to my blogs.”
“I have a reader-blog on the Seattle-PI plus some personal ones. I also upload a lot of stuff to Flickr.”
She smiled and lit a smoke. “Then you need to get out of that line and come talk with me for a while. Heard of photographer Annie Leibovitz? I’m her without the fame.”
She pulled out her iPhone to prove that she had the chops to chronicle the music scene as a pro.
Inside there was a folder crammed with rock shots she had taken, compiled from shows going back 25 years – digital and film – and covering all sorts of venues and bands.
“Lindsey Buckingham calls me whenever he’s in the area to shoot his shows. I’ve shot Sting at so many shows with the same bass guitar that I can document the wear patterns on the bass body. I’ve shot Billy Idol tons of times.” I passed a picture of Snoop Dog.
“Snoop had his pot on stage, and security guards to defend his pot. It was funny.”
The stories continued. The photo collection was like looking through a digital copy of Rolling Stone. Robert Plant, Sting, Crosby Stills and Nash, Melissa Ethridge, Carlos Santana and others were all in her phone. “That one was film,” she would say on one. “I was lucky to get that shot,” she would say about another. There were 81 photos in all; I was blown away, not only by the content but the quality.
“Like I said, I’ve been doing this since 1979. What film do you have in the AE-1 right now?”
“That won’t do in there. Too dark.”
“I agree,” I replied. “I’m pushing it to IS3200 and using the best lenses I’ve got. Wish me luck.” I smiled.
“You have a card?” she asked.
I happened to have one last business card in my wallet.
“I’m going to put you on my mailing list,” she said after I handed over the card. “I send out notices when venues are looking for photographers. You can get photo passes if you contact them. They’re available to members of the press.”
“But I’m a blogger,” I commented. “I’m not the press.”
“You ARE the press,” she replied. “Really.”
We finally headed inside, me with my ticket and she by simply walking in the door. She was there for the entire show, cradling two Pro-Level Nikons with hard-core lenses on a pair of shoulder straps – all with a street value estimated at $10k or more.
Meeting her was truly an unexpected contact.