Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten played at The State Room in Salt Lake City last night, Saturday, April 2.  I was more excited for this show than I've been for a live performance in a very long time.  Van Etten is a young woman who writes her own songs and performs them with her strength and vulnerability on full display.  Her voice is beautiful in a way that evokes the full gamut of emotions she writes and sings about, her range remarkable for the effortlessness with which she sings.  I learned of her music several months back.  There'd been a bit of a buzz over her first record, 'Because I Was in Love,' released in 2009.  It is a hauntingly beautiful record with spare arrangements, deeply personal lyrics and a voice more perfect for its material than my words could possibly convey.  Suffice it to say I cannot imagine coming away from Van Etten's music without being deeply moved.  When 'epic,' her second record, was released last year, the buzz grew to a roar over this supremely talented artist.  The songs on 'epic' are a bit more upbeat with more complex arrangements, but Van Etten's voice and her lyrics deliver everything and more that her growing band of followers could have hoped for.  So yeah, I was finding it hard to contain my excitement over the prospect of watching her perform. 

Two bands played before Sharon Van Etten:  Parlor Hawk and Little Scream.  Some good music, but I'm sorry to say I was mostly impatient waiting for the main act.  Van Etten's set was excellent.  Not surprisingly, she played quite a few songs from 'epic,' but she also played a few new songs and some from her debut.  There's no way I could ever think she played long enough, but she played just about everything I wanted to hear and was kind enough to offer an encore, without her band.  Oh, I didn't mention her band?  Guitarist and drummer.  Sorry, I don't have their names, but once again, I wasn't there to hear them play.  Sharon strummed an electric guitar throughout, except for "Love More," for which she played the harmonium.  The venue was great and the sound good overall, but Van Etten's guitar was too loud and her voice not quite loud enough, which was a shame because it really is all about her voice.  I wish she would have played at least a few numbers with an acoustic guitar.  Funniest moment of the night:  Sharon was telling a story of sorts, building up to a song.  Someone from the crowd yelled out "play the song!"  It was kind of a high-pitched voice.  Sharon said:  "Who said that?  No, really.  I think I just got called out by a 10-year-old."  It was a good-natured, quick-witted response because I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was thinking 'holy shit, she's right, that DID sound like a 10-year-old!'  Most endearing: There's a moment following each of her songs when it's evident in Van Etten's eyes that she's still uncertain about her effect on her audience.  It's a mix of vulnerability and doubt that quickly gives way to acceptance and gratitude.  Two things are clear:  she cares, and she's not taking anything for granted.  For me, these moments best revealed Van Etten's connection to the crowd and were among the most intimate of the night.  I'd like to think I captured at least one of these in the photos below.  

Listening to Sharon Van Etten's records over and over, and knowing just a bit about her personal life from what has been published online, I'd come to think of her as a wounded bird.  Well, she's flying now, on the wings of a voice with the magic to carry many a heart and soul with it. 

Some photos from the show (you'll have to click on each one for larger versions): 


Saturday, March 12, 2011

With a Little Help From my Friends...

I've been working at creating some special gymnastics posters, something beyond the basic enlarged photo.  My starting point is a strong image, which I define as a photo that captures a gymnast in an elegant pose or at the peak of an impressive move.  The goal is to find something that will be flattering to the athlete, though of course this is a subjective call.  Working with the digital file for the selected photo, I carefully and precisely 'cut out' the athlete from the photo's background.  I then place that cut-out onto another background that I have created, and add design elements, such as text, logos, etc.  It's a time-consuming and tedious process that involves even more thought than time and energy.  I can find photos to work with and put in the time and energy, but I typically hit a wall somewhere along the line with the creative part of the process.  That's where some of my very talented photography buddies come into this picture.  After creating a poster that represented the height of my creative abilities, I posted it online seeking feedback.  Here's the original poster (sorry for the watermarks, but they feel like a necessity to me.  Oh, and if you want to see a slightly larger version, click on the image.):

In response to this, I received some initial feedback about the background being too busy and somewhat confusing.  Then, two incredibly creative buds chimed in with some great ideas.  Again, the busy background was at issue, as was the color scheme, which didn't seem to match the leotard colors (or Utah's colors) in any way.  Further, it was pointed out that the font/lettering did not seem to fit with the grace and beauty of the images, and that the ordering of the text did not seem right.  Finally, it was suggested that I consider adding in the school logo on a layer below the main subject.  I think that covers most of what was so astutely pointed out as being 'off' with my original creation.  So I set to work trying to address these issues.  Here are two revisions I came up with:

Consensus was that the second (right) was better given the color scheme that matched the leotard colors.  Having thus arrived at a background I could live with, I set to the task of finding a few more photos to work with.  Here' another with some minor modifications to what is basically the same design.

And here's an attempt to see if this could work with a horizontal design:

I'm pretty happy with my results thus far, and I welcome your comments.  To Paul and Tom I say thanks, my friends, for your willingness to share your exceptional vision.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Another Gymnastics Season in the Books

Hard to believe that the University of Utah home gymnastics season is already over.  6 meets.  It's been fun to photograph these competitions.  Lots of thought, time and energy has gone
into trying to capture the beauty of the sport.  I also work at not capturing the same shots at every meet.  On all fronts, some successes and some failures.  Here are a few of my favorite images from the season.  (Click on the images if you want to see larger versions.)

A bit of fisheye magic
Beautiful.  There's really no perfect angle from which to shoot this, but I like this one well enough.
Floor exercise up close and personal with a 200mm lens
Should have kept the beam in frame, but I still like this one.
Future Red Rock.  She was riveted to the Jumbotron.
I'd have to fall from a roof to manage this position.
13,00 fans, opponent competing on floor, meet in full swing.....time for a social gathering.  I love the relaxed, comfortable engagement of this one.
Pretty damn close to flying in my book.
About that falling from a building comment...
Double-barrel jube.
Keeping her eye on the prize.  I thing shooting from a low position adds intensity to this shot, and also minimizes the distraction of the videographer in teh background.
It took me 6 meets to find the best angle on this graceful moment.
A crowd of 15,558 was on hand to root on the Red Rocks at their final home meet.  High-tailing it up the steps to the top of the arena between rotations, grabbing some crowd shots, then booking it back down in time to shoot the first competitor........that's dedication!

Thanks for looking.  Let me know what you think.  I'd appreciate hearing from you.  Lots more photos from this season here.