Shoot from the hip

The Photography Issue: Local rock photogs give good bulb. Plus: Son Ambulance, Hall and Oates, C.L.A.W.S, and more
Pink and Brown: Photo by Lars Knudson

SONIC REDUCER Def Leppard and Nickelback: you know I want my fantasy, and everyone is aware of how those cool, desirable, shocking, or subversive photographs are integral to fanning the flames of so many rock 'n' roll clowns' dreamscapes. But it's those moments when a picture delivers more than words that have inspired some to pick up a camera and keep shooting. Local noise-punk photog Lars Knudson can verify this, concerning one Arab on Radar show at Bottom of the Hill back at the turn of the millennium. "I saw this band Pink and Brown, and this audience of people who were absolute freaks, ultra-nerd 'tards, hipsters, scenesters, or whatever you want to call it, and I felt so alive and so at home," Knudson recalls today from his work as a chef in San Carlos. "I tried to describe it to everyone I worked with, and they looked at me like, 'Huh?' Then I stumbled on these images that were taken by Virgil Porter [Burn My Eye] and showed them to people, and they said, 'ooh!'"

As SF photographer Peter Ellenby [Every Day Is Saturday (Chronicle)] testifies, Jim Marshall put the Bay on the map for music photography and shooters like Jay Blakesberg have kept it there. But what about the newbs — armed with the latest digi point-and-shoot and inspired, à la Knudson, to begin capturing a fragment of the sound and the fury? Around the same instant everyone began to believe they could be a DJ, so too did all and sundry start to assume that they could also be an ace lens swinger.

John Vanderslice: Photo by Peter Ellenby

So how does one carve out a name as a music photog when the glut of images on Flickr and assorted photoblogs threatens to overwhelm? I gathered snippets of sage advice from a few area rock photogs: Knudson, Ellenby, and Debra Zeller, who honed her craft focusing on local indie combos via her Playing in Fog online project and concert series, has since expanded into professional wedding photography (originally shooting the nuptials of the Red Thread's Jason Lakis), and currently books live music at the Make-Out Room.

Be a music lover, foremost. "That's why I did photography part-time for so long — it's really hard to make a living in music photography," says Zeller (,, who has shot Cat Power, among others, at the behest of their labels. "What magazines pay is absolutely ridiculous and getting the work is another challenge." Additionally, Knudson says, "Part of the reason I have good photos is I know when they're going to rock out. If you're not prepared to get lost in the moment, you should go home and be an artist, because it isn't about you and what you got that night, it's really about what the band did onstage that night." In the spirit of shareware and the scene he has documented, Knudson makes thousands of his images freely available to bands — and really anyone — on a not-for-profit basis at

Show everyone your work. "I showed my photos to as many people as possible," says Ellenby (, who photo-edited zines like Snackcake and Devil in the Woods. "All the bands and my friends knew I was for hire, and you have to not be afraid to be take criticism and set goals. When I was starting out my favorite band was Overwhelming Colorfast, and my goal was to shoot them, and Bob Reed would rip on them all the time."

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