A Trip to Inspire: Greetings from Asbury with Surfliner
7 a.m., Tyler Wyatt walks through my front door and helps carry out my tripod as my hands are full. We jump in his car, throw on Aja by Steely Dan and hit the road for a 6 hour drive to Asbury Park , New Jersey. Tyler's band, Surfliner, has a gig headlining the legendary Wonder Bar. It's a beautiful sunny day in mid-December. Our drive south gives way to bountiful conversations of music, photography, art, life, future, the Italian Mafia, and more. I hadn’t seen Tyler in months since he left for Italy and we had a lot to catch up on.
We arrived in Asbury to a pair of smiling twins on the front porch of their home. John and Harry Carlson are a bassist and drummer (respectively) who'll be playing with Surfliner the next night. After a brief stop we hit the road again,driving into downtown Asbury Park, grabbing lunch and stopping in at Russo’s Music shop. We drive towards the water, passing the carousel, the boardwalk, the legendary Stone Pony, and the Wonder Bar where Surfliner's name is on the marquee. We stop at the end of a large field that sits under the Convention Hall and head into the Transparent Gallery.
The Transparent Gallery is legendary rock photographer Danny Clinch’s gallery and music venue. Full of prints of Springsteen, the Foo Fighters, the Black Keys, Eddie Vedder, Bob Dylan, and so many more legendary musicians and bands, it is a music photographer's paradise. Danny's work has been a huge inspiration of mine since the start of my music photography career. It was incredible to see all the photos in large print in the beautiful gallery.
After the gallery , we headed to the train tracks to pick up Sam Worley as he headed down from New York City after his economics final. From there it was off to rehearsals at the Mongo Farm, a beautiful farmhouse just outside of Asbury Park owned by members of the band Waiting on Mongo.
The rehearsal room in the house was a dream for a musician. A beautiful room with drum sets, monitors, microphones, amps, and instruments everywhere. I had a ton of fun over the next few hours as Surfliner rehearsed and worked through their song. I explored around the room, finding all the angles and vantage points to take photos from. I tried to capture the optimism and hard work that was flowing around the room between the four musicians.
These kinds of situations are my dream as a photographer. A beautiful room with incredible people and it’s almost as though I’m getting a private concert the entire time. Music and photography mixed together makes me extremely happy. The band’s creative flow only further increased my creativity as well, leading me to come away with hundreds of photos from just that night alone.
The next day we woke up to hop in the car and headed back into Asbury to the Transparent Gallery. The day before, Tina Kerekes, the gallery manager told us Danny would be stopping by the gallery the next day. We headed in and said hello to Danny and jumped into a conversation. Towards the end as we were about to leave, Danny pulled out his camera and had the band sit down for a number of photos in his gallery. It was surreal to watch one of my biggest inspirations work right in front of me, seeing how he shot photos of a band I’ve been shooting for years. He worked fast with his Leica and after just a few minutes, he had shot dozens of different photos in different angles,poses, and setups.
We headed back to the Mongo Farm after a customary stop at Wawa's to finish rehearsals before the show that night. The afternoon sun streamed through an arched window, casting harsh light and dark shadows on all the band members. This created an interesting environment and I found myself navigating around the light. At times like this, I'll often set up a frame I want to shoot and wait for members to sway into the light as they play. Silhouettes are some of my favorite photos to shoot in these situations as well.
In situations like this, you have to adjust your shooting style to work with the light and not against it. Playing into the contrast and the environment is key. After the afternoon rehearsal session, I found myself with another couple hundred photos. I was already getting the feeling that sorting through all the photos in editing was going to be a huge task.
The bounty of photo opportunities continued as we headed to the gig, both in the green room and on stage.
I’ve been watching and taking photos of Surfliner play before they were named Surfliner. I’ve seen a countless number of their shows. This was by far the best show they have ever played. There was an endless flow of happiness and energy from the stage. They ran through every single one of their songs flawlessly. The challenged themselves with songs such as 'Gamma Knife' by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and 'Blame it on the Boogie' by Michael Jackson.
John and Harry proved themselves to be the tightest rhythm section I've ever seen play. They integrated flawlessly with Surfliner's playing style and rhythm. Harry's drum fills and stylistic playing alongside John's dynamic and groovy bass lines and solos created an open canvas for Sam and Tyler to overlay the melodies and vocals.
As I went around the room shooting photos I chatted with a few audience members. Many of them remarked how Surfliner looked like they were having an incredible amount of fun on stage and loving every second of it.
Of course the high energy and fun led to endless opportunities for photos. I found myself compelled to run around the room shooting from all different angles. I noticed a set of mirrors over to the side of the room. I crouched down and lined up the shot as best as I could to be symmetrical. Due to the angle of the stage, it wasn't perfect but I was happy with a different perspective. It can be pretty easy in the heat of a concert to get monotonous and shoot the same angles over and over again. It’s a lot more fun and rewarding to move around and shoot from all over. I’ve been trying to capture interesting angles more and more while additionally still covering the basic photos that each concert requires.
At the end of the trip, I came away with 2,600 photos captured between two cameras. It was extremely difficult in editing to condense these photos into ones that I would edit. After sorting through all of the photos, I came away with 550 photos to edit.
After editing, I was sitting on roughly 368 photos. Then the real work began. I went through all 368 photos with the entire purpose of sorting based off emotion and story. I took a look at the photo and thought, “does this photo make me feel something, does it tell a story, or is it just simply capturing a scenario and a situation?” Looking at these photos through this lens (no pun intended) helped me to distill these 368 photos into the 100 photos that you see on this blog post. 100 photos that I’m very proud of and I stand behind wholeheartedly as representative of the trip, the band, and my work as a photographer.
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