Monday, September 5, 2011

Travels With My Camera: One Roll Of Film

Travels With My Camera: One Roll Of Film

Despite having switched over to the digital medium in the past year, I am still a great believer in what one roll of film can capture. There’s something of a sense of great possibilities when you’ve loaded that fresh roll into your camera. You feel a sense of purpose, and an almost gleeful feeling of charging at a blank canvas with your mind wide open. Granted, there are many rolls of film that I’ve wasted on things that weren’t so great. Business meetings, travel snaps, or just general goofing off on my part. But every once in a while, a roll of film captures things beyond your expectations, and catches things forever on both a professional level, and a personal one. 

It’s September of 1999. I get a call from the publicist for the local amphitheater. Ted Nugent is headlining a show of aging ‘70s rockers, and no one from the local media is covering it. “Can you come out? I’ve already gotten you a press pass.” Sure, I say. I’ve never been a big fan of Nugent’s, but I’ve never photographed him, and the publicist has already gone through the trouble of getting me onboard. So I headed to the amphitheater straight from another gig that evening.

I must tell you that I’m not one to air my grievances with certain musicians in public. There’s enough of that already out there among others in the music business, and I’ve never needed to follow that precedent. Plus, if all you end up doing is throwing out your worst opinions on people that you’ve worked with, it will all eventually come back to you. That being said, I’ve never had a good experience with Ted Nugent’s handlers, which I think says something about the boss. His people once ticked me off so badly that I announced loudly that the Amboy Dukes were the best thing that Nugent had ever done. Within earshot of Ted. I also later swiped his pen to send to a friend, but that’s for another story.

So I get down to the ampitheater, and start shooting. Halfway through one roll of film, Ted’s handler grabs me and says, “You’re not wearing the right colored pass,” and starts to push me out. “Wrong colored pass,” I say, “There IS no wrong colored pass! I’m the only one here.” The minder isn’t listening (deafness when “necessary” is an attribute of many handlers), I walk away, half angry at the handler, and half laughing at the absurdity of it all. Kicked out of a Ted Nugent concert! Back when that would’ve meant something, I think to myself, I was six years old, and taking naps in kindergarten. The venue publicist is furious. “No one else gave a crap about the show,” she says to me. “You show up, and they wrongly kick you out!” I later heard that the handler was let go by Ted’s compound because of my incident, among other mishaps. 

So there I am, now looking for photograph something, and it’s not even 9pm. Earlier in the week, I had been at the local public TV station, working on a show with my friend Stuart Grasberg. Stuart was a music fan like myself, and happened to mention to me that his band was playing in a bar in Rock Hill, SC the same night as the Nugent show. Happy to surprise Stuart, and to “spiritually cleanse” the rest of the roll, I drive to Rock Hill, and have a good time listening to Stuart play rock n’ roll that had been lacking earlier in the evening.

The next week, I printed the roll at Eckerd’s, and gave Stuart his half of the prints, and sent the Nugent prints to a photo agency that I had just signed with. Stuart flipped over one photo I’d taken of him onstage, playing guitar underneath a single red light. He promptly tacked it to the poster board in his office.

Three years later, I’m driving somewhere to a gig, and my cellphone rings. It’s my contact at the photo agency. He excitedly tells me that he’s just sold one of my Ted Nugent pics for the cover of a best-of compilation. I nearly ran off the road from laughing so hard. Eckerd’s did do a good job on the printing! Sadly, I have never seen the CD (the agency received three copies, none of which they’d give me), but the resulting check more than covered the original cost of printing.

In 2006, I ran into Stuart Grasberg while photographing a Charlotte Knights game, and took photos of him with his son. I waved when I was done, and went back to shooting the game. Less than a week later, Stuart was stung by several yellow jackets in his yard, and died from the infection. The photos I’d printed for him from the game became his memorial photos. Soon after, the TV station started a foundation for him. I happened to be watching TV the night the foundation’s logo and photo was debuted. It was my photo of him from 1999, playing guitar in Rock Hill. The station had found the photo after Stuart’s death, still displayed in his office, and had chosen it as his memorial photo.

One cannot be aware of all the possibilities of your work when you begin something, nor should you. The ifs, ands and buts of possibilities can push you into paralysis, if you’re not careful. The hope for many of us in the business of expression is that our work transcends the circumstances of its creation, and becomes something more than even we were aware of at the time. I have not always been prepared for that aspect, but it still is a part of my work. 

That being said, I am still humbled by where some of my photos have ended up, out of their sometimes silly origins. While I would have traded that roll to still have Stuart here, I am proud that I didn’t just waste the rest of that roll, and in turn captured something that I’ll always treasure. We can never know where our actions will lead us over time, but I still believe in the possibilities of a fresh roll of film, an open mind (and heart), and what can come out of the next blank canvas. 
-Daniel Coston
January 5, 2011

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