On a day in April of 1983, Margie Adam had hired me to photograph her sold out concert at Town Hall in New York City. I stood in line waiting to retrieve my comp ticket(s) so that I could run in and get prepped to shoot. I recognized the woman in front of me was Kate Millet. She did not turn around and even if she had, she would not have known who I was. She approached the box office and became very disappointed that an error had occurred. There was no comp ticket waiting for her. It was clearly visible that she did not want to miss the show, and in those days a ticket for a Margie Adam concert at Town Hall was expensive for an artist living on the Bowery. I leaned in and said, “Excuse me, there has been a mistake. Kate is with me. You will find the 2 tickets under Irene Young. She looked at me, I winked at her, handing her the ticket. Then, I rushed in to get the lay of the land before shooting.
She happened to sit next to my friends in The Deadly Nightshade. I was told she pointed toward me and asked Anne Bowen, “Who is that woman?” Anne informed her that I was Irene Young, the photographer and that she should come to a party the next night at my place on Bleecker Street.
Kate did indeed surprise me by showing up with a piece of art which reads, “For Irene Young who made me rich and filled the icebox on April 1983 Margie’s concert night.” And it had her wonderful signature, Kate Millet, The Bowery 1978.
You can see how absolutely appropriate it is at this moment in my life, just having gone through breast cancer for the 2nd time. I thank my dear friend, playwright John Jesurun, for being a guardian of the piece in NYC and for recently sending it to me just before my surgery.
I was just about to try and contact Kate to tell her how much the drawing means to me, and today I read that Kate Millet, influential feminist writer, had died in Paris this morning.
On your beautiful way, Kate. FLYING on to the next dream. Thank you for all that you created for us.
In times like these, music is our saving grace. We gather to be in community, to be uplifted, or to feel our common humanity. The Freight & Salvage is such a place where we can be deeply moved by our favorite musicians, as well as share a smile across the room with acquaintances we have been warmly acknowledging for decades. The energy summoned there through music helps us to see and feel the positive power of community. Many might say, The Freight serves as a “beacon of light” during these disheartening, uncertain times. So, I am writing this as an appeal to materialize this metaphorical light into a physical reality.
I have spent my lifetime looking at “light” on people’s faces. I literally watch how every muscle, every line, every shadow, every bump, and every shape is influenced by the quality or lack of quality of the light. I watch how the light makes contact and what the quality of that light might be saying about the person. I am sure you have taken photographs outside at high noon, and afterward, everyone moans because they have dark shadows under their eyes exaggerating what otherwise might be a simple, beautiful age line. All the light at The Freight comes from above! There are no “fill lights” or “footlights,” and the “backlights” are too weak to adequately delineate dark hair from the deep-toned background.
The Freight & Salvage is currently fundraising to vastly improve their lighting equipment. In 2009, when they moved into the new building located in the Berkeley Arts District, they were gifted with a state of the art sound system from Meyer Sound. The old lights, however, were moved from their previous venue and don’t match the quality of sound or the ambiance of the new hall.
Being a house photographer at The Freight & Salvage, I can tell you a lot about the light. I can tell you that pianists get the raw end of the deal. I can tell you that if the “center stage” performer stands too far forward their eye sockets go black. I can tell you that the light on the person standing in between the pianist and the main performer is often too hot in relation to others on the stage. I can tell you that supporting performer “stage left” goes nearly dark unless the entire stage is blanketed with even light.
So, why am I telling you all this? I am hoping you will consider donating to the current Light Up The Freight campaign. We need to raise money for a state of the art lighting equipment and considering what it would do for our beloved performers– if we each pitched in what our individual finances might allow– we could easily accomplish the goal.
Here is a simple truth. Most performers are fine with how they look, but no one wants to look worse. I am sure we all can relate. I am able to photograph at the Freight because I have 40 years experience watching for the details, and caring that when I click the shutter the musician has turned into the best light currently available.
I do what I do at The Freight for you– the community audience. I love how you love to re-live a show or feel like you were there even though you were miles away. I love how you write comments like, “Oh, I remember that moment! I knew you would catch that!” The work I do at The Freight is an “In Kind” donation. Might you consider matching my time, talent, and heart with whatever monetary funds your finances allow? I will personally send you a signed photograph of your favorite Freight musician whom I have photographed during a performance.
I wish everyone in the world could have been at the Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely concert at the Freight and Salvage on May 6, 2017. The power, the wisdom, the love, the creative energy is hard to express in words. I guess that is why I am a photographer. But honestly, that is not so easy either. Every live concert shoot has a deliberate approach. Some more challenging than others.
This concert had a very intricate strategy, and I often felt like I needed 3 cameras rather than 2 hanging over me. With 2 cameras and 6 lenses, I never quite felt like I had the right lens attached to the cameras. Not wanting to miss a beat of this performance, I hesitated to change a lens. Could I adequately depict the masterful energy that went into performing this show? Would I be where I needed to be to show the love, the conscious political heart? I could not sit close to the stage because I would miss the power of so many women on stage (9-10). So, how could I gently get to the stage to show their beautiful faces? Would a long lens be fast enough in low light and stop the action to yield sharp images.
I usually plan my strategy before the show so I can think about it as little as possible during the show. You see, I don’t really like to take pictures. I work hard to be able to receive them. I pay extreme attention to the energy in the room and then, I open to it. Sometimes I even feel like a musician moving with the rhythm of the evening. I am nowhere else when the camera is in my hands. I watch every muscle, every blink, every highlighted expression, every opening, and yes, even every microphone stand, water bottle, and glaring white towel. I anticipate the energy as best I can, and this one kept me on my toes.
At one point the audience jumped to their feet for a long ovation. That was my cue. I wiggled my way to the very front and felt the glory of Big Lovely an arm’s length away. This group had an exquisite way of giving each other energy, support and attention. So, in a blink of an eye, Toshi was on the other end of the stage giving energy to Juliette. I looked up the aisle and knew there was no way I could go around the back of the hall. So, I ran behind the stage arriving just in time to edge my lens between performers and wait only seconds before Toshi was singing in 4th gear. Then, I ran back to stage left just in time to open my lens to Marcelle reaching for the mic, looking upward like she was happy to see her ancestors were enjoying the show.
So, you see, the phrase “taking a picture” doesn’t come close to describing what I do as “house photographer” at the wonderful Freight & Salvage. I stay as open as I can and receive the energy, and in this case that energy was a very high form of power, wisdom, love, and creativity.
After the concert, I stood alone shaking my head in disbelief of the brilliant performance we all had just been gifted. On the way home I wondered if the images would live up to Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely’s virtuosity of spirit. All in all, I am happy with the photos, but the bar was set pretty darn high. I hope you see them with their true intention…to pass on to you Big Lovely’s “Big Love and enormous talent.”
I will be writing more about “live performance photography” in future posts. See more live shots on my Live Performance page.
As a portrait photographer, the deliberate use of energy can make or break a photo shoot. The care and handling of energy will determine the mood of your client and how they will be perceived by their audience. We can have all the expert technique in the world, but if the energy isn’t right, we may be clicking the shutter, and missing a masterpiece.
If anything proves the power of energy, it is our 2016 presidential election. Make no mistake, the GOP nominee knew exactly how to shape energy for his benefit. He knew the power of chanting could turn twisted falsehoods into believable sound-bites. He knew that repetition was mesmerizing. And he knew that theatrics would leave a lasting impression more than straight talk of hard work, loving kindness, and fairness to all. The GOP candidate was exceptionally well-versed in the art of negative manipulation and mind-control. Heads up. There is more to come. The ability to inspire positively is not his forte. When asked by 60 Minute’s Lesley Stahl to speak to the hate crimes unleashed by this election, he showed his impotence by looking into the camera and mustering up only two words. “Stop it.”
As much of our country weeps, and citizens of the world either shake their heads or shake in their boots, the need to consciously shape-shift our emotional response to the magnitude of this election is essential. The negative punch in the gut, the back tracking of our civil rights and liberties, the fear of intensified terrorism as a result of cabinet choices of the president-elect, and his continued personal economic involvement around the world, could keep us in a state of fear and depression. This election has rightfully stirred up our anger, kept us from sleeping soundly, and potentially put a long-term hold on feeling and expressing joy. Even reading this paragraph has the potential to shift the reader’s energy. So, what can we do about it?
Post Election Radical Self-Care
To face this dragon, and endure this heartbreak, I found it essential to dive into a radical self-care mode where I can train to become my most potent self. We must consider our lives now as bootcamp for bettering our bodies and our emotions. We are not all young and tough, but we are strong-minded. We must care for ourselves so we have more to give our friends and our communities. The stronger we are individually, the stronger we will be together.
Deliberately and Carefully Make Choices
I finally began to deliberately and carefully choosehow much I read and watch on television. This is different for each of us, so finding the right personal balance is key. Fatalistic information is distressing, and stress can make us sick and weak. We need to be whatever level warrior we can be, and I will do this by remembering all the positive emotions that construct my personal political views. There are very powerful reasons we believe in equality, civil rights, and open-heartedness. Amplifying the positives, filling the sound waves with our loving convictions, drowning out the false and fear-based rants and chants of those who oppose fairness can be clear tactics toward mid-term victory in two years. Are we angry? Of course! We are legitimately livid! The hijacking of our liberties is close at hand. And each of us can create our own personal strategy for channeling our anger. If we are unable to physically go to a protest demonstration, we can inform and educate and speak about positive events at least more than we name the negative actions of our rivals.
Rethinking the Strategy of Name-Calling
I know it can be a tempting, knee-jerk reaction, but perhaps we might re-evaluate the strategy behind calling someone a stupid ass-hole. Being a portrait photographer, I guess I have been self-schooled to ask where my words might lead. If I don’t foresee a desired result, I rethink my strategy. My college years were spent as editor-in-chief of the West Georgia University newspaper where a young Newt Gingrich was professor and the advisor to the student government. As memorable as it was to be a local adversary of his in the early 70‘s, more memorable was a professor named Dr. David Higgins, the unconventional chair of the philosophy department. He didn’t teach about the Socratic Method, he used the Socratic Method, which employs the method of constant questioning, in lieu of lecturing. He energetically trapped us in a space where we were forced to think. We would ponder and argue until we eventually came to conclusions and insights that he already knew well. He persisted, not necessarily patiently, and he was very hard on us. He believed in the possibility of personal insight.
So, I caution myself about the arrogance of believing in incurable ignorance. If George Wallace can have an epiphany, maybe someone else can, too. The actions of a young Wallace were inhumane and despicable, but I would rather have him apologize and whisper, “I love you” to black Alabamians than continue a life-long sermon on the evils of integration. Incidentally, Wallace’s daughter is a Democrat who gave early support to Obama in 2008.
Personally, I do not want to deem forever all opposition voters as enemies and haters. I want to be open to at least the potential of some kind of transformation or meeting of minds. We know that the president-elect is not the answer. Some of his supporters –the ones who are not “haters” will need a place to migrate. Am I angry that people voted for a fictional president? I am outraged that they believeda bunch of malarky –to quote our current vice president.
Why Did Moriarty Win?
We can ponder why all the negative aspects of GOP candidate didn’t hurt his campaign, but clearly, he prepared his supporters early on to follow him no matter what may come. He could “stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and they would still vote for him.” He used the power of positive thought for negative personal gain. Even when all the polls said he would lose, like a Grammy-winning broken record, he repeatedly called himself a winner. Our mantra was “we are not taking anything for granted.” He fell through a crack in our system. Clinton won the popular vote by a good margin, yet he will be the leader of the free world, unlesssome sort of miracle happens.
The Power of Image
I am a just a photographer, not a political analyst. I am just an observer of energy, not a columnist, a scholar, or strategist. I will leave real analysis to the brilliant minds of others. I just feel that if all we watch and speak about is the direness of this election, we could be in trouble. We have become a culture who values image over content. So, we must be cautious what kind of imagery we perpetuate. If images of hatred dominate our newsfeeds and airwaves, we will live the newsfeed we read about everyday. Of course, I do believe we must call hatred out, but I also believe we should not let it take over the very lives we are trying to save and make better.
The good news is the thousands of peaceful participants in loving protest around the country give us much hope. And what beautiful images they make! Let’s take good care of ourselves so that we can, to the best of our individual ability, come together as a constant reminder of our insistence on equality and justice for all.
The day before the election, I had the pleasure of photographing Joie Seldon, an Emotional Intelligence Consultant, for an upcoming book cover. (Book Cover Design: Carol Ehrlich/Irene Young). Joie and I both had our birthdays on election day. During the shoot we spoke of the importance of being emotionally lucid and balanced. Unknowingly, it was the perfect session to prepare me for what was to come the next day.
A few days after the election, in spite of deep depression all around, out of town clients and I had no other choice than do a CD cover photo shoot. Like Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart with guitars,Emma’s Revolution is the duo of award-winning activist musicians, Pat Humphries & Sandy O. I thought to myself, “how am I going to capture anything but the emotional distress of this damaging historical event.”
I decided to take the pressure off everyone by dividing the shoot into two days and creating a cozy, yet honest atmosphere. We did not avoid the topic of our sorrow, and neither did we not restrict ourselves to it. We somehow found our way to extreme laughter at the same time we all felt mutual deep grief. It is possible, and advantageous, to feel more than one emotion.
Like many of you, I often wake in the middle of the night just long enough to feel the reality of our country’s situation. Most of the time, I am able to slip back into the refuge of sleep. If I cannot find my way back to that peace, I listen to Bay Area hypno-therapist, Patricia Sorbye Reynolds (watervox.net). Patricia’s wise direction and healing energy works for me every time.
Now, more than ever, we each can call on what heals us and keeps us strong. Sing, dance, rap, write, hike, bike, paint, gather, cook, bake, garden, meditate, converse, share, support, listen, donate, protest, campaign. I always remember Grammy winning producer, Narada Michael Walden prepping musicians in the recording studio just before their take by telling them, “Do your thing, do your thing.”
So, let’s get strong, stay vigilant, keep loving. Mid-term elections will be here in two years. Liberty and equality will be running mates, and let’s make no mistake, they will be the winners.
P.S. If you live in the SF Bay Area, and you need to replenish yourself with community, please see Jennifer Berezan’s event, A Song for All Beings. Join 100 Performers and 2,000 Friends in a Ceremonial Concert on February 26, 2017. Jennifer added this second show because the first show sold out, so get you ticket soon.
(From the song, The Turning of the Wheel)
There ain’t no certain fortune, but it’s not a wheel of chance
What can damn you in a moment can bless you in a second glance
In the sureness of the turning lies the hope that you can heal
Cause you cannot stop the turning of the wheel –Jennifer Berezan
(From the song, The Garden of Mysteries)
I’ve been talking with my Angel
till it leaves my side at dawn
and it tells me what is sacrificed
is never really gone
in the garden of mysteries
I will walk in the morn
In the garden
where all new things are born. –Mark Simos
About Irene Young With over 600 CD covers to her credit, Irene Young’s photographs have appeared in worldwide publications such as Oprah Magazine, Us Magazine, The New York Times, The SF Chronicle, The Washington Post, People Magazine, Guitar Player, The Utne Reader, and numerous others. She studied photography at The School of Visual Arts in NYC, and energy at The Academy of Intuition Medicine in Northern California.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to post it on Facebook, does it make a sound?
Over a span of four decades I have had a career as a photographer. I have seldom advertised and rarely have I tried to get work. I never made a killing, but I made a living. My photographs have served people well enough to gain me a very good reputation. The word spread that I could deliver and, at some point, it has all amounted to over 600 CD covers, and many more promotional photographs for musicians, authors, actors, and others in the public eye. Showing my clients their beauty has brought me great joy. When I get responses like… “OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!”…it’s not about me. It’s about our coming together with what each of us can bring to the creative act. I have had a lot of practice guiding people energetically to that safe, open, inspired space, and I know it is an acquired skill which I treasure with great gratitude. However, instead of going to my head, it has gone to my heart. I love inspiring people to be happy with themselves. Anyone can do it, and if I can help, it’s a gift for both of us. Continue reading
As a portrait photographer, I am fascinated with beauty. Who do we consider beautiful? Why do we consider them beautiful? Does beauty come from our body or our soul? Where and why are judgements born? Can we discard our judgements and expand our concepts of beauty to be defined as internal elegance, emotional grace, and a full presence. When it comes to changing our physical bodies, we come face to face with limitations. Yet, if we set out to exude beauty through our very being, the sky’s the limit. Continue reading
The essential tools required to master the art of portrait photography include a myriad of special shooting and lighting tricks of the trade. You don’t even need a specialist camera, you can research this iphone photography guide to take the best photos possible with your own iphone. As I said, it’s all about shooting angles and the lighting. Serious photographers search for and soak up any and all information that will make us better at our craft. We’ll even trawl through the most Useful apps for creatives if it means it will even slightly improve our work. The most valuable technique, however, is not illustrated in a book, a YouTube video, or taught in even the best photography schools across the country. The most useful tool I have acquired photographing 600 CD covers and thousands of musician/actor/author promo photos has not been cross processing, Polaroid transfers, infrared technique, or any Photoshop wizardry. The real secret behind a true portrait photographer is the sacred art of seeing. Continue reading