backstage

Behind the Scenes as a House Photographer by Miachelle DePiano

Carrie Fisher surprised her mother, Debbie Reynolds, and here they perform a duet. This may have been the last time they performed together. (C) 2014, Miachelle DePiano.

Carrie Fisher surprised her mother, Debbie Reynolds, and here they perform a duet. This may have been the last time they performed together. (C) 2014, Miachelle DePiano.

NOTE: This post is about my experiences, from my perspective. It is written without the involvement or support of any named or pictured entities.

This year marks my seventh year as the house shooter for the Chandler Center for the Arts (CCA). It’s been an amazing journey as a photographer, and watching this particular venue grow and evolve in the talent it brings to Chandler and the Phoenix metro community. I first got introduced to CCA on a magazine assignment to shoot Lori Morgan and Pam Tillis, and patrons attending the show. I had just shot Dave Koz at the Mesa Art Center on assignment as my first concert, and already had the fever for shooting entertainers. I fell in love with CCA; the intimacy of the venue was fantastic, and I loved the architecture of the facility.

Over time, I shot more performers at CCA on assignment, and, noticing I didn’t see a house shooter, I took the opportunity to offer my services. It was good timing. CCA hadn’t had a house shooter for a while and was in need of one, and so our partnership began.

As I watch CCA celebrate its 30th anniversary and I look ahead to the performances coming this season, I’ve been reflecting on my journey as a photographer, especially in the genre of concert photography. I’ve had some amazing experiences, not just at CCA, but in a number of Phoenix venues, large and small. I’ve photographed legends and locals, and my love for the job is the same no matter who the talent is or where the show is.

Photographing a performing artist is double the sensory experience for me. Not only am I listening to music, I’m deeply and intensely visually focused on the artist, anticipating movement and emotion. My adrenaline is rushing, because most of the time, I have 2-3 songs to get the “money shot,” and I might be dealing with other limitations, such as I can only be back by the sound board. Every second matters. I’m maneuvering around the theatre, trying not to interfere with patrons, and likewise trying not to let tall people (I’m 5’4”), cell phones, clapping hands and raised beer cups interfere with my shots. I’m using both my peripheral vision and looking through my camera, anticipating all around me and in front of me. It’s strategic chaos, all for that one shot that conveys the magic and the power of the performer. My favorite scenario is when we have a performer who is photography friendly, such as Marty Stuart. Trivia tidbit about Marty:  he’s a fabulous photographer in his own right and has traveled for years with a film camera, documenting his career.

Buddy Guy lets a patron play the fret board on his guitar at CCA. (C) 2018, Miachelle DePiano

Buddy Guy lets a patron play the fret board on his guitar at CCA. (C) 2018, Miachelle DePiano

I often hear how lucky I am. I am lucky, and because of the things I see, I don’t take any of my job for granted. I see the talent behind the scenes on occasion, at their most humane moments, when they aren’t being superstars and are mere mortals. Dealing with life’s challenges like the rest of us, they usually sit quietly, gathering their thoughts, or warming up and preparing for the show ahead. They do what they do because they have a calling, and they give completely of themselves when they step onto the stage. Many of us could not live the way they do, shucking aside life for hours, days and weeks, pouring out their energy out into the audience regardless of anything else going on. On stage, it looks glamorous, as it should. Off stage, it’s usually quiet, allowing the talent to recharge their batteries.

The meet and greets are interesting to observe. As the house photographer, I see all side of the activity. I see the preparation of the staff. I see the excitement of the fans. Hard-earned money is spent for those few minutes to be in the company of a performer they admire. Some people get star-struck; some just quietly come through the line and get their photos taken; and some want to be able to chitchat and have a story to tell their friends. Some performers love spending time with their fans and give of themselves freely, and some have been on the road a long time and are ready to pack up and move on, but know they must meet the fans first. My job is to memorialize that elusive moment for the patrons. At times, I feel like I am that last small closure to the show, because what I do is the proof they were there in the company of that star.

I know concert photography isn’t considered the art form it used to be. Technology, social media, shady merchandising, and paparazzi have all contributed to the degradation of what used to be a symbiotic relationship between the music industry and photographers. Having this gig for seven years has been amazing. When I walk through the doors of CCA, I’m excited. I can’t wait to see what magic is going to happen, and I can’t wait to see what “money shot” I will get that night. When I go home, and upload the photos and start culling through them, I’m anxious as I label them red (trash) and green (keep) and five stars (THE ONE). It’s a thrill I can’t convey, and I love doing this job.

Shameless promo here. If you ever become a member of CCA, which I strongly urge you to do, and yes, I am a member, you are entitled to a tour of CCA. Ask to see the Green Room. You’ll see the photo archive on display, most of which is contributed by yours truly.