Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Brooklyn Vegan Photographer Jason House

When setting out to do this blog, speaking to some of the concert photographers 
(past and present) that helped to inspire me along the way was one of the key things I wanted to do. Being a photographer myself I knew it wouldn't be easy. 
The photographers I've met along the way have always been eager to share their images and thoughts on their favorite bands. But when it came to talking about themselves, their style and approach. 
Most would become tight lipped.
In asking Jason House I was a little more confident.
In talking to him at shows he's been both friendly and engaging. His style has a unique perspective and approach that makes the viewer feel as if their part of the story. Jason's work can regularly be seen on Brooklyn Vegan and he recently created a website to showcase more of his work. 
My thanks to Jason for taking the time to so thoroughly share his thoughts. 
James Damion

James: What was it that drew you to photography?

Jason: It started at an early age. I’ve always has a sense of wanting to document things. During the summer after third grade, I took a museum studies course through my school and that really changed my outlook on things. I’d like to say I actually started shooting that early, but the interest always outweighed the means. We couldn’t really afford a camera, film and processing, so I got in the habit of framing things up in my my head and thinking, 
“If I had a camera, it would look like this”. I’ve done that ever since.

James: What was it that made you want to start photographing bands and live events?
Were there any photographers that particularly influenced you? If so, why?

Jason: I cite my lack of camera as the biggest motivator. I was always drawn to live shots in album layouts and I wanted to get the in your face shots like I was seeing in fanzines. 
When I did get the chance to start taking a camera to shows, that‘s the sort of thing 
had in mind. One of my earliest influences was John McKaig, the hardcore promoter and photographer from Syracuse. I always appreciated his work ethic and took amazing action pictures. More recently I’ve been putting names and faces with images and researching music photographers like Jenny Lens, Dick Waterman, Jim Marshall, Charles Peterson, 
and Edward Colver as well as studying photo history.
I think composition and style is just as important as subject. Lately I’ve been taking a more stripped down approached experimenting with framing and contrast.

James:Were you always a digital guy or did you get your start shooting film?

Jason: Digital changed everything for me. The few early attempts at film were usually disastrous. I have a huge respect for film and especially people who use it to shoot shows, but it just wasn’t practical for me.

James: What else do you love to shoot and why?

Jason: I live rural and urban landscapes, particularly historic architecture. I always had this thought that people and cars unnecessarily dated photos, so I shoot around them.
I’m not really a fan of modern architecture either. I’ve never really explored the area of studio photography, but I don’t have anything particularly against it. I do find it funny that my music photography is essentially nothing but people and the rest of my photos rarely have people at all. I think I just prefer capturing candid moments.

James: Why do you think that is? Are you a very social person in general?

Jason: I wouldn't say I'm totally anti-social, but I was always the quiet kid and youngest of three so I learned to go do things off on my own. I would read, listen to music, or draw.
Punk made me a lot more sociable.

There's a little bit of a funny story that goes with not wanting to have people in the shot as far as New York City shots go. For one thing, I hate tacky signage and lousy remodeling. 
New York is beautiful from the second story up. Also, I wanted to set a certain tone for the city pictures versus, say rural landscapes. I grew up in Upstate N.Y. where everyone had this impression that New York City was this lonely desolate and violent place where people go to have their dreams dashed. I remember even teachers telling their students this. 
It probably came from books and movies, but I really thought it was like that growing up. 
A lot of people still think it's like that. I decided I'd shoot with that in mind.

James: Do you have a preference between Black and White and Color?

Jason: It really depends on the subject.
Black and White is definitely classic, but color sometimes really makes a picture. I feel it out case by case.
Each one sets a certain tone.

James: What are you currently working with? Body and Lens, What made you choose that gear and why it works for you.

Jason: I use a completely stock Nikon D3000 with the Nikkor 18-55 lens and the cheapest external flash I could find. 
I figured that would be the first piece of equipment to go, so I didn’t want to make a big investment. 
It’s not a particularly fast setup, but I like to keep it simple and portable. I was getting overwhelmed with the whole buying process, but thenI ended up getting a great deal on this camera from someone I knew. 
That made it so much easier. Now that I’m starting to really get to know the equipment, 
I’ll be able to make a much more conscious decision about what type of equipment I might need.

James: How did you hook up with Brooklyn Vegan? What's that experience been like for you?

Jason: It was actually through a videographer who I kept seeing at shows. I contacted him after we both attended the same 2 shows in the same day. I noticed him in a photo in a view of the second show and recognized him from the first. He remembered me and told me that the metal editor from Brooklyn Vegan had seen my photos and had been asking around about them. That was actually the Powerpoint/InflatableChildren/Go!/Bad Trip show that I went to on a with him. Pretty much every major project I have going on right now is from a connection I made through that show.

James: That was a memorable and very personal show for me. That was about a year before we met. I would have loved to have seen and compared images from that day.

Jason: The funny thing is I never got around to sending them pictures from that show.
Initially I was going to shoot the Afro Punk festival, which was exactly a year ago.
I took on a little too much since it was a 2 day outdoor festival. Someone from the site had sent me a full set of guidelines, but I dropped the idea of shooting for them for a while
and I deleted it. A few months later, I decided I'd try again and shoot the Dead Kennedys at Irving Plaza. The band played well, but it was my first time in front of the gate and there was only one opener. (they were terrible) I dropped the idea again until I decided it was something I really needed to do and we set up the Agnostic Front show@ Santos…
Which was the second time we met.
The most interesting thing about covering events for them is that there isn’t any real limitations as far as the layout goes. One of the big things they push is getting the whole ambiance of the event. I keep pushing myself to get more descriptive shots and put
together more narrative sets. The editing process can be very tedious, but I really enjoy it.
It gives me a chance to study break down each image and figure out what I could do better.
That’s very helpful when you’re teaching yourself.

James: That's one of the things that stands out about your work. You have a unique approach I haven't seen in other photographers work.
What do you think sets you apart? Do you have a game plan when getting ready to shoot?

Jason: One of the reasons whyI was so drawn to punk shows was the lack of barriers between the bands and the participants. I try and blur that line and make it so the viewer not only knows what it looked like to be there, but also what it felt like to be there. You’re watching the show from my point of view.

I don’t really limit myself to just punk, but that‘s the main jump off point. I’ve shot everything from metal to bluegrass since that’s the range of my own musical interest. 
I go by what I enjoy and what I think will be visually interesting and what I think people will connect with. 
I think that shows up in the finished product.

The New York music scene is flooded with both local and traveling bands. 
I do a little bit of research while I’m deciding what to shoot. I watch live videos and try and find pictures from previous performances. Not in a clinical way, but it helps me know what to watch for and decide where I should be when the action starts. It’s also a great way to checkout new bands.

James: Front center, side or on stage?

Jason: It depends on the crowd. I pick a “dig in” spot where I think I can catch the most action just in case I get stuck in one place. If it’s feasible, I try and switch sides mid-set so I can get shots of all the band members. If the stage is accessible and I think the potential shots are worth it, I’ll go for it. The most important thing is not being in anyone’s way. Shows on the floor pose a whole different set of challenges.

James: Why is that?

Jason: Your at face level with everyone. You don't want to blind them with your Flash.
There's equipment and people to watch out for. Especially when you're trying to shoot
down low.

James: Are there any shows or bands you've shot that stick out?

Jason: That would be a very long list, but the best shows are the ones where both the band and audience are enjoying themselves. Coalesce, Wovenhand, Tim Barry, GBH, Langhorne Slim, TheLegendary Shack Shakers, World/Inferno Friendship Society, and Murder By Death
all stand out. EYEHATEGOD is one of the most surprising live bands out there.The first time I saw them, they played nearly 3 hours. You would figure they act like they were full of hatred, but they were all up there smiling and cheering on the crowd. Those guys love what they’re doing. 
The Nick Poot Benefit Show featuring Nomos,Perdition, Parasytic, and Brain Killer was probably the most emotional show and intense shows I’ve shot. One of my favorite recent shoots was Tombs. They‘re a great live band both musically and visually.

James: As photographers we've all had to deal with both the bouncers and the people in the pit. 
Have you had any serious damage done to yourself or your gear?

Jason: Thankfully nothing more than a few bumps and scrapes and a lot of wear and tear on the camera. I cracked my collarbone and sprained my foot a few years back. They were just random accidents, but it makes me a little more cautious- especially when I’m shooting 
in the pit. Having a camera in my hand makes me much more aware of everyone around me. Just a broken flash so far on this camera, but that’s to be expected.

James: What was the hairiest show you've photographed? Why?

Jason: There’s a lot of great shows in this city, but things just aren’t as violent and chaotic 
as they used to be. That’s definitely not a bad thing. It’s nice not to have to deal with so
many fights, neo-nazi skinheads, and extra aggressive dancing. I did recently see
The Dillinger Escape Plan at Music Hall of Williamsburg. That show definitely 
had it’s moments. I secretly wished they still lit things on fire though.

James: Have you exhibited your images anywhere (gallery or show) If so, where? 
If not, any plans in the near future?

Jason: A gallery show would be something I would definitely consider.
I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot lately. I did a few shows early on, but it’s been quite a while. I’d like to see a show of D.I.Y. artist and photographers. It would be interesting to see what everyone is doing.

James: In the past there might be one or two photographers at a show. 
These days you can run into half a dozen people shooting for different outlets and sites. You've also got everyone there taking pictures and video with the 4G's and Blackberry's. How do you compete, interact?

Jason: Other photographers can be pretty intimidating, especially when you‘re first starting out. As I started progressing,
my confidence level started going up. 
I think it actually pushed me to try different things. I’m usually so focused on what I’m doing, soI don’t really worry about it.
I just shoot around camera phones.
I don’t even like to encourage them. 
I’m all about people trying to document their memories as long as they’re not 
rude about it. That’s usually not the case.

James: Any advice for the shooters that are coming up? How to approach, act and share the space?

Jason: Don't get overwhelmed, be prepared, be aware, and have fun. Shoot what you like, but don't be scared to go a little out of your element. Most importantly, be polite.
Nothing makes photographers look worse than slamming through a crowd to get to the stage, standing in front of someone while they’re trying to watch the band, or stage diving feet first into the crowd with your camera while picking fights with other photographers.
Yes. I’ve actually seen that happen.

James: Good advice. Words to live by.

JasonHouse Photography Site

Brooklyn Vegan


  1. Just in case anyone is wondering, the photos are: Dropdead@ Club Europa, Brooklyn, skycamefalling@ The Studio at Webster Hall, Tombs@ Saint Vitus, Brooklyn, and Zounds@ ABC No Rio. Thanks again James!

  2. excellent work as always man. I'm glad to see you get the recognition you deserve. Keep it up, never slow down.