That’s the biggest lesson I learned long ago and again this past weekend. Yes, sometimes you learn a lesson twice for different reasons.
When I was young, my mom always told me that it was better to ask a question, ask permission, ask for anything if that is what the situation called for. Curious about Aunt Bev’s wooden leg? Ask her about it. Want a cookie? Ask for it. Confused about the meaning of life? Ask Mommy and, even though she may not have the answer, she’ll give you time and attention and discuss the matter with you until it starts to make sense or, at the very least, doesn’t gnaw at you any longer.
This last weekend, I got into the habit of approaching musicians, asking them if they would pose for me. Before or after they were on stage, I’d approach and ask if they’d mind following me to the back of the building, where I’d stand them in front of this awesome cement wall. (Cement wall? Awesome? Yes. You’ll see. Patience, grasshopper.) And those whose photo I took in some other fashion, like Malcolm, I at least asked him a few questions afterward (he didn’t know I was shooting at the time).
There were some artists who just seemed to call for “permission first”. Or, as was the case a few times, the situation required it. They weren’t in the right light or the right place, they were fidgety or pacing. For them, I definitely asked first. To not ask would have been akin to stealing that moment from them. I know that doesn’t make much sense to you, but it makes sense to me. And it paid off. Not a single person said no. Later, I did talk with everyone I photographed, even if it was just to say hello, thank them for their performance, and let them know photos would be forthcoming.
Working with two other photographers, I felt like we’d covered the gamut. I know whatever I didn’t get, they got. Or they saw it in a different way. If they didn’t get to talk with the performers, I was able to do so on behalf of all of us.
The first night, at the club, I spent a lot of time securing signatures for our model release forms. It served dual purpose: 1) We’d have the rights to the images for promotional purposes and would also be able to share the images with the owner of the club for a book (I’m working on that angle), and 2) it was an opportunity to meet the performers and get to know them a bit better. The latter was probably my favorite reason. These were often people I’d heard perform on CD or who I’ve seen in videos and there I was, talking with them, getting to know them as people. I love to talk with people, dig a bit deeper, get to know them and get to know a bit more about myself in the process.
One man made me promise to sit down at a piano or keyboard of some sort and start the process of relearning to play, like I did when I was a kid with my grandfather. He said if I did, he’d do something special for me. Regardless of whether or not he does anything for me, it’s obvious that I’ll be doing myself a big favor — I’ll be adding another skill to my list and I’ll be reconnecting with my past. Good all the way around, if you ask me.
Anyway, I’m not sure I have much of a wrap up for this, other than to say I’m glad I’m not afraid to talk to folks and ask them questions, permission, or what have you. There have been times in my life when I was too shy to do this, but I’ve grown a lot over the years and I’ve learned to approach this as 1) a reporter (from interviews in print) and 2) a photographer. Amazingly, I’m rarely turned down and I’m always enriched in the end.