Three Songs, No Flash: Mark C. Austin's Life In The Pit

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All photos by Mark C. Austin
Gwen Stefani of No Doubt in The Woodlands, May 2009
This evening, local rock photographer Mark C. Austin unveils his first exhibit of his work since he began shooting bands almost five years ago. Austin's work has appeared in print and online for the Houston Press and Rocks Off, Village Voice, Paste, SPIN, People and the Houston Chronicle.

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Poster by Jason McElweenie
The opening reception for "Three Songs, No Flash: A Photo Exhibit By Mark C. Austin" begins at 7 p.m. in the Green Room at Warehouse Live. The title will sound familiar to anyone who has ever shot bands professionally - photogs at major concerts are given only the first three songs of a show to get their snaps off while in the photo pit, and using flash is verboten.

Along the way, Austin has amassed a treasure trove of concert pics from some of the biggest national names, while also capturing live moments of locals like Robert Ellis, B L A C K I E, and the Tontons, most prominently.

We have had the pleasure of being in the trenches with the redheaded photog at SXSW, ACL and many of the biggest shows to hit Houston in the past three years. During our own days shooting bands, he was a big help in learning technique; for instance, shooting artists away from the mike, looking for the best times for action shots and using perpendicular angles.

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Kings of Leon at ACL Fest 2009
Rocks Off also bunked with Austin in Austin during our first SXSW excursion for the Press in 2008. When he wasn't snoring like a beast or editing pictures, he was telling us about this singer-songwriter named Bon Iver that was currently blowing his mind. Over the next year Justin Vernon's project would become ubiquitous.

Rocks Off: How did you get into photography?

Mark C. Austin: Well, I've kinda always snuck cameras into concerts, I just got sick of taking really crappy photos and then having to pay to develop them to find that out. Truth of the matter is that an employer of mine had given me a small bonus that I had to use to buy myself something, so I broke down and bought a Canon Rebel with it.

While it was in the mail being sent to me, I was already busy emailing Kings of Leon's publicist asking for a photo pass to their gig at La Zona Rosa in Austin. I already had tickets to the show, I just wanted to bring my camera along.

Well, they denied me. So, I wrote again, this time admitting that I didn't even have possession of a camera yet, but given the opportunity, I would happily share all images with them if she let me shoot Austin and Houston. This was March of 2005, I believe, and Kings of Leon had already made their mark in the UK and were working feverishly to bring that success stateside and I knew this.

She acknowledged that they could use some photos and gave me passes to both shows, but only if I would send the pictures to her within two days. I agreed. I shot both shows, sent her the photos and she almost instantly replied, stating she loved the photos and [asking] was I going to any more shows on the tour.

Next thing I know, I'm traipsing across the country snapping photos for Kings of Leon. It was almost instant gratification, and I was totally hooked. To my benefit, Kings of Leon became pretty popular on that tour and many publications were interested in my photos. Those photos are still on Kings of Leon's site. Please don't go look for them. They are horrible and I may or may not have had a lot of whiskey to drink before taking them.

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