Shot In The Dark: How The Whole Mess Started

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Mark C. Austin
Kings of Leon at Verizon Wireless Theater, October 2008
Just a couple of days now before Rocks Off - the person and the blog - proudly presents Shot In the Dark: Houston Press Concert Photography, our first-ever exhibit of live pics we've collected in about three and a half years of reviewing shows, curated by the people who shot them.

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Details: The free show starts at 7 p.m. Thursday in Warehouse Live's Studio, with more than 40 printed and matted shots by 12 Rocks Off photographers on display and available for sale. DJ HLOHL, Twitter sensation, is putting together a special Rdio playlist full of as many artists featured in the show as he can squeeze on there. Plus food by Zilla Street Eats and a cash bar featuring $3 "Shot In the Dark" whiskey and cokes, because that's how we roll.

For this preview, Rocks Off asked the participants how and why they got into music photography. It makes us a little proud that so many of them started on our watch, something Rocks Off didn't realize until we read through all their answers yesterday and this morning.

And we've had our ups and downs with the band over the years, but Rocks Off guesses we ought to go ahead and thank Kings of Leon too - without them, apparently, the rest of our photo corps wouldn't be here.

Mark C. Austin: I've always taken cameras to shows as far back as I can remember. I'd do this usually by sneaking disposable cameras into shows by sticking them up my pants leg. Usually a fruitless effort, yet I always tried.

As a kid, I'd always studied Rolling Stone from cover to cover and routinely cut out images that I really liked and put them in my school lockers and bedroom walls. It wasn't until March 12, 2005, that I actually tried taking a decent camera and lens into a show.

I was a huge Kings of Leon fan at the time and I wrote their publicist as an "aspiring photographer" who was interested in shooting their shows in Austin at La Zona Rosa and Houston at Meridian a couple of days later. It took some coaxing, but she gave in and allowed me to photograph both shows, but I had to give her the photos.

I was totally cool with that. I was so nervous to get a decent photo that I took literally thousands at both shows. I sent her the photos a couple of days later and to my surprise, she was very impressed and even asked to me to attend more shows for her.

Upon reflection, these images could be some of the worst photos I've ever taken and yet, shockingly, six years later, Kings of Leon still have those photos on their Web site. I never would've dreamed they would get as popular as they are, and that those photos would still be generating interest. Lucky me. Officially, though, the first band I photographed was their opener that night, The Features, a band I still love to this day.

My adventures with Kings of Leon opened a few doors and I started getting offers from SPIN to photograph shows in Houston and Austin for their daily "It Happened Last Night" online feature. My first show assigned for that was The Strokes at Verizon Wireless in March 2006, almost exactly one year from that first Kings of Leon show.

Which was ironic because I'd found Kings opening for The Strokes in '03 at the same venue. I still barely knew what I was doing and am none too proud of the images, but The Strokes liked them and asked to use some on their site and in some promo materials.

There was a lot of "right place, right time" stuff that happened, but I've been hooked on photographing music ever since.

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Marc Brubaker
George Strait at the Frank Erwin Center, Austin, January 2011
Marc Brubaker: I started shooting concerts on my own, as a way to capture bands I loved. Once upon a Christmas, in 1999, I was given a Rolling Stone subscription. The copy I unwrapped was a "Behind The Scenes" photo issue, and it blew my mind. It made me want to be Mark Seliger. That's probably what planted the seed in my brain about shooting musicians.

I didn't really start taking my camera to shows until 2004, mostly due to lack of anything other than a point and shoot. The first show I actually shot for publication was in college, for The Battalion, but it was simply for a daily feature photo - not for review.

After returning to Houston, I shot a 2007 appearance at Warehouse Live by The Rentals to accompany an article by my friend Lauren Weiner that was published in the University of St. Thomas paper, The Cauldron.

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Craig Hlavaty
Billy Gibbons at Rachael Ray's Feedback Party, SXSW 2011
Craig Hlavaty: The first show I remember shooting for Rocks Off was back in my freelancer days in 2007, and it would have been crowd shots at Austin City Limits that September with my shitty digital camera. I did better, but no less grainy, work for that November's Black Angels show. The pictures looked like the show was - colorful, grim, and shaky.

I regret not having better equipment for the first two shows I ever wrote up for the Houston Press, Kings of Leon at Warehouse Live, and My Chemical Romance at Reliant Arena. KOL looked all cool and menacing that night, and MCR was on the Black Parade tour, so both would have made for killer shots.

You have to remember that I was writing about music for the paper and the blog before we had this whole mechanism that brings you words and pictures hours after a show. We were still using publicity shots for live reviews, which today makes me shudder and sob.

Rocks Off wasn't the worldwide monolith of rock, country, and hip-hop it is today by any means; it was our "Quarrymen" period. I guess right now we are making our Rubber Soul, or at least Magical Mystery Tour.

I didn't think these Beatles comparisons out. Sorry.

Location Info


Warehouse Live

813 St. Emanuel, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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Sue Shirley-Howard
Sue Shirley-Howard

Looking forward to this great show. Also - just bought my first SLR in 20 years (Nikon D7000) - the last one was a Nikon film camera.

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