Sayonara 2020. While I seem to have skipped doing a 2019 photography year in review post, here is my recap of how 2020 went for me photography-wise.
Early months promise a big 2020
Going into 2020, I aspired to diversify the entertainment I photograph. I had hoped to get some more dance and any theater work under my belt. Having caught the stage adaptation of John Carney’s musical drama Sing Street at the NYTW and found myself watching the action as a concert photographer. When I heard it was moving to Broadway, I reached out to the publicists and planned to cover it (nothing was confirmed).
But a couple of weeks before the Broadway adaptation was to open, the COVID lockdown shuttered the production. And basically all concerts for the rest of the year. You know the rest. (Sing Street expects to go ahead at the end of 2021 fortunately.)
One of the highlights of January was when I came on board as the house photographer for globalFest, a five+ hour event where twelve bands performed in one venue. It was an intense evening of running up and down stairs and pushing through crowds to get images of many awesome bands including Les Amazones d’Afrique, Bohemian Betyars and Ak Dan Gwang Chil. I had to turn around the photos early the next morning so I didn’t sleep much but it was worth it. globalFest was likely the first place I used my new (to me) fisheye lens at. Another highlight was the discovery that a local bar near me, Stella & Fly, hosted weekly folk / singer-songwriter music sessions organized by Niall Connolly so I figured I could see live music even more readily during the week.
But I also had to deal with the aftermath of discovering one of my images had been used in major places without my permission. It was stressful and took longer to resolve than it should have (I can’t recall if it was resolved in February or March) but I knew I was right so I had to ensure things were set straight and get compensated.
I saw Bonny Light Horseman perform in the first week of February and their record became one of the standouts of the year for me. I also got to capture the always engaging Tibet House Benefit at Carnegie Hall but this time with a 300mm lens and a 2x extender so I actually got decently framed shots right off the bat.
But I was most thrilled to work with The Town Hall to capture the events for the first ever Lena Horne Prize for Artists Creating Social Impact Celebrating Solange Knowles (the primary reason I borrowed the 300mm lens from Canon CPS.) The series included a few workshops for students, a dinner at Ginny’s Supper Club, Marcus Samuelsson’s music joint under Red Rooster, and the tribute event/ concert itself. Solange did not actually perform herself but there were some great musicians who did like Leon Bridges, Alice Smith and Angélique Kidjo.
March marked just a couple of live shows, one was Fiona Silver’s gig at Paste Studios in Manhattan (which ended up shutting down a month or so later sadly) and Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum at Mercury Lounge on March 12 — the night before everything shut down. I had hoped Michael C. Hall would bring some special guests to the band’s second gig and I would get some newsworthy photos but there were no guests. (The show was pretty fun though!)
Black Lives Matter Protests and Diversifying Work
Between March 13th and June, I basically didn’t shoot any events. I did tweak my website in May to launch my own print store. Like many other photographers were doing during the pandemic lull, I sought to generate some extra income and donate some money to charities by selling photo prints. At the aforementioned Lena Horne Prize dinner, I got a portrait of Leon Bridges that I really liked. That image is the most recent one available, alongside many others, in my shop where I donate at least 50% of net sales to charity.
During that period, I also became a contributor to Shutterstock. I began by sending them some images from my archive but it wasn’t until June that I captured some newsworthy events. With the Black Lives Matters demonstrations in full swing, I found myself at a vigil on the Upper East Side where I got images of Spike Lee and Suraj Patel (more on that here). The Lee images got some good traction appearing in People.com and some broadcast news clips (from what I can tell from my Shutterstock statements). I found myself at the vigil a few more times throughout the summer but it always felt a bit silly given that it was mostly white people (aligning with the racial makeup of the Upper East Side). But the nightly vigil continues, in spite of at least one person actively destroying their displays, so credit has to be given for it’s longevity.
Whenever I made attempts to photograph other BLM protests around Manhattan, I usually wasn’t quite successful as they always seemed to be ahead of me. I tried tracking them via some hashtags but it didn’t really work so I tried to go where I thought they would be. In the end, I was trying to avoid the mass gatherings as well because of the pandemic, so for a variety of reasons, I stopped pursuing marches.
In partial attempts to keep myself active as a photographer, I took some pictures of baked goods I ordered to my home (thanks Supermoon Bakehouse). And I also bought some cheap extension tubes so I could do some macro photography. But I only made about two attempts for each of those though it was fun to view otherwise regular or familiar objects like croissants, flowers or insects in a novel way.
But otherwise summer was pretty quiet in New York City. However, in July up in Connecticut, I was able to catch a free outdoor concert from Adam Ezra Group in Ridgefield (marking my first live gig since March). Connecticut had other events going on including the shows from Manic Presents at a farm further north but it was a bit difficult for me to get there (I made one a few months later). But at least Stand Up NY began running live comedy in various NYC parks on a nightly basis so I did find more local entertainment.
Exploration as some Performances Return
When September rolled around, I figured I would make use of my NYPD press credentials and get down to ground zero on the anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. I think I knew both Joe Biden and Mike Pence would be there and I was hoping to get some snaps of the former, but I only ended up with the latter as security and access was pretty intense and I was just winging it.
I also captured the NY Philharmonic Bandwagon show in Inwood Heights that month for BrooklynVegan. It was pretty much my first time in that area of Manhattan though I had also rode my bike up to the little red lighthouse under the GW Bridge.
When October came around, I finally got myself up to CT to see The Lone Bellow do a farm show and was surprised at how much I had lost touch with live music (coverage on PopMatters). And a few days later, Lincoln Center kicked off a small outdoor concert series. The first act was my friend Sunny Jain’s new project so I planned to go anyways but then I got booked to photograph that gig and a couple of others as well which was even better. While I would normally see four or five shows in a week and a half, I felt lucky to attend that many in one month. And I didn’t feel unsafe at any of those gigs as people were appropriately distanced and other precautions were taken. (The same could not be said of the comedy show with John Mulaney I went to in CT as they didn’t seem to enforce distancing at all and it felt poorly organized — though I stayed distanced.)
I also spent a few hours over a couple of days at a day care in October capturing student and class pictures — a totally new area of photography for me. These portraits were done outdoors and rather speedily due to COVID precautions. And there was very little I could do to give direction to some of the children (their ages ranged from 6 months to 5 years old) though teachers attempted to get them to smile or offered other instruction. So the results were varied across the classes, some children didn’t want to be photographed, some mugged for the camera, some just ran off and others had boogers that I had to later correct in post. It was a good learning exercise and I would consider it again in the future if I had more time to set up and to take the photos. I did attempt to use flashes but I found the natural light ended up working better.
Newsworthy November and End of Year
November was again quiet photowise but election day and the election results prompted several gatherings. On November 7th, I ventured to Washington Square park to capture the people celebrating Biden’s victory where I captured a photo I was pretty proud of (above). And as a result of some of my images being included on Patch (via Shutterstock), I connected with Nick, an editor there, and have been occasionally sharing photos with them since (some of my celebration pics were included in this article).
And finally around came December where I worked with Lincoln Center again but this time to capture their campus lit with holiday cheer on a cold day. Finally, I wrapped up the year with a night in Times Square — a place to normally avoid on New Year’s Eve. But while the public wasn’t permitted, press credentialed photographers were so I definitely took the opportunity to get down there. I had been afraid I wouldn’t even see Jennifer Lopez perform (as I wasn’t permitted in ABC’s area) but I found some space where I could at least watch her perform a little, making her the last artist I saw perform in 2020.
Now, in 2021, I have no specific photo goals. I don’t know when concerts or other live entertainment will return properly. So I should expand my photography skills but I don’t know quite which way (though I have some ideas). Feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions or if you want to collab on food, product, portrait, interior or other photography though.