For today I've got more than just one picture for you. It happened to be couple of days ago that I noticed an American rapper (and poet, writer and actor) Saul Williams was coming to local event arena Klubi Tampere to share songs and poems from his new album 'MartyrLoserKing'. Originally I got to knew this artist through a industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, but it was only after my own interests in multiculturalism took me to contemplate on questions of black identity in Finland when I kind of re-discovered Saul Williams and his art. I would describe him as a spokesperson of black consciousness who's art is very political and verbally pretty intellectual in a way that he likes to mix all kinds of cultural ingredients to create new kind of critical discourses – in short, an interesting artist for anyone interested in contemporary issues. Knowing that this would probably also be the last time I would be able to see him at my small home town, I decided to act. I called the event organizers at Klubi Tampere that I would like to photograph this gig and for the return they could use my pictures. Luckily there were very open minded and positive about this suggestion, so I arranged that I would come in at Friday night with my camera and photograph Saul Williams doing his show at Klubi Tampere – something I have never done before seriously.
When I got there at Friday little before midnight I already knew that the interior would present challenging conditions for photography. This would definitely be a critical test for the full frame Sony A7 and the Batis lenses. I took some test shots before the show and the ISO levels were generally above 3200 all the time. It's easy to make great looking pictures at high ISOs when working at good light (test shots you usually see from the camera manufacturers), but when light starts to dim it's a whole another game. No wonder, this made me a little nervous as I knew that I could not, for example, lean on the image stabilizer of the Batis 1.8/85 as I would need pretty short exposure times. I could only hope that I would come with something decent out of this.
What surprised me a little was that Mr. Williams gig was practically a one man show and there was nothing but a one microphone on a stage. In my mind I had had all kinds of scenarios for different kind of pictures, but had to throw them away and just try to improvise while following the show. But when the show finally started all my hesitations somehow faded away and for the next two hours I was just shooting and enjoying the experience and the show, which itself was pretty nice. At some point Mr. Williams got off the stage and went into crowd which was a great move and I'm sure surprised many. He was basically dancing with everyone while verbally 'hacking' the cultural structures and power relations with his poetry. It was also nice to hear that he knew the ongoing protest against cutting the student allowance and science in Finland. After two hours the show ended with a 5 minute poem which was taken from his new book called ',said the shotgun to the head'. I had to buy it before I left the building.
When I got home the first thing was thing I did was that I checked the pictures that I had got. I have to say I was pretty surprised to see how good the pictures where considering that the circumstances had been so difficult. First of all, it had been very dark (most of the time above ISO3200) and Mr. Williams had been at intense backlight. Secondly the overall lighting had been very red which sometimes clipped the red channel in the camera. The dark skin color of the artist didn't help either and overall I would say that this kind of circumstances would present a very difficult task to any camera setup. But in the end, after editing my raw-files, I was very impressed how nicely the Sony A7 & Zeiss Batis lenses did handle this situation. Never before I have I got so useful stuff in just a dark situation. For example, when Mr. Williams went into crowd it has so dark that I could not see his face, but still I managed to get a shot out of it. And it was only time the focusing became difficult because of dim light, luckily Mr. Williams had a fitting tee-shirt for contrast detection, hah! Overall I have to say I liked the gig a lot and it gave me lot to think about the questions of cultural criticism, critical theory and different kinds of artistic and scientific discourses. And it also made me very satisfied with my new camera setup – now that I've pushed it to its boundaries I feel I'm learning what it can do and this has given me some new ideas.
For the end of this post, here is a one short quotation from Saul Williams book ', said the shotgun to the head':
The greatest americans
have not been born yet
They are waiting patiently
for the past to die
Please give blood