New Zealand has a passionate community of live music photographers, many of whom are showing their work as part of an exhibition called 'From The Pit'. We asked them to share their favourite... or not so favourite moments from the photographers' pit.
Live music photography isn’t a lucrative profession in Aotearoa, and there are very few people who do it full time, but there’s a small group of passionate photographers who do it for the love.
They spend hours of their own time in sweaty photography pits around the country, capturing the magic moments that musicians create on stage.
Some of those moments are on display throughout NZ Music Month at an exhibition called ‘From The Pit’, organised by photographers, Reuben Raj and Dave Simpson.
We asked Reuben and Dave, and their colleagues, whose work is also on display at the exhibition, to share their craziest experience in the pit.
Dave Simpson - King's Arms Tavern, 2017
Dave was photographing a doom metal gig at Auckland’s now-defunct King’s Arms. The bar had already been sold and was scheduled for closure the following year, but a grumpy neighbour was still making noise complaints.
That night they complained again and, unbelievably, the police ended up shutting down the venue and confiscating sound gear.
Dave was up the front taking photos when word got around that there were dozens of police outside waiting to shut the show down. Sure enough, the sound went off, quickly followed by the lights, and in the gloom Dave watched a stream of police enter the building.
He managed to grab a photo or two of “nervous-looking police” who appeared to be expecting a riot. “Instead they were greeted by a downbeat audience of doom rockers,” Dave says, “They slinked off home knowing it was more than a concert that had come to a premature end.”
The King’s Arms closed just over a year later.
Mark Derricutt - King's Arms Tavern, 2016
Mark was photographing Californian metal band High on Fire at the King’s Arms. It was a chaotic show with an intense moshpit (Mark was punched in the head, ribs, and back that night), and the stage power kept blowing.
Kings Arms soundman (and Straitjacket Fits guitarist) Mark Petersen spent the night tag-teaming with other techs, torch between his teeth, re-wiring gear on the fly.
“Live music is flawed, broken, and prone to technical issues. You just need to roll with it and react,” Mark says, “It’s much like taking photos … we just need to react quickly and capture what we can. Often that may mean a less-than-perfect photo, but you’ll still capture moment…”
Ngamihi Pawa - Mt Smart Stadium, 2019
Shooting at open-air venues can be carnage, especially if it rains. Photographers don’t just need to keep themselves dry, they need to keep their (often very expensive) gear dry.
Ngamihi was completely drenched at the Foo Fighters and Weezer concert at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium earlier this year. Fellow photographer Matt Henry captured this shot in the downpour.
“I couldn't see anything,” Ngamihi says, “The stage was very high. Most of the images I took looked like glamour shots because of my fogged camera lens!”
Shelley Te Haara - Ellerslie Events Centre and Trusts Stadium
Speaking of damp moments, Shelley loves them. Both of hers were indoors: she “drowned” in the water at Auckland’s Ellerslie Event Centre earlier this year when American rapper Lil Yachty poured water all over the crowd.
Not quite as fancy as Wu-Tang Clan, who covered the crowd in champagne at their 2018 show at Auckland’s Trusts Arena, which Shelley also captured.
Stella Gardiner - Laneway Festival, 2016
Stella had a less happy damp moment at Auckland’s Laneway festival in 2016. She – and her camera – were completely drenched in beer after a punter chucked a full cup her way.
It was just before Grimes started, and she’d turned to grab a snap of the happy crowd, not realising there was an airborne beer heading straight for her.
A bouncer later said to her, “I thought you’d seen it, I saw it coming a mile off.”
Reuben Raj aka SomeBizarreMonkey - Whammy Bar, 2019
Reuben shot LA rapper Brooke Candy at Auckland’s Whammy Bar recently. A punter was so overwhelmed by the show that he used Reuben as “a human stripper pole”. We’re yet to get full details on the specifics (like, did he grease Reuben up beforehand?), but we’re sure it made getting these shots harder than it needed to be.