Pushed Beyond All Reasonable Limits: The Music Photography of Brian D. Garrity
There is a contradiction that exists within any book of live photographs of bands. By definition, the experience is what matters. You had to be there. Like any number of shaky smartphone videos, professionally made films, even live albums, the best they can do is capture something you missed out on or (if you were there) remind you of how great it was. Unlike listening to a studio album, reading fiction, or watching a film, where that IS the experience, you can never truly capture the true experience of a live performance in a retrospective image. Plus, there are only so many different pictures of anyone playing a guitar, screaming into a microphone, or bashing a drum kit you can take. Such is the challenge any rock photographer faces. Brian Garrity understands this, and describes that conflict eloquently in his book ‘Pushed Beyond All Reasonable Limits’, yet still manages to capture on film a good deal of the excitement and essence of a sweaty, noisy, physically battering, and chaotic selection of gigs from what many regard as the golden era of live music. Although there is still plenty of live music around today to go and see, it feels far more, well, controlled! Safer, if you like. Quite expensive too. The music Brian catalogues was often rough and ready, hosted in small and grubby venues and was much the better for it.
Brian hails from Minneapolis so it’s only natural that he started photographing local acts, those coming through town, and the venues and audiences that attended them. Many bands that are now household names (at least in some of the grungier households) passed in front of his lens. We are talking of a time before digital cameras. Pictures were shot, not ‘captured’, on heavy cameras made of metal and bristling with comically large lenses. Film came in small canisters and there was a limited number of shots per roll (24 or 36 normally). Things like the brand of film and its sensitivity to light (speed) and exposure times mattered. You never really knew what you had until you developed the film afterwards, so you had to be good. On the evidence presented here, Brian Garrity was very good. He goes into nerdish detail about all the technicalities and practical challenges in places in the book, along with stories of his life embedded with a band on tour, but fundamentally this book is all about capturing the moment, many of them intimate and unguarded.
The list of bands he shot reads like a 90’s US/UK garage grunge and post-punk who’s who; Nirvana, Radiohead, Marilyn Manson, Garbage, Rancid, Offspring, Henry Rollins, Luscious Jackson, Jesus Lizard, Ice Cube, Lunachicks, The Cows, Soul Asylum, Limp Bizkit, The Breeders. Alien Sex Fiend, My Bloody Valentine, Bad Brains, My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult, Deftones, Linkin Park, PJ Harvey, The John Spencer Blues Explosion, Afghan Whigs, The Dandy Warhols, The Melvins, Mudhoney, Superchunk, Robyn Hitchcock, Ride, Pigface, Girls Against Boys, Good Charlotte, Goldie, Butthole Surfers, Naked Raygun, Lush, Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth. Many are shot live, interspersed with band promo photos (of which there is possibly too many, being largely blokes and girls standing around, albeit in interesting locations, poses, or even stark naked in one shot!), but the ones that offer a real splash of colour are when he turns the camera away from the stage and shoots the audience, chaotic house parties, or unguarded moments of bands hanging around, messing around, and generally killing time instead. As soon as he does that, you are instantly there. Queueing up outside. Kicking your heels back stage. Jumping around getting sweaty and crushed. Partying. Having fun. Which is, after all, the whole point.
‘Pushed Beyond All Reasonable Limits’ is a glimpse into why live music mattered and still does and why, like a war photographer, you need someone to be down there in the trenches to capture that for you. Brian Garrity is definitely one of those embedded on the front line with the troops, bringing that home and sharing with us that experience through his camera lens.
All images by Brian Garrity
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