The Musician’s Photographer
article by Vanelis Rivera | photo by Prajal Prasai
Music, as a whole, can be a unifying force. And, a real live music performance paves the way for the ultimate human connection. A flurry of multifaceted elements pulses in unison–staging, musicians, sound, lighting, venue, audience–creating an experience that stands alone. And, in that span of time, all that exists are micro-moments that pass by in a flash. This inevitable impermanence is precisely why music photography is analogous to an anthropological undertaking. In that way, the photographers who scurry to capture those perfect frozen-in-time snapshots actively contribute to historic documentation, effectively telling the stories that help us better understand and grow closer to our cultural identity. One such photographer is Andrew Bailey, who for 6 years has captured the spirit of Northeast Louisiana music via a medley of local music performances.
Originally from Salina, Kansas, Bailey was exposed to the arts at an early age. His father has a background in technical theatre, videography, and photography, and his parents worked at a drive-in theater for a while. The family moved around the country, as his father also worked in civil service. Andrew began his academic career at Louisiana Tech, starting out as a computer science major and then shifting to English. Not convinced he would be able to pursue his interests with that degree, he dropped everything and moved to Germany for two years. When he returned to Ruston, he switched his major to computer information systems and pursued a minor in history. “So all of my backgrounds have little to nothing to do with photography!” Bailey exclaims, revealing that he picked up the camera in order to reconnect with family and friends who were avid photographers–“It was never something that I planned on doing to this level. No, not at all. It was a means to an end, just like many other interests that I have, hobbies that I’ve picked up over the years.”
After graduating from college, he moved to Alabama with his wife. “It was really rough. It was like 2009 right in the middle of the downturn,” he says. In the midst of working “really bad jobs,” he got offered a position at CenturyLink (now Lumen Technologies), bringing him back to Northeast Louisiana. Though he finally landed a job where he was using his expertise, at the time, he considered the move a step backward on a personal level. In retrospect, he admits that working nights didn’t grant him the luxury of effectively experiencing the local scene. “I lost all my outlets. I was going crazy,” he admits.
is big turnaround occurred when his father passed. He came to the realization that he didn’t want to spend his life always looking for the next best thing. “So, I started exploring,” he says. “When I got the chance, I started taking photos of all of the abandoned schools in the area. I knew a bunch of people that were from Union Parish, and that was right after all of the schools got consolidated. And so I went and I photographed Linville high school,” among a few others in North Louisiana. When his family grew by one, he realized he had to stay closer to home for his excursions. He asked himself, “What do we have in Monroe?” Wanting to incorporate his wife’s interests, he started frequenting family-friendly live music events, like the Downtown River Jam. There he discovered Tito and the Fabulous Freeloaders, Astro Motel, and Jig the Alien. Deep into his craft, he was spotted by the owner of a local music venue who invited him to shoot the events being held there.
Boasting close to 150 music shows to date, Bailey was encouraged to showcase his work during June’s Downtown Art Crawl at La Bella, a premier event space in the historic district of downtown Monroe. A variety of captured moments were on display–low-key shots, build-up shots, an empty stage, a guitar with nobody touching, a microphone, and the build-up of a show where “everybody’s just wrecked, sweat flying everywhere.” The framed photos of different sizes (5×7 to 16×20) were lined in a built-in booth and across a stage at the entrance of the gallery where local musician Joel Jordan, one of his most animated subjects, played the keyboard among some of his most spirited stills. The event not only highlighted Bailey’s composition prowess but brought to the forefront the immense musical talent of the area by capturing musicians in the heat of their passion. The significance of this contribution has not gone unnoticed nor underappreciated by the subjects of this profound exhibit. “We’re so lucky to have someone like Andrew to document the events of our area,” says Josh Madden, veteran musician, and producer of a handful of the events Bailey has regularly shot, like the Dylan Jam, John Lennon Birthday Bash, and most recently the Beatles tribute Love Love Me Brew. “He captures so much that I miss,” continues Madden, listing as examples crowd reactions and backstage moments. In the same vein, Ira Barger, singer/songwriter, remarks, “Performance art is ephemeral by its nature, and Andrew turns those moments into concrete memories that we can relive.” Asa Stone, guitarist and frontman of Jig the Alien considers Bailey’s work a “crucial part to building up the [music] scene,” adding, “It’s also cool to see where you’ve been and how far you’ve come as a musician.”
Bailey is not accustomed to being the front person. In fact, one of the reasons his photography was so captivating was because it allowed him to be in group settings without necessarily having to be part of the group. “You almost get a free pass; you can go pretty much within reason anywhere you want and people see the camera. They don’t see you; they interact with the camera not with you,” he confesses, adding, “It allows you that little bit of dissociative moments so that you…can offload that anxiety. So being out in front is very different and difficult in a lot of ways.” By the next day, however, Bailey was able to fully appreciate the magnitude of the moment, particularly because live performances in the area are finally picking up after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. “And, I don’t see it stopping,” he says enthusiastically, hopeful about some of the new ‘all ages’ venues like La Bella. “I want my family to be part of it,” he says, referring to sitting back and enjoying a band while both his kids wiggle their enthusiastic bodies to the music.
“I see myself as a storyteller,” says Bailey. “This is just another medium to do that through.” His photos capture unique moments, and upon viewing, they can recreate emotions between the performers and the crowd interacting with the performance. “That’s what I like to get in my shots; that’s what I’m aiming for,” he says. Whether in black and white or color, his keen eye presents the nature of the performance, the crowd getting hyped, the musicians peaking, and the eventual wind down after the last song, when it’s just exhaustion and everything is left on the stage. “It’s hard to put that out there,” he says, revealing that “I’ve shot 50-some-odd thousand photos in the last six years, and only about 10% make the cut. And, even a lot of that 10%, some of them, they’re almost there but not quite where I’d want them.” When considering his favorite shots he mentions Jordan who often interacts with the camera. “You don’t get that often,” he says, not to mention, that Jordan is known for his unique wardrobe, which translates well in shots. Performers who get out in the crowd like AJ Haynes from Seratones make Bailey’s job even more enjoyable. Though Bailey also enjoys capturing the quieter moments before a performance, ones that reveal a moment of anticipation, like the one of Danny Lee Witherington of Four on the Floor getting in the zone. Of course, closeups bring the viewer into an even more intimate space of the performance captured. Here, Bailey mentions bass player Ben Ford. “Facial expressions all day long,” he laughs, also mentioning guitarist and vocalist Josh Love for similar reasons.
“I’m trying to capture these gritty real moments that do exist and show the brightness, the light, the power, and needs, as opposed to the moments that are staged,” stresses Bailey. It is these documented moments that keep the local music scene going strong, and even more significantly help local musicians grow their audience. “Having professional pictures that we can use to get more gigs is a game-changer,” says Stone, explaining that, “It goes a long way in selling our band to venues and other bands.” Madden agrees: “There are dozens of local and regional musicians that use Andrew’s photos for their promotion. I mean, just look for his watermark when you see band pics. You’ll find it in the corner of so many.”
The love of music, respect for local musicians, and the appreciation of shared experience are at the forefront of Bailey’s photography. “It’s collectivism,” Bailey presses, referring to how the exchange between musicians and crowd builds a moment together, one that exists at the moment, and can never be the same or repeated. “That’s what draws me to things like these performances. And that’s why I like photographing them.”
Visit Andrew Bailey’s website (https://andrewlbaileyphotography.shootproof.com/) to purchase prints and follow him on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with local music events and the music artists that enrich our community.