Seeing a live band is an amazing experience. The energy in the crowd and on stage is incomparable to anything else. But who captures it all? That improvised jump that the lead guitarist does at the start of a chorus or the back to back leaning of rockers? Those cell phone pics are great and everything but the average concert goer, myself included, doesn’t necessarily know how to get the perfect shot. I realized what it meant to get the perfect shot when Toronto band Tomorrow’s Midnight played Cherry Cola’s. As we were rocking out on stage, I kept noticing one guy in the crowd with a camera walking around the crowded room snapping pictures all night. This turned out to be Nick Persichilli. At first I was like whatever, anyone can take a picture, right? Oh boy was I wrong. Settling in the back of the room with my drink and bandmates, Nick approached us and begun to show us the shots he snapped and I nearly dropped my drink. These pictures were incredible. I’ve been photographed on stage enough times to know good vs bad, but never before had I seen something that captured the emotion and energy of a show to this extent. I set up an interview with Nick and just as his work reflected, he believes that the whole point of photography is to “[capture] things that evoke an emotional response [and that] performers in general, and rock and roll musicians specifically, tend to be subjects that have that effect.”
“I shoot everything and anything”
Starting at a young age and influenced by his father, Nick had a natural talent for taking pictures. Having a basement dark room and formal classes at his disposal allowed him to dive into the art and develop the “technical skills and [understand] the importance of the mechanics of taking pictures”. But there was something more, he knew it and he was adamant on finding out how to get it: the emotional response. Every artist strives towards this in some way be it musicians, actors, directors, painters, photographers and so on.
How do you capture that specific emotion that you feel in that moment into an inanimate picture and have it resonate among viewers as if they were there in the crowd? It raises the question of what do you have to look for in a piece of art. In this case, the band. Do you treat is as a unit? As individuals? The most charismatic? The best looking? Nick received a really valuable piece of advice from a friend that the photographer’s responsibility is not to look at the science. It’s not about “a collection of focus points”… Well, it is. A picture is a picture. But those focus points won’t show you where the emotion lies. It’s where the “color and story telling” exists. With that advice, Nick now had an entirely new perspective on photography and he began capturing what he had in his mind’s eye.
“Here’s how I do it”, he says, “ I spend some time watching the performance and find interesting things that each member of the band does. A facial expression, a body move, something where they let their emotion come out. I find that moment and I hunt for it to come back. Then I snap it.”
It’s so simple when you’re told about it but it takes years of experience to truly understand it and even more to be able to capture it consistently. From the crowd or the stage, as a performer, shows always look hectic in some way or another. But Nick passed down some knowledge to me.
“Despite the appearance of ‘a lot’ happening on stage, there’s really only one thing happening — a song is being played. I don’t see a lot happening, I see many people doing one thing.
This is the most profound thing anyone has told me in music. Really. I’ve spent hours debating composition, historical significance of songs, best albums or musicians, best performers… But even after having been on stage, I never consciously thought of that. The band is a unit telling a story. Not just the singer, not just whoever played an extended solo. It’s not the rhythm section backing a singer. It’s the band. Together we tell a story lyrically, melodically, and rhythmically. Again, it’s so painstakingly obvious but it really is true.
Nick started to photograph bands after befriending Toronto musician and promoter Matt Groopie, who I happened to meet on the same night that I met Nick. Small world, right? Anyhow, one gig led to another and pretty soon Nick was snapping shots of bands around Toronto. He says his abilities aren’t limited to the stage as much of his portfolio “includes product shots, head shots, portraits, landscapes… [really] everything and anything” as well. True talent right there.
Photography is an awesome field of art and admittedly one that I haven’t delved into much. But when one art form is combined with another, magic happens. And that’s what photographers like Nick capture.