Friday, July 26, 2013

U2.COM : 'Letting The Moments Speak For Themselves.'

He failed photography at high school, and had to take all his pictures of U2 from within the crowd. So how come Otto Kitsinger ended up going to over 100 shows and being sought out by thousands of fans on-line, as well as by Rolling Stone magazine and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for his performance photos of U2? Special to subscribers, Brian Draper spoke to a photographer who’s taken some of the most memorable live pictures of U2... and here Otto talks us through some of his favourite shots
How did you start taking live pictures of U2?
I started as a fan in the crowd, and I ended as a fan in the crowd. I went to some of the ZOO TV shows but without a camera; then on PopMart, I took a plastic $20 film camera to get some pictures of the big screen, to show people why I was going to so many concerts. At the time, there was no Flickr...

And no cameras on phones.
That’s right. I happened to be close to the rail by the B-stage and someone in U2’s crew ducked out of the way for me to take a photo. I shook his hand and said thanks. Afterwards, I met this guy again, and he said, “If you want to bring a camera in the future, that’s fine - just no telephoto lens.”
So, at the next show, I brought my camera with a 50mm lens, and I got some good shots which I put on the Internet. I didn’t have my own domain name back then, but I put up a page of my pictures on my home account at my web host, and I told some mailing lists ...

I had 24,000 image views on the first day. That’s when I realised I was on to something.
At the time there was nothing else like it on the Internet; I was it. And so in a hurry everybody knew who I was. It just sort of happened. It was just a fan’s site.

Were you a photographer at the time?
No. I’d gone to film school, but I wasn’t a photographer. In fact, I failed photography in high school. I work professionally now as a sports photographer, but I would never have dreamed of that back then...

How did you get close enough to take good pictures without a zoom? What’s your secret?!
It was pure dumb luck early on, when it was seated. They weren’t always sure what seats to sell around the B-stage railing until they set it up, so you could show up on the day of the gig and get a seat right beside it. But also, in the days before, if you belonged to Wire (the U2 on-line fan community), you could get a tag and a stamp and get closer...

How restricted were you, without a zoom?
It was a limit that made me think. The 50mm is a normal lens. It’s similar to how you see. If you shoot with a telephoto or a super wide-angle, I feel like you’re calling attention to that process and to the person taking the picture. 
The ‘two bridges’ shot of Bono and the Edge was in fact taken with a wider angle lens, since for that moment, standing where I was able to stand, it had to be. (I’d have preferred to be about 25 or 30 feet back with that 50mm lens, but that wasn’t going to happen with my limited ability to move about.) Nevertheless, I was in the crowd, you didn’t see me, and I feel like I managed to drop out. I was trying to let the moments speak for themselves.
But the stages were so beautiful. PopMart was one of the coolest things ever, and to appreciate that overall view I think you had to be back some way. I did get right up front to some of those shows but I didn’t like it as much as I did by the B-stage.

Does being in the crowd - instead of the pit - help with the atmosphere of your pictures?
Absolutely. The band is playing to the crowd. The pit is just a space between them. I did a few shoots on photo passes, actually, at the start of the Vertigo tour, from the pit. But oddly I felt it was better being in the crowd, because that’s where all the energy is. 

Is there a particular style to your photography?
I love shots with spotlights going back to the source. Part of that restriction of shooting with a 50mm is that if I’m shooting main stage or I’ve backed up a bit, you have to fill the shot. But that’s what it looks like when you’re in the crowd. That’s how a fan would see it, and I’m a fan.

Talking of spotlights, you have a classic picture of Bono caught in two spotlights: was that carefully planned?
No. That picture is a snapshot: the frame before and the frame after are of Adam on the main stage. I glanced to my side, saw that moment, snapped it, and glanced right back.

And how did you feel when you got it?
I didn’t realise I had this picture for months! Back then, monitor resolutions weren’t great, screens were smaller, and I cropped out the spotlights when I put it on line, otherwise it was going to seem tiny. I didn’t think anything about it until months later, when someone asked about it. I dug it out, did a better scan, and thought, “I have something here!” 
Once I put the full picture on line, it took off. It ended up on a book cover, and then the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame printed it 12-feet tall.

What do your pictures reveal, that we might not otherwise see just by watching a show?
To me, one nice thing about photos of a live show is that they can isolate a moment, and let you pause and reflect on it, which you can’t do when you are there. After all, a live show can be mind blowing. It’s all around you, and it’s such a huge experience. The ‘two spotlights’ picture of Bono - that’s a split second. He paused. It’s so brief a moment, yet now I could see that for ever. In fact, I do: it’s the one U2 picture that hangs in my house.

You’ve been to 102 shows now. How much do they vary from place to place?
I do notice that in certain cities the crowd will feel different. Boston and Chicago are amazing U2 towns, which isn’t to say that the others aren’t, but something happens there. And that ends up reflected in the pictures some times. The picture of Bono holding a girl’s hand, looking into her eyes, that was taken in Boston. She found the picture on the Internet not that long later. She lived in India and had gone to Boston for the show.

We’ve asked you to choose some of your favourite pictures for What’s the process been like, whittling them down?
Well, I’ve shared 3,000 pictures on-line, so I’ve had some trouble deciding. Some may not be the artiest, but they have a story behind them. I’m happy people like ‘em. But it was never really about the pictures; it was about the music, and trying to capture that. 
I loved that on every tour, there are visuals nobody has ever seen before: the heart-shaped stage on Elevation; the beaded video curtains on Vertigo; and the claw and this amazing screen on 360. I feel weird commenting on them; it’s the work of an incredibly talented and innovative creative team and all my photos are  carefully considered rectangles selected from these shows. 
If I brought anything to this other than that framing, it was timing. But everything else was someone else’s work.

You ended up taking a Sports Illustrated Picture of the Year in 2009. Would that great achievement ever have happened if that crew member hadn’t ducked out of the way of your first shot?
No. There’s a direct line there. My whole career comes from those pictures. So thanks for that...

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