I met and photographed Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Jack White of … well, all sorts of things. To do this, I had to make it happen. Here’s how I managed to do so.
It never hurts to ask
In 2009, my friend Christal Smith announced on Facebook, “So excited! I am going to be interviewing Jimmy Page and Jack White!” Excited, I mentioned this to my girlfriend. “I’d like to photograph them!”
“She works for The Huffington Post. They have their own photographers. And you just have that little cheap camera.”
“Sure. But I want to photograph them anyway.”
I immediately asked, “Christal, please let me know if you need a photographer. I would love to do this.” She messaged me minutes later. “Actually, I could use a photographer. I don’t have one yet. I can get you in.”
Bam. It was done.
It might get loud
Director Davis Guggenheim filmed a documentary movie, “It Might Get Loud,” featuring Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White hanging out and playing music together. The movie was really, really good.
I’m usually not in fanboy mode. However, this was Jimmy Page, one of my favorite guitarists. Led Zeppelin is one of my favorite bands. Furthermore, Page was notoriously reclusive. But now … now I was going to photograph them at a press conference!
Scotch tape, the diffuser for the rest of us
I had a very modest camera, a Nikon D50 6.1MP camera I had purchased used in 2005. And I didn’t have a speedlight — only the built-in pop-up flash on the D50. I wondered if I would be able to get decent photos with such a horrible flash.
I stuck several layers of Scotch tape over the pop-up flash diffuser. Then I taped a piece of white paper on top to bounce more light. It wouldn’t look great, but it would provide a look that was slightly better. I repeatedly checked my camera far too often to make sure it was working.
This was 2009. It would be years before I became obsessed with night photography, before National Geographic, before Smithsonian. Years before I would have any clue of what I was doing. But I was going to make this work somehow.
Hanging out with the other journalists
I got there early and sat with some other journalists. One journalist mentioned that he couldn’t sleep at all the night before. This was incredible. Here were seasoned journalists. And they were nervous! I wasn’t alone!
The journalist asked me if I could take a photo with him and Jimmy if the opportunity arose (it didn’t). Everyone was genuinely excited. The energy was palpable. I was twitching with nervous energy.
The other journalists and I talked about our favorite scenes from “It Might Get Loud.” I especially loved the scene in Jimmy Page’s home where he lovingly took out a Link Wray record from his very large record collection. He put it on the turntable. He then smiled profusely while playing “air guitar” to every strum and tremolo. “Wobbles,” he called them. Page, still ever a music fan. Perfect.
I’m too far away!
Eventually, the press conference began. We were seated. Jimmy Page, Jack White and Davis Guggenheim came in and sat behind a long table.
However, I was too far away. I was sitting in the fourth row. However, it felt like it was far away. And my wimpy little pop-up flash covered in Scotch tape wasn’t reaching that far. It was woefully underpowered.
As a kid, I had learned that if you act like you know what you’re doing, people often do not say anything. I promptly got up, strode over confidently and sat on the floor, right in front as if I did this all the time.
This was working! My horrible pop-up flash was no longer holding me back. Sure, I was getting shadows in back from my on-camera flash because the wall was very close. However, I didn’t care. I was going to keep photographing until either the press conference was over or security commandeered my camera. I’d get The Huffington Post those photos.
Wait, there’s more?
After half an hour, the press conference was over. They left. I was elated. I had managed to kneel next to the front row for the entire press conference, shooting photos unimpeded. A big smile crept across my face. This was a good day.
Outside, however, Christal was upset. “We’re not on the list for the one-on-one!”
“One-on-one? An interview?” I had no idea.
“Yes, we’re supposed to have a one-on-one interview with the three of them, but my name’s not on the list!”
We asked several organizers. “The Huffington Post doesn’t usually do press conferences,” Christal pointed out, “so we won’t be able to do an article.”
Four minutes and forty five seconds
One woman who seemed to know and respect Christal, said, “I’ll get you in for five minutes. But just five minutes!”
“We’ll do it in 4:45,” Christal said, “I’ve been on both sides of this. We’ll be out of there in 4:45.” They knew Christal, and knew that she would be good to her word.
I could not believe my luck. I hadn’t even known about this several minutes ago!
Interviewing Jimmy Page and Jack White
Mere minutes later, we entered the room. Everyone was fussing with the microphones, doing things. “Hello gentlemen,” I said.
Jimmy turned to me and said, “Did ya take a picture?”
“Yes, yes, I did, thanks.” I had managed to because I had snuck up front.
“I saw you in the fourth row, it didn’t look like you took photos,” he said.
I was incredulous. How did he notice that? I had indeed been in the fourth row! This was because I had been sitting in front of the first row for almost the entire time until returning to my seat when we were all asked to take photos row by row.
Christal and I couldn’t help ourselves. We took photos with Jimmy and Jack really quickly before Christal got on with the interview. Journalistic professionalism had been cast aside. This was Jimmy Page.
And we were out in 4:45 minutes, just as Christal had promised.
And being ever responsible, I raced back and worked the second half of the day. Sure, I bailed from work that morning. But seriously … wouldn’t you?
Make your own breaks
I had no idea what I was doing, and I had a 6.1MP camera with a pop-up flash. “6.1MP” is not a typo. The images were so small that I had to enlarge one or two portrait-oriented photos for this article. Despite this, I managed to get photos of Jimmy Page and Jack White in The Huffington Post (you can see the article here). I processed them in GIMP using a nine year-old computer running Windows XP with a cheap flat-screen monitor I had gotten for free.
You may not have high-end equipment. However, you can find a way to make it happen.
If I hadn’t asked, I would have never had the opportunity. If I hadn’t strode up front and plopped myself down, I would have never gotten any photos. If I hadn’t modified my pop-up flash with three layers of Scotch tape and a strip of white lined paper I borrowed from a journalist, the light would have been too harsh.
Sometimes, you need to make your own breaks. I hope you, as a photographer, you as a human being, also seize the moment. We never know if we will have these opportunities again.
VISIT ME, VISIT ME!
BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:
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Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020
A Photographer Captures Haunting Nighttime Images of Abandoned Buildings, Planes, and Cars in the American Southwest – Business Insider by Erin McDowell
A Photographer Explores Southern California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols