2023: It’s not all glamour when it comes to my job. Case in point, I was invited to cover a pop-up that was coming to Chicago and it was fraught from the beginning. To start with, my 16-35mm lens stopped working as I walked into the space. It had rolled off a table weeks ago but appeared to be fine. In fact, I’ve used it for weeks without a glitch. However, today is a different day and I should have sent it in for safe measures, lesson learned.

I did have a back up with my 24-70mmm but not my preferred lens for spaces. Regardless, a minute after I walked in I was greeted by a PA that walked me back to the meet and greet area. The pop-up was the mau5hop Pop Up by the iconic DJ deadmau5 and I was actually looking forward to working with him… until I wasn’t!

Voodoo Fest 10-31-10

I’ve shot him for years and worked with him once at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2012. I was the house photographer at the Park City Live venue and he was performing that night with rocker Tommy Lee. I unfortunately had lost my voice that week (I’m pretty sure there’s a joke about the photographer that can’t or shouldn’t speak, but haven’t cracked it yet!!).

Park City Live 01-22-12
Park City Live 01-22-12

But let’s get back to the pop-up, the team didn’t seem to understand that I was also there to take shots of Joel (deadmau5) at the pop-up and not just later at his show at Radius. I explained the ideology and I was told they wouldn’t be able to accommodate until after all the fans went through the line, come back in about 45 minutes.

So I shot the space with and without fans and went home, which was 10 minutes away, mainly to see if my old 16-35mm lens was in working order. Answer was no. So for “shits and giggles” I tried the broken lens on my other camera body and BOOM it started working. Don’t argue just be happy with the little things. Aside from the obvious that I could physically see the shot in focus I realized the camera would glow “blue” if it locked in focus, otherwise it would flash “red”.

When I arrived back there was still quite a line. Joel and his team, to their credit, was going to satisfy all of his fans that came out to say hi and get their merch signed. So while I waited, I decided I might as well photograph some of the signing. Usually I’m encouraged to do so, but I’ve had a weird vibe from the moment I walked into the meet and greet area, so I asked if it was okay. A meeting of the minds occurred and then they said sure, but NO FLASH! Okay, I accommodated and then as I walked up, the big security guard stopped me and said, that’s close enough don’t go any closer, the bad vibes continue.

I shot a few but not what I would usually do, such as getting him to look at me, pen in hand, but okay, this is not the main reason I’m here.

As the last few fans wait in line, I’m suddenly asked if it would be okay to just shoot him with the orange mau5 logo behind him. I paused and said I already shot him there and it’s not really the point of the shoot. It’s HIS pop-up and the point is to get him in the actual pop-up. Surprisingly I got no resistance.

But again I was told NO FLASH who continued to explain to me that the space was “well lit” and it wouldn’t be needed. I always appreciate someone educating me on the environment and the tools I need to execute my job. I responded by saying that adding artificial light is to enhance the shot such as filling in the shadows and has nothing to do with how well the space “appears” to be lit.

Also while I waited, I asked about the evening shoot of what time I should arrive and that I was bringing equipment for the backstage shoot and I may or may not have a assistant with me. I asked the PA for her number in case I had any issues and she seemed to blow off the request and just said my credentials would be at Will Call. I then asked, what should be a dumb question, but if I had a back stage pass. Spoiler alert, not a dumb question because the answer was no. Kind of hard to do a backstage photo with no backstage pass. She then reluctantly gave me her number.

But I digress, when it was time to do the shoot, a few of his people walked up and then, and only then, I realized no one told him that a photographer was here to take photos of him in the space. Really? WTF!?!

First off, I was invited and I could clearly see they were trying to put the publicist under the bus, or at least it came across that way. Two, I was in a text chain with his tour manage for the last 24 hours and if he wasn’t informed, it was on his people, plain and simple!

Regardless, the smoke cleared and we began walking to the first spot, I tried to engage with small talk but Joel not only ignored me but didn’t even acknowledge me.

To be honest, the pop-up space was cool but when all was said and done, photographically there were only a few key locations. My first spot was the art installation that is his helmet that stands out because it’s very colorful. in a perfect world, I would have him get behind it, peaking out from the top, sure, that could have been a fun photo, but this was what I got, meh.

But I wasn’t done, I asked if he would be game for one more shot. It was a life-sized Funko box. Once again SILENCE, I don’t believe he ever spoke a word to me. However, he followed and proceeded to stand in FRONT of the box. I wasn’t expecting him to stand in FRONT of it, so I said, would you be okay to go inside? Again he didn’t speak, but he did accommodated my request. I suppose in retrospect I should have shot him in front of it as well. But in my experience it’s also possible he would have just walked away after I pressed the shutter acting like it was “mission accomplished”.

This clearly is THE SHOT for the pop-up! With all the hoops I went through I can’t believe I pulled it off in the end. I went in to get a little tighter shot and it appears he started to loosen up. I honesty couldn’t tell and I didn’t want to push it.

I said thanks to everyone and walked up to the PA and asked if he would he aware of my presence this evening and again a awkward acknowledgement.

In retrospect, I should have at this point had a pow wow to discuss if the quick portrait session made sense at all. I don’t think his people wanted to deal with it nor Joel wanted to participate in it. Good or for bad I left before processing that thought.

I went home, picked out, Photoshopped, uploaded the selects to Getty Images and headed out to a corporate shoot prior to going to Radius.

My assistant fell through, who was actually just a friend that was going to hang out and I arrived shortly after 11pm. Radius is a venue that I have only shot at once. It was a year into the pandemic and Todd Rundgren was doing paid streaming concerts at the space. I came out for Forbes and shot some of the concert rehearsals and shot a fun portrait on the stage.

Radius 02-12-21

So I didn’t have a lot of experience with the area but it became clear pretty quickly that there was no street parking for me to even unload so I texted the PA…

She initially responded but went radio silence after her first text. Let me be clear, I don’t usually request assistance but the area surrounding Radius is pretty sketchy and if I was just shooting the live set, I never would have bothered them. But I had equipment and as you can read above, it was also raining. At least pretend you are helping, looking into options, etc. like if I can get in the back to unload my gear. There has to be a load-in and load-out area but I got nothing. I waited for 15 minutes for a response, driving around trying to see if I had any parking solutions. Then I reached out to the original publicist and tour Mgr…

I waited for another 15 plus minutes to hear from them and again nothing so I was done. In the end I wasted an hour and a half driving and circling in the rain when I could have been home Photoshopping the corporate gig drinking wine. Next time I will trust my gut!