In the Pit: Shot From All Sides – Cormac Figgis

Posted April 3, 2023 in Article

“This book’s journey began with a blag – my first – into the New York Dolls gig at The Village in 2006.” – Cormac Figgis documents the joys and perils of shooting gigs in his book, Shot from All Sides which features 180 photographs covering 150 gigs.

“Shooting a gig often feels a little bit like going into battle. The anticipation, planning a strategy, navigating my way around photographers and audience, and dealing with the inevitable hostility from one or other because I’m in the way. I’ve been verbally abused by audience and band, hit in face with mic stands, kicked, punched, pushed off tables and chairs. I’ve narrowly missed being crushed by monitors and musicians falling off the stage, and crowd surfers. But I love shooting gigs. It’s my favourite thing to do.

This book’s journey began with a blag – my first – into the New York Dolls gig at The Village in 2006. It was sold out but I really wanted to go. I’d just bought my first pocket-sized digital camera and figured this would be a great moment to try it out. There’d been a buzz since their 2004 reunion and this was their first trip to Dublin. Morrissey was going to be there, with an assortment of Irish rock royalty. I found contact details for Steve Conte and I can’t remember what yarn I spun him, but to my surprise, he sorted me out with a pass. The venue was packed well beyond capacity. The crush inside the door was portentous and the short distance to the front of the stage was almost impenetrable. There wasn’t a pit.

Cromags – Tom Capone

I managed to prise myself into a space that wasn’t really there, right in front of Conte’s amp, in between a bloke the size of a tunnel support and a tiny girl in a leather jacket who looked like she was expecting to die. I could barely squeeze my arms up from my sides to hold my camera, and when I finally got them there, that’s where they were going to have to stay. Bar and toilets were out of the question, as were any thoughts of getting to other parts of the stage or balcony.

The sweat, the blinding lights and the constant surging of the solidly packed crowd were intense and terrifying. There was a moment when my vision flickered and my head felt like it was distorting from the sheer volume of Conte’s guitar. The limitations of a pocket camera became apparent quickly, and getting clean, focused shots was really just a game of chance. There were brief moments between surges, when David Johansen struck a pose or came over to my side of the stage to share the mic with Steve Conte. Sylvain Sylvain and Sami Yaffa were mostly too far out of reach to get anything decent, and Brian Delaney was out of sight. The rest was blurred chaos.

Gang Green – Chris Doherty

Taking photos while being crushed is no easy task. My leather jacket was soaked through with sweat in no time at all, and I was constantly wiping humidity from my viewfinder and lens. My ribs felt like they were going to shatter on the edge of the stage. The disorder and the challenge was exciting though, and the learning curve was a steep one – don’t turn up late to a sold out gig for starters.

Revisiting the photographs from that night after many years, I can see that the grain, blur, blowout and general coarseness speaks to the sense of havoc that made the show so rousing. For a long time I had dismissed them as, simply, bad shots. But over time, becoming more familiar with the work of photographers I admire and with what are considered ‘iconic’ shots, I came to the understanding that there are many factors that make a good photo. Technical perfection isn’t necessarily one of them.  

Regardless, I had come away from the show knowing I had to do it again.

And so the battle continues…”

Vengaboys crowd

Shot from All Sides features 180 photographs covering 150 gigs and a reprint is available from April 1, €30.

Words and images: Cormac Figgis

Feature Image: Sonic Youth – Kim Gordon


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