There are so many things that we have missed in our pandemic year, and at the top of the list is experiencing the District’s thriving music scene live. No one has missed the intimacy of DC’s music venues than concert photographer extraordinaire Lisa Walker. Lisa, a house photographer for I.M.P, captures the interplay between artists and fans in a style she describes as “up close and personal.” We recently caught up with Lisa to get her perspective on the DC scene.
What are you aiming to capture in your music photography?
Honestly, I think the real “theme” to my concert photography is that I want the viewer to feel something… to experience the emotion and the energy of the performances and the music. Music is very emotional and engaging for me and it’s how and why I want to connect with all different kinds of artists/genres/etc… It’s a beautiful form of expression, it’s a creative outlet and I want people to see what I see and feel what I feel, or at least some semblance of it. In a way, it is up close and personal to me and I want the viewer to feel like they are there in that moment with me.
How long have you been doing this?
Well, I have been attending live shows since I was about 16? But I really didn’t start to photography music until about 8-9 years ago. I recall going to SXSW many years ago and seeing the staff photographers and thinking to myself that I would really like to be part of the team (I have been part of the photo crew over the past 3-4 years. And then a co-worker at National Geographic [Lisa’s day job] suggested that I pitch an idea to cover a music festival to Nat Geo’s online travel blog so I could get press access to write and photograph it. Miraculously, that happened although my first camera was not an SLR. I still managed to get photos but, I then started to take shooting much more seriously. Having a chance to be in the photo pit for the very first time was really exciting. And that lead to shooting artists and shows for our then Nat Geo Music Division. Sadly, that division is no longer part of Nat Geo but, it was a pretty amazing thing.
How would you characterize the DC music scene? What makes it special?
As a resident of DC and a house photographer for I.M.P (which books local venues such as the 9:30 Club, the Lincoln Theatre, Merriweather, the former U Street Music Hall and The Anthem) I might be a bit biased but, I happen to think it’s an incredible multi-genre/multi-cultural scene that is recognized nationally. This city has a really rich musical history. The Howard Theatre rivaled the Apollo back in the day, Dischord Records and Bad Brains as hardcore punk influencers, the incredible DIY punk/indie rock scene, and just last year Go-Go was finally appreciated and recognized as the official music of DC. Many artists that come to tour on the east coast make the stop in DC when traveling to and from Philadephia and New York. There’s a wide range of venue sizes and the addition of the The Anthem was pretty monumental for this town. It’s bigger than the 9:30 or the Fillmore in Silver Spring (it’s approx. 6,000 capacity venue) but significantly smaller and more intimate that the Verizon Center or other really large venues.
What is your favorite DC music venue?
I have a few favorites but, the 9:30 Club still ultimately has my heart. I have often joked that it’s my “church” or place of worship 😉 But, really it’s the size, the intimacy, the sound quality, the lighting, the variety of the music and all of the amazing and wonderful people that work there (and really at all of the venues) that make it so special.
What are some of your favorite local bands and why?
There is so much good music coming out of DC, I am ashamed to say that I haven’t seen even half of it! But of course, there’s Ex-Hex, Thievery, Trouble Funk, Backyard Band, Priests, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Hammered Hulls, and so many more great bands I can’t seem to name all off the top of my head right now. Just recently a local artist named Bartees Strange played a Tiny Desk concert on NPR, so music is happening right now all over this town.
Tell us about a particularly memorable concert.
I feel like there are many memorable moments that could lead to all night stories but, shooting Slayer at Bonnaroo was definitely a standout. The energy coming from the audience was just as intense as the thrash/heavy metal coming from the stage. I was actually torn between photographing the fans and the band. They were just feeding off of each other and that little tiny photo pit was right smack in the middle. It was intense. And really, really, loud, but so worth it. The other photogs and I came out of the pit just blown away by it all. And of course, there was a mosh pit in that audience and quite a few crowd surfers coming into the pit all at once so, you really needed to have all of your wits about you.
What do you do when not shooting concerts?
I do yoga, biking/hiking, travel (oh how I miss traveling) and I play a few instruments as well. I was playing electric bass in a little local band. We had practice every Tuesday night prior to the pandemic but, I haven’t seen those guys at all this past year. But, I hope we can get back together at some point this year. Not to mention live music. I dream of the day when I can be back in the 9:30 Club again.