A Film Makers Journey to Concert Photography

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I was born in Washington D.C. in 1981. I was raised in the Shenandoah Valley near Charlottesville, Virginia. Since I was a child I always had a passion for movies. My grandfather was a video editor for the C.I.A. His interests in film and photography rubbed off on me. By the time I was a teenager I knew I wanted to be a film director and make movies for a living. When I graduated from high school I went to film school and in NYC. I quickly fell in love with directing, but found my true calling was in editing film. I was blessed that the school ran out of rooms that year. I ended up rooming with future lifelong friend and then, editing professor, Justin. I learned a lot from watching him edit his personal footage. How he inspired me the most was actually behind the camera, regarding lighting and composition. These lessons would come to help me in a very distant future that I could not have foreseen at the time.

After film school I moved to LA to do my internships, but they were not as glamorous as I had thought they would be. I seemed to run into one closed door after the other which led me to move back to to Virginia, but this time to a small town named Lynchburg, VA. I started working for a faith based company doing marketing videos for churches and cutting small trailers for Christian films to be seen in churches to promote movie nights for the church congregation. It wasn’t the most glamorous work but it kept me busy and I took pride in the work that I had in front of me.    

That same year I started this new job, I got married and a short time into the marriage me and my wife at the time had a son, followed by a daughter about a year and half later. We had a full household fast but in my heart I had what I always wanted, a family. However in life the sun can’t be out all the time, storms must come and winds must knock structures down in order for us to see a brighter new day of our lives.

My now ex wife and I divorced and I became a single FULL-TIME father raising my children all on my own. My life was in shambles, my work began to suffer and my heart was truly broken. The career I wanted in film making was on life support, the marriage and dreams of family I had in my mind had taken their last breaths and I was taking care of two very small kids alone, Life was needless to say not what I thought it would be for me.

I had slipped into a dark depression and found my thoughts caged in my mind unable to get them off of repeat mode. One evening I was in the hallway of my home crying and my son woke to see me in my frail state. I tried to wipe my tears away as quickly as I could so he could not see me crying, I looked at him clearing my throat and said “Hey buddy, do you need something?” He Just looked at me not answering me before he walked his little legs into the bathroom. I dropped my head again feeling like a failure to my family. I heard my son exiting the bathroom and raised my head to see he had taken a sheet of toilet paper from the toilet paper roll, not ripping it away, instead dragging a long line of white paper behind himself stopping in front of me to wipe the tears from eyes, then falling into my arms to hug my neck. I’ve never held a person so tight in my life. It was in that moment that I knew I had to get help. I had to work on me. I knew in my mind I couldn’t be a father without working through all the pain that was brewing inside me. I started going to a therapist a week or so later.

I was frozen when I was inside the doctor’s office. It was an odd silence at first. I didn’t know how to tell him how I felt on the inside. He would ask. I would sip some coffee and nod my head to answer yes or no. After many sessions he suggested that since I love film making maybe I could videotape myself talking and give it to him to look at, but with a failed career in that field the anxiety I had from the thought of even a simple video recording made me feel sick at my stomach. I quickly said “NO”, but he had back up plan. The doctor then suggested I take my cell phone and take pictures of the world around me to capture how I felt inside myself. I was okay with the Idea. I always loved photography but after high school I didn’t have a desire to pursue it.

I took on the doctors the challenge and went out with my iPhone and started taking pictures of broken glass, rusted pipes, my reflection in water puddles, happy couples, torn fabrics, Ice, mud, shapes, anything that could show him my internal struggle. I did this for many months. It became an activity that I enjoyed doing almost daily for hours at a time. It became an activity that allowed me, while discussing the photos I was presenting to the doctor, to tell him how I felt inside myself. To some, the photos were just old broken things captured on a phone camera, but to me it was my open door to discussions about my feelings that would lead not only to internal peace but a new career.

Overtime I had a friend that told me about this app called “Instagram” It was NEW at the time and she suggested I try it. I didn’t know how I would feel about turning my therapy into an art discussion with complete strangers, so I said “NO”.   

At this time in my life I was really struggling with anxiety, so adding that pressure to myself was really not something I wanted to do to myself. But, after months of bugging me to post my pictures, I gave in and started posting. To my surprise, people were enjoying the shots. People were commenting on the composition and liking the imagery. All I saw was my personal struggles. It was an odd feeling connecting with people through this sort of work but it felt good to have people connect with me through this photo App. As time went by, my passion started to develop more and more for photography. I invested in a cheap DSLR camera and started shooting any and everything I found gave me emotional therapy through my shots. My obsession became really strong for cameras, I started buying old cameras and playing with them, shooting on film and polaroid.  I was finding joy and having FUN in life again and that was apparent to people in my life, but even more so to my children.

I found myself shooting local bands in concert and I loved it. I studied music video in film school and everything my professor (Justin ) had taught me about composition with bands I was applying when capturing live music. Going to local shows was a great way for me to get out of the house. One February my parents thought it would be good if I took trip somewhere to get some space from everything and have a little fun so I visited LA to see a friend. While I was there I heard a band named Big Data had on the Radio and their hit song “Dangerous” started to play.

loved it, something about that song was really amazing! Fast forward about a week later and my trip was over and I was back home in Virginia. It was around nine or ten at night, the kids were in bed and I was on Facebook and I saw that Big Data song (Dangerous) again this time as a music video. I quickly went to their Facebook page where I saw they would be doing a series of concerts around the area I lived in. Something inside me sparked, so I sent a message over asking if I could take some pictures at one of those shows. I honestly didn’t think I would hear back from anyone but to my surprise the lead singer Alan Wilkis replied back. He gave me his managers e-mail to set something up to take pictures of the band when they were performing in North Carolina. I was stoked, super happy! I went to the show, I met the band and took my first professional shots from the side of the concert stage, as well as on the stage! Immediately I was hooked! I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life.

Month after Month I took any and every job shooting band after band, some shoots were not good, some were great. I was learning to swim in this new profession based on all the information I had obtained, Not from being trained in photography, but in film making. I was coming to every show not trying to capture the coolest shot, the shot with the most clarity, but I wanted to capture a moment that would bring people back to the image over and over again.      

I then had the opportunity to take pictures of the artist Matisyahu. I wasn’t to familiar with his work but I went to his show with the same fiery drive to capture him in a way that would engage people to look at his picture over and over again. After that show I received a message from Matisyahu that he wanted me to spend a day with him and his band taking pictures. That day I did press photos for him that I had no Idea would be seen all over the world. Since I met Matisyahu I’ve been on two tours and I’m about to go on my third tour with him in the summer of 2016. Working with Matis has opened doors up for me that I never thought could be opened. I owe Matisyahu and Alan from Big Data so much for allowing this little unknown photographer to spend time with them and capture images of them on stage and off stage. 

This journey  of mine like so many did not begin when I was younger, it began when I was older and coming out of some very horrible moments in life. This may turn some people off to say but I know that God is reason for all that I’ve been able to do. I know that the doors that were shut were meant to be shut and the doors that opened for me were opened at the exact moment in my life when they were suppose to. I don’t know where my journey will take me but I couldn’t be happier raising my kids and taking pictures and working for amazing artists.

I hope to in the near future be able to take the talents I have and travel the country doing a photography tour. I hope to go city to city taking pictures for FREE of military families, as well as those that are suffering with cancer of HIV. I would love to be able to preserve people’s lives and legacies in a picture, for all to know their stories. I hope you enjoyed this condensed versions of my story. Thank you for taking the time to read it. If my story resonates with you, please follow me as I take a deeper look and reflect on the images that brought about my healing.

Be Blessed,

Christopher Townsend.


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