Sometimes you want to pack a gas mask. Sometimes you want to bring earplugs. But eating fried rice is always a good idea.
Armando Gallardo has taken down the greatest artists in the world – and the greatest insurgency on American soil. While it might seem like there isn’t much in common between Bad Bunny and political unrest, there are enough similarities to make a photographer feel at home in both situations.
We asked the nightlife photographer and conflict reporter about the commonalities between covering well-planned excitement and unplanned conflict.
InsideHook: You’ve photographed nightlife in DC and around the world. Are there similarities between filming concerts and conflict zones?
Armand Gallardo: Not bad. There is the element of surprise. I like to treat every concert photo experience as a first. I don’t go to YouTube or check previous picklists to see how the performance will break down – that would just spoil the experience for me. Every time I go to shoot, I just don’t know what I’m going to get. Maybe they’re giant bobbleheads, as was the case with Arcade Fire, a sea of people split in two who battle it out at Dan Deacon’s dance contests or Bad Bunny’s laser show on his last tour. I never know what to expect.
Likewise, in times of trouble, you don’t know where a group might come from, how the night will end, or what situations you might find yourself in. Obviously, Conflict Zones are far more dangerous than a well-established spectacle, but the element of surprise is always there.
Adrenaline is similar. At gigs, you normally get three songs in the photo pit, and then you’re off. Depending on the location, they may just let you photograph other locations after the first three songs, but that’s rare. This means that you have, more or less, around 10 minutes to try to capture the subject of the show. Not to say that concert photography isn’t serious business – it’s fun, but there’s some responsibility on your shoulders to try to provide your editor with a wider range of photos than someone who is went to the show would see and say, “Yeah, that’s the show I went to. Add some music ringing in your ears and fans screaming right behind you. Next thing you know is that there’s this sudden rush of adrenaline you feel during those first three songs, which can be quite similar to what you feel in a conflict zone.
Whatever the event, I always like to find out what the event does to the human experience. During a conflict, you look for faces that can freeze the moment and hopefully show what that split second is and feels like to them. At a gig, you want to do the same thing. You’re there to film the show, but what I love most is turning my camera to the other side, the audience, and trying to show what they’re going through. It can be a sudden sense of loss from a song that reminds them of their young love or a surge of ecstasy at the first licks of the song, which they celebrated with their ride-or-die friends. Everything is often there, their faces, their eyes, their gestures.
The only warning I would have is not to equate one specific event with another because depending on the severity of the conflict you might just be putting your life in danger which normally won’t be the case like at a concert.
What do great live action and captivating video footage have in common?
The biggest common denominator is knowing what could happen, what only comes with seasonality and getting in the thick of the action. There is this saying that humans only use part of their brain. Well, photographing or filming is a good time to feel how much your brain can process at once. Not only are you thinking about the present, but you are also analyzing what is happening and trying to situate yourself and prepare for what might happen next. It can be quite a mental exercise. When you’re shooting, you only have a split second to get that great live shot – but similarly, when you’re filming, it doesn’t matter how much you can shoot, unless it’s of a documentary, no one will watch all the footage you captured. You then only have a short time to show what was the time and place.
Your work has gone viral several times. From Occupy Wall Street has a couple kissing at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, do you ever know when you’ve captured something with mass appeal?
Excellent question. I would like to say yes. Going back to the previous question, as you prepare for what might happen, you also know what you might be able to produce. When the time is right, you find yourself clicking and thinking, “I’ve got something special over there.” You just can’t wait to get back to your computer to edit, make sure all the good stuff is sharp and the shot is what you thought it could be. Then again, there are also the false positives, where you may have felt like you had something special, but when you come back to edit it, something is missing. It may be a good shot, but it lacks that emotional and aesthetic element that is so tied to virality. The Occupy Wall Street plan and the Merriweather Pavilion plan were both special, and the topic was timely.
Because you are a DC resident, do you find yourself at an advantage when covering political events? Does it help to know how to get back from the Capitol quickly? Does it matter? Is any of this useful when covering an event outside of DC?
It’s certain. There’s no such thing as feeling like home – knowing where the nearest exits are, which street leads to X, which is the closest nuclear shelter (for us DC residents) , what landmarks one specific group might prefer to stop over another, what mode of transportation might be easiest to take to get to a specific event, etc. On that last point, as DC residents, we’re quite privileged to live in such a compact and easy-to-navigate city. There are buses, taxis, metro, scooters and my absolute favorite, Capital Bikeshare.
It may look like a free Capital Bikeshare promotion, but it’s the best $100 a year to invest in if your job is to cover political events in DC. If it’s on the Hill or downtown, there’s a station near the event, you can avoid rush hour traffic, and if the event lasts a long time, you don’t have to worry about having to cycle back since you can just drop it off at one of their stations and take Uber home after spending several hours on your feet.
What is the scariest place or event you have photographed?
Without a doubt, January 6th. Just the feeling that this might just be the last thing you could cover up is enough to make anyone feel that sense of dread.
Since I’ve already covered some of the groups involved in the attack as part of my beat, I knew that day wasn’t going to be just another protest – not to mention the writing on the wall was all over the internet .
In other words, it’s part of your job. You learn to thrive, to read and understand chaos, and ultimately to hope that you can portray, to the best of your ability, what happened that day, however scary or unnerving the circumstance may be. be. Previous inaugurations have also had a similar feel.
During Trump’s inauguration we were hit with unrest going on downtown, which certainly set off your alarm, but also during Obama’s first inauguration the crowd was so massive that you you would really get stuck in a sea of people as long as the fear of a stampede was real.
If you could only bring one, would you bring earplugs or a gas mask?
Always a gas mask. My only advice is to familiarize yourself with its use beforehand and know what the local laws say about its use. Also, keep the hotline number of a reporter or First Amendment lawyer handy. My bonus “must” would be the stomach ache pills – if the pain hits, it might not allow you to do your job properly. For concerts, bring the earplugs and not the mask.
What is the best food before filming? What is your favorite meal after filming?
Combination of fried rice for the pre-shoot. It’s not heavy, you can pack it if you don’t finish it, it’s quite delicious, and the chances of it landing you in the ER are pretty low. At the end of 14th street between my house and the White House is this great local Chinese restaurant called Great Wall Szechuan House, highly recommended.
After shooting, pizza. It’s really heavy, it feels like a warm hug after a long journey and what’s better than that first bite while going through your last hours work?
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