Houston's Best Music Photographers: David Block

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Back in June Rocks Off brought you Houston's ten best music photographers, as selected by a small panel of insiders and professionals. Now we'd like you readers to choose the best. Before voting opens, though, here's a little more about our finalists, in alphabetical order -- and a lot more of their spectacular photography. Best of luck to all ten.

Rocks Off: Tell us a little more about yourself. David Block: I've spent most of my life behind a camera but I've never really worked as a photographer professionally. It sounds funny but I'm that artist that couldn't afford to quit his day job.

For the past 18 years or so I've worked as a Web developer and graphic designer, but in the beginning I wanted to be a special effects artist. Man, I lived and breathed Tom Savini, Rick Baker and Dick Smith. In '91 I went to L.A. and shopped my portfolio at a Fangoria Convention. I met the guys from Industrial Light & Magic and instantly knew the next big thing was 3D.

Upon my return I received the "You're going to college or you're going to move out" speech and quickly enrolled into the robotics program at Lamar University. I began building my 3D graphics and animation portfolio as well as developing my digital video and editing skills.

It was during this time that I began working with the Houston-based band The Hunger. I developed their first Web site and designed a lot of their merch, a CD cover, made a 3D Music video and stage props like the huge devil heads and their moving keyboard stand. I'd shoot video or stills of every show I could. I owe every ounce of my success to my friend Chad "Brightooper" Cooper and those Hunger fellas.

So my buddy Chad had been working as an entertainment reporter for years and had access to every band or sport you would ever want to cover. One day I had this "Awww dude, let's join our awesome powers and build a site! You be the reporter and I'll be the artist and photog" feeling in my gut, and that's exactly what happened. From that day forward I've devoted pretty much every free minute outside of work to the site 88MilesWest.com.

What inspired you to become a music photographer? I remember going to see acts like the Cure, New Order or Morrissey at venues like the Southern Star Amphitheater and the Summit. I was always super-intrigued by the production guys. I couldn't tell what jobs they had, so I would always imagine something cool like pyro technician or something.

All I knew for sure was that I wanted to be the guy with the pass. It's horribly superficial but it worked.

Side note: I'm a film lover. I absolutely love David Lynch. I realize he isn't a music photog, but that's no matter. Lynch is just an inspiring force for everything creative inside of me.

Do you prefer concerts or portraits? Why? I prefer concerts, or more specifically, low- or extreme-lighting concerts. It's difficult capturing images in extreme lighting conditions. Shooting in the pit can get "full contact sport" crazy and getting a great shot is like going home with a trophy.

What is your favorite camera(s) to use at concerts? How long have you had it/them? I use the Nikon D300s as my primary and Nikon D90 as my backup. The 300 shoots about 7 frames per second. High frame rate is a must when shooting action. Some folks can pull it off. I can't. I bet I shoot a 10:1 bad to good picture ratio. It's better to have 1,000 too many than have ten I can't use.

I've had the D300s about 3yrs.

What would be your ideal camera to shoot live music? Realistically: I'd love to shoot a show with a NikonD4s.

Unrealistically: I'd shoot full motion with a Blackmagic or RED cam and pull the stills. I would never miss a shot again.

Do you prefer shooting at small clubs, larger venues or outdoor festivals? Why? I really love shooting big shows. The lighting is normally pretty incredible, but access to great shooting locations can be limited and/or restricted. Smaller clubs are awesome if you aren't afraid of a little contact. More often than not, small club lighting is almost nonexistent and that can be extremely challenging.

Festivals are fun because the restrictions are pretty lax but can be hell on the body. The sun and mine don't get along so well.

Story continues on the next page.

What is your best/hairiest photo-pit story? Coldplay 6/25/2012: The standard rules when shooting most shows are "First three songs, no flash." Every once in a while the stage manager will have a special request or warning for us. On this day, they showed us the location of several air canons and informed us that the cannons would go off during the second song at some point.

I tend to trance out when I shoot, and all I can think of is getting the shot. I had no idea these things could shoot paper three stories into the air. I guess I underestimated the strength of the canon or something and got a touch too close. When they shot the thing off it literally became a hair-raising experience. My hair shot straight up along with the confetti.

How often do you make eye contact with the performers? Has anyone ever called you out onstage? I have a special technique when it comes to shooting close. The performers are blinded by lights so that means they pretty much see darkness when they look into the crowd. I know it sounds crazy and probably even a little superstitious, but I wrap my lens in fluorescent tape. It acts a little like fishing tackle. They look down and see 10 black lenses and one wrapped in fluorescent tape so they look right at me. It's science man!

Each artist is a little different. Some enjoy playing up to the camera while others avoid it like the plague. Florence Welch (Florence + the Machine) doesn't allow cameras near the center stage because they distract her, while folks like Paul Stanley (KISS) basically pour gold into our cameras. I could have sworn Stanley got close enough to touch my lens with his guitar.

Maynard James Keenan (Tool & Puscifer) is in a class of his own. He wants people to enjoy the performance and not to concentrate on him specifically. I totally respect that, but in a strange way I think he enjoys toying with us. He allows photogs to shoot but, by God, you better have your game face on if think you're going to pull it off. He purposefully makes it nearly impossible to get a clean shot...and I love it. It's the ultimate cat-and-mouse game.

I feel really privileged to gain access to shoot shows. Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way. I have definitely seen a few photogs stretch the limits of what they should and shouldn't do in the pit, and it's because of that we occasionally come across artists that have zero respect for us. They will spit or throw water on us just to ruin equipment. To be honest I don't blame them a bit.

I've never been "called out" on stage but I'll never forget the time Gavin Rossdale (Bush) gave me a wave. You shoot an act enough times and you become recognizable.

What to you is the most rewarding aspect of being a music photographer? The obvious answer is that I love my family and want them to be proud of me. To be honest, I don't think they would know the difference between Snoop Dogg and Sick Puppies so as long as I'm using my talents and being a productive member of society I think I'm doing great.

The unobvious answer goes a little deeper than that. It's all very exciting. So exciting that I'm fairly positive I black out when I shoot. It's all muscle memory. I act professional but I still get starstruck. The shooting part is fun but it's the ride home I enjoy most. That's when it all hits me.

My brain snaps back and I realize I was just two feet away from Morrissey, the same Morrissey that I jumped on stage with 22 years ago at the Summit.

It's a trip man, and not one everyone can go on. I'm grateful as hell.


Violeta Alvarez

Come back tomorrow, when Rocks Off will introduce you to finalist No. 3, Trish Badger.


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