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Behind the lens

by The Concordian September 13, 2011

Photo by Shannon H. Myers

Heavy rain pelted my tent as I adjusted my eyes to the glowing red of the fine tarpaulin fabric. It was day one of Ness Creek Music Festival in the boreal forest of Saskatchewan, which just the year previous had featured good friends of mine, The Sheepdogs. I turned on my phone only to find a voicemail from Deborah Dragon, Deputy Photo Editor at Rolling Stone, with some good news.
Last October, Sheepdogs bassist Ryan Gullen asked me to gather all the promo photos I had of the band for “a secret project.” Busy with school, I didn’t think much of it until one night, back in January, when I got a 2 a.m. text from Ryan announcing that my photo of them was going to be in Rolling Stone Magazine, publicizing a contest to be on the cover.
Rolling Fucking Stone! I was at once outrageously ecstatic and extremely frustrated. Here was the best news of my life, and the only ones awake to hear it were my siblings on the west coast, who I had to swear to secrecy because Dad hates being the last to know.
The morning the magazine hit stands, I received two gushing voicemail messages from loved ones before I was even able to buy the issue. Unable to help myself, I told the cashier at the metro newsstand, who very kindly pretended to care.
Four months later I received a voicemail so out-of-the-blue and so pivotal that I will never forget where I was when I heard it (which was in my car having just finished a shift fixing windshields in a parking lot.) Being a full-time student and part-time photographer, as it turns out, costs your first-born and pays in magic beans that sew together a solid future but are not accepted as currency at the supermarket.
The great thing about getting really exciting news via voicemail is that you don’t have to play it cool. I can’t remember how uncool I was, but I’m sure my face was one big dopey, surprised grin. Recorded in cyberspace was the calm voice of a senior photo editor at Rolling Stone who remembered my work and wanted to know if I was available the following week for a photo shoot with The Sheepdogs around Saskatoon. It was only after I skyped the news to my family that I received an optimistic reply from him informing me that his editor had already begun arranging plans but had wanted to have me considered. Talk about counting your eggs before they’ve hatched!
Fortunately, he had some sway, or they liked me, or they wanted to save some money not flying someone in because this is how I ended up speaking to Ms. Dragon from inside a tent pelted by pouring rain in the forest of northern Saskatchewan.
“We all just love that photo of them in the car. In fact, it may be why they’ve done so well,”she joked.
“I’m quoting you on that,” I replied.
“Shannon who?” came her quick-witted retort.
Receiving her emails containing details of the assignment and examples was challenging in such a remote region, to say the least. I found myself squatting outside the men’s backstage bathroom (the best place for Wi-Fi) using a businessman’s borrowed laptop to confirm. Celebrating the news during the four day festival, on the other hand, was a cinch. I told almost everyone, except the band themselves, hoping to surprise them at the shoot.
The Sheepdogs have been good friends of mine for years, and always “book” our apartment when they roll through Montreal, resulting in tight living quarters. Nine people in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment for four days does not fare well.
Years of bad luck and twisted fate for the band have humbled The Sheepdogs in a way that enabled them to push through the mountains of adversity with a sense of humour. I was with them on a roadtrip to The Gateway Festival in southern Saskatchewan when a highway breakdown led to gas pouring out of their van as fast as it was being pumped in. As guitarist Leot Hanson tinkered underneath the vehicle, Ryan scratched lottery tickets. Needless to say, he didn’t win; at least not in the lottery sense. By the time of our shoot, they were in the top two of Rolling Stone’s ‘Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star?’ competition, which meant that the shots would be irrelevant if they lost.
“Rolling Stone wants it reportage style so just ignore me,” I explained to the band as we walked inside drummer Sam Corbett’s parents’ house. We were headed to the basement jam space on the day of the shoot.
“We’re pretty good at that,” Ryan joked.
The local paper could not get enough Sheepdogs and sent a reporter and photographer to cover the shoot. It was extremely weird to have my photo taken while I was taking photos. I had lined up a rooftop location overlooking the river and several bridges but the band was getting impatient. They had hardly seen their home in months and wanted to attend to laundry/errands/loved ones. So we took our free 24 case of local beer, one of my few experiences with true swag, to a sandbar under a bridge. As the shoot was wrapping up, I heard a strange clicking noise echoing under the bridge. It was a bike cop who instructed Leot and Sam to march over to him. On the very same trip as the van breakdown, I got an open alcohol ticket shortly after we arrived.
There were only two negatives to the overall experience, which pale in comparison to positives. The first is that everyone assumed I shot the cover, which is simply not true, though it is flattering to have my work mistaken for that of the amazingly talented Danny Clinch.
The other drawback was that the photo they chose to run with a story that became quite controversial in Saskatoon was chosen more for its content than for its merits as an image. I am ashamed of my technical execution of the exposure and composition causing the colour to be altered but colour is subjective and perhaps they wanted a hint of the northern cold to peak through. They are, after all, the ‘hairy Dogs hailing from the North.’

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1 comment

Shannon September 14, 2011 - 16:53

I just want to note that editing misrepresents a few things here. My open alcohol ticket was only relevant in a “typical” sort of fashion because the ‘Dogs got one on the day of our shoot. As well, exposure and composition have nothing to do with colour alteration and the sentence originally discussed how the magazine printed the unedited version.

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