As we enter another year marred by the pandemic, most music lovers would probably agree that it feels like an eternity since they experienced the sweaty crush of other human bodies at a music festival, or were transported into the world of their favourite artist at a gig.
Focusing on the unique relationship between musicians and their devoted fans, James Marcus Haney’s debut photo book, Fanatics, feels particularly pertinent against the backdrop of rising coronavirus cases and further restrictions.
The LA-based photographer, best known for his 2014 documentary No Cameras Allowed, has a long and illustrious relationship with live music, dating right back to his college days when he started sneaking into music festivals that he couldn’t afford to go to.
“I made fake press passes and used a camera as a prop as a means of getting into shows to see my favourite bands play. Since I was there and had a camera and loved shooting, I ended up shooting my favourite bands too,” says Haney.
“I eventually put together a little short film that included footage of sneaking into shows alongside the performances themselves, and handed a DVD of that film to a roadie of one of the bands I loved. They ended up inviting me on tour on a vintage train across the country and I dropped out of film school to go. Many tours and a living of filming and photographing music ensued.”
Fanatics is the culmination of a decade of touring the world with artists ranging from Mumford & Sons to Metallica, and features imagery of superfans taken at hundreds of concerts across 35 different countries during that time.
“I definitely didn’t start out with any intentions of shooting fans and making a book out of it, but I always ended up turning the camera on the crowds at shows – it’s one of the only places where a bunch of strangers get smooshed together, sing their hearts out and let their guard down,” says Haney. “It was after many years of touring the world and going to hundreds of shows that I realised there is probably a book’s worth of images.”
With a shedload of film negatives to get through, editing down his collection of images proved to be a huge task for the photographer. “I think we slimmed down 15,000 frames to these few hundred final photos,” he says.
“What really drove the edit was the pursuit of conveying the whole gamut of human feelings and experiences of going to a show or festival. Then we roughly organised them by time of day, so that the book itself starts with early morning moments and progresses throughout the day and night into late, late night, and then morning again.”
Accompanying these images are stories and testimonials from the musicians Haney has toured alongside, along with a candidly penned foreword courtesy of Elton John, who writes: “This is a book that celebrates that dedication, that music fan’s rite of passage, what you might call the magical festival spirit.
“It’s partly the sense that you can do whatever you want – get drunk, get high, have sex, whatever – at least for a weekend. And it’s partly that the one thing that’s bonding everyone together at a festival is the love of music.”
While he is sad not to be able to go on tour at the moment, Haney says that putting the book together amid the pandemic has really put things in perspective for him. “I think we all realise now what a magical thing we had – live music – and how we took it for granted,” he adds.
“This book hopefully serves as not just a look back at the last decade, but also as something we all can look forward to again once we’re through this pandemic. The more we all wear masks and stop fucking around, the sooner we’ll be able to mosh again!”