Photographing the Reivers:
Todd V. Wolfson, Jay Janner, & Rafael Rodriguez
It takes a combination of skill, perseverance, and a little bit of luck to get that perfect photo. Three photographers, despite their diverse backgrounds, have one thing in common – each has taken numerous high quality photos of The Reivers, in various settings. It doesn’t hurt that all three are long-time fans of the band’s music, either. Todd V. Wolfson is an independent professional photographer, Jay Janner is a staff photographer for the Austin American-Statesman, and Rafael Rodriguez mainly does photography as a hobby, but is no less skilled and enthusiastic about it.
They graciously agreed to be interviewed for thereivers.net website about photography, The Reivers, and where those two things intersect both in their own lives and in art itself.
thereivers.net: First, do you three know each other? I imagine you’ve seen each other at shows.
Jay: Todd and I were waiting to photograph a band at Waterloo Records during last year’s SXSW. We had some time to spare, and Todd showed me some of the album covers he shot. He told me he has shot something like a hundred album covers on those shelves in Waterloo.
Rafael: I don’t know Jay or Todd personally, but everyone knows them.
thereivers.net: Do you remember the first Reivers show or portrait you photographed?
Jay: Of course I remember. I saw them for the first time on January 23, 1987 at Eastgate Live in College Station. It was a very small place, and there was hardly anyone in the audience, but Zeitgeist gave it their all, and blew me away. I had a new favorite band!
Rafael: That wasn’t until the big reunion show at the Parish. I wasn’t a photographer back in the 80’s. But I was very excited to bring my camera to their reunion show and try my hand at it. The Parish had a wonderful stage and better lighting than most of the clubs I shoot at. After the show, No Depression contacted me and asked if they could use one of my shots for their article on the reunion show. That made my day!
thereivers.net: How did you start doing concert and/or band photography? What were your motivations?
Jay: When I was a teenager I loved music and I loved photography so it was natural to photograph the shows I attended. I lived in Bryan/College Station, which didn’t have much of a music scene, but I went to Austin as often as I could to see bands, and I’d usually take a few photos on a roll or two of black-and-white film. Back then, I just loved to take photos. The photos were never meant to be published. They were just for me.
Rafael: My photography is really a new hobby for me, a means for me to get away from my day job and back out to see the live music that I love and friends that are playing. I also enjoy helping musicians getting started with some live shots they can use for promotion. But mostly I love getting to go out and see live music and meeting musicians.
thereivers.net: Any special photography education or training you’ve had?
Todd: Some in high school, and in Austin working a ton of photo related jobs.
Jay: Well, I’m a professional photojournalist, and I’ve been working on my craft for more than 25 years so I’ve had lots of practice. My formal training was at Texas A&M’s journalism department but that was just the beginning.
Rafael: After a year or two of shooting I did take a class at Austin Community College to try and pick up some formal training on lighting, editing and printing. But just that one class.
thereivers.net: Do you prefer black and white or color?
Jay: I don’t really have a preference, but I’m required at my job at the Austin American-Statesman to shoot almost exclusively in color. Occasionally, I will shoot a project in black-and-white if I think it will improve the project.
Rafael: I shoot on a digital camera, but I mostly do my editing in color. I will do a lot of adjustments in Adobe Lightroom and play with the color and other levels. I try to recreate how I remember the room felt. Sometimes I have to shift the colors to get the details, highlights, etc. to work out. But I try to recreate what I felt that night. Occasionally I’ll convert some to grayscale, if it feels like a b&w scene or if I can’t get the colors to balance the way I like. Most of the clubs I shoot in have practically no light (Carousel Lounge?) or they just have red, which I hate trying to adjust. So most of the time I have to shift the colors a lot, but I do like to represent the colors that were there at the show.
thereivers.net: Do you prefer outdoor or indoor conditions for concert photography?
Jay: Stage lights make a big difference in the look of the photos, so sometimes it’s not so great shooting outdoors during the daytime when the stage lights don’t show up very well. But I do a lot of that during ACL Fest.
Rafael: Outdoor is nice because of the natural lighting, but the majority of the shows I go to are all indoor in low light conditions. I’ve probably developed a lot of bad habits because I’m always shooting in clubs with no lighting. And since most of the shows I go to are inside, I’m most comfortable with that.
thereivers.net: I know all three of you are friends of the band – do you see them outside of the concert/studio environment?
Todd: Sometimes, Kim.
Jay: Garrett’s kid and mine go to the same high school so I sometimes see him at Parents Night or at a football game.
Rafael: I see them mostly at shows of other friends playing. Occasionally I’ll run into them having a beer, at Barton Springs or around town. But most of the time it’s at a venue watching a band.
thereivers.net: Todd, can you tell us about the photos for Pop Beloved – do you remember that day? Where were they taken?
Todd: It was Garrett’s house, I think…I did shots on a bed that I loved. Everyone kinda in their own little mellow world, as the record represented (to me) being “OK” with the trip to being an adult/mid-life person. I liked the mellow pix on the bed…them drawing, reading, watching TV.
thereivers.net: Do you think knowing the band helps with your photos of them?
Todd: No, they actually are probably now more not into it than ever.
Rafael: With any band, knowing when to anticipate certain expressions or moves (like Cindy’s hair flip) is always fun. I like catching Joe Doerr of Churchwood in one of his jumps or gyrations. Or even just knowing the lyrics so you can anticipate a facial expression. And it’s always nice when they smile when they look at me.
thereivers.net: What do you think makes a good picture stand out from an average picture?
Todd: Soul. Passion.
Jay: It’s a combination of capturing storytelling moments with great light, an interesting composition, and a good background and foreground. It’s not as easy as it looks, and as I like to half-jokingly tell my iPhone-wielding co-workers – Leave it to the professionals.
Rafael: I like to try to capture what it was like at the show. The lighting, the interaction between the musicians, the look of the stage. A lot of times that’s difficult with the lack of light that I usually have to deal with. But catching the right expression or glance is great. I ran into someone once that was proud that they posted over 10,000 photos in the last year, but I just thought to myself, how can you feel good about any particular photo? I post quite a few pictures for friends at their events. But at one point I really wanted to quit posting and thought it would be great if I could just do a couple of gallery exhibits each year with a dozen of the photos I thought were really worth printing. So far, the closest I’ve gotten to that was getting three photos in an exhibit at Barton Springs for their “Submerged” event about what’s beneath the surface. I guess when I look through all the photos I’ve taken, very few do I really feel like are good enough to print. I’m still trying to learn what Jay and Todd do every day. I’m not there yet.
thereivers.net: Among your own photos of The Reivers, are there any you’re especially proud of?
Jay: I have only photographed them a handful of times. It was really special the first two times I shot them in the 80’s because it was so new and exciting. Then when they reunited in 2008, I would sometimes take a few shots at their shows because I still couldn’t believe they were actually back together again. I felt like I ought to document each show because it could be their last. Luckily that’s not the case. But really I just want to go to their shows to have fun, so usually I don’t take any photos except for maybe an iPhone photo.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to shoot a portrait of them for the Statesman shortly before their first reunion show in 2008. I met them at the Music Lab in South Austin where they were rehearsing for the show. It was the first time I had met any of them, and I was a little star-struck because they had been one of my favorite bands for 20 years. They were gracious enough to autograph my Translate Slowly LP and they let me photograph them rehearsing a couple of songs too. That was a cool day to say the least.
Rafael: I guess the one that was printed in No Depression, although I have others that I feel are “technically” better. I’m really bad about printing my own photos; I only have a couple hanging on my walls! It’s one of those projects that I never quite get around to doing. Maybe one of the ones from the Nutty Brown show with everyone on that huge stage. I liked the Grulkefest photos, but I don’t know how I feel about printing one of those to hang on the wall. That show had such a weird range of emotions going on.
Todd: Mostly women and erotica…and food.
Jay: Even though I have photographed every ACL Fest and almost every SXSW since I moved to Austin ten years ago, music photography is only a small part of what I do. I shoot all kinds of news, sports and features for the Statesman. I do some special projects and investigations. Mainly, I cover Austin and Central Texas, but occasionally I travel. In my 22 years at newspapers, I’ve covered hurricanes, Olympics, Super Bowls, presidential inaugurations – the list goes on and on. But I really love covering Austin.
Rafael: I like going out west to Marfa, the sky is just amazing and the terrain is striking. Also, going out west gives me a chance to try some photography of the Milky Way. It’s just amazing what you can see at night out there. A few years ago I did some SCUBA diving and had a little Cannon G3 in a housing and loved that, but I’d like to get a Canon 5D before I try that again.
thereivers.net: Favorite Reivers songs/albums?
Todd: Pop Beloved is awesome, the whole record.
Jay: I love all of their albums. I never stopped listening to them during those 17 years they were disbanded. Listening to the Reivers’ records and their live shows never fails to put a big smile on my face. I feel very lucky to have them back together and have a chance to see them perform regularly.
Rafael: Saturday was my favorite album. I can listen to that all day. Sometimes I do.
thereivers.net: What’s your preferred camera(s)? Are there any particular lenses you recommend or enjoy?
Todd: I am a Canon user exclusively for pro work. I dig the 50 Macro.
Jay: I have two Canon Mark IV cameras, a 16-35mm/2.8 lens and a 70-200mm/2.8 lens. That’s all I use on 99% of my assignments.
Rafael: I’ve got a Canon 30D from 2008 (I need to upgrade to a 5D!) and my favorite lens for indoors is my EF 24mm f/1.4L. If it’s a small venue, that’ll be the only lens I bring. If it’s larger, I’ll bring my 200mm to take portraits from across the room. But I mostly shoot with prime (fixed, not zoom) lenses because they are better in low light conditions. Other people may find that limiting, but I’ve adjusted to it. I like my 24mm because it doesn’t fisheye everything, but I can still get the whole band in one shot. And of course that f/1.4 helps me shoot in those low-light situations.
thereivers.net: Any questions you have for each other?
Rafael: No questions, just praise for their great work and hoping I can get better at it!
Below is a sampling of additional Reivers photos by each photographer. Many more can be found here on the website.
Todd V. Wolfson:
(Interview copyright 2014. All images copyright the photographer.)