The next Artist Interview Project installment features photographer Steph Port. The first part of this post includes a student’s reflective summary. It is followed by a link to the interview video and summary.
Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.
Steph Port is a photographer based in Los Angeles who specializes in capturing live music events. She’s also a Phish fan. Not only did I have the exciting opportunity to interview Port, but I also was able to do so in person. We met up at the Gorge Amphitheatre during my class field trip to three Phish concerts. A video recording of the interview is below. We had such an interesting conversation that my phone battery didn’t last long enough! I’ve included notes summarizing the rest of the interview.
When shooting a Phish concert, Port looks for what she describes as “moments.” These events are a place in time where she sees the beauty in the music, audience, or band. She uses her camera to preserve forever that sensation for anyone who sees the image. Fans of Phish can relive their concert experiences through her photographs. What Port calls moments, philosopher Jeanette Bicknell describes as the social dimension of music. In her book, Why Music Moves Us, she writes, “When we are moved by music and want to share music and the feeling with others, this can be the foundation of a deeper relationship.” (p. 111). However, as Port and I discussed, someone who is not a “phan” or who dislikes photography might not get the sensation she describes. She said this perspective drives her to be better.
We also talked about her thoughts on the nature of music. In Christoph Cox’s article, “Nietzsche, Dionysus, and the Ontology of Music,” he summarizes the Nietzsche concept of “Dionysian” as a “naturalist and anti-metaphysical ontology and epistemology” (p. 497). It is contrasted to the “Apollonian,” which as Cox puts it, “is associated with ‘moderation’ and ‘restraint’” as opposed to Dionysian, which is “excess.” While the Dionysianand Apollonianare described as two competing, but beautiful forces of art, for Nietzsche, they feed off one another. After describing these concepts to Port, I asked her which one she thinks characterizes Phish’s music. Her answer surprised me; she said she views their music as more Apollonian. I had assumed she would say Dionysian because of the band’s emphasis on improvisation. However, Port’s answer focused on the importance of artistic production. She is able to analyze the band based on her experience as a musician; she finds pleasure in the creativity of composition.
I admire Port’s dedication to finding a unique shot and capturing small yet significant moments that are missed in video recordings. Her attention to detail and ability to find a unique visual perspective are striking. Our interview helped me better understand the relationship between Phish, art, and community.
Steph Port In-Person Interview
Below, you will find a summary of the rest of our discussion.
What do you look for when you’re shooting the bands? When do you say ‘damn I got the shot’? Steph said that she looks for those small moments that you can’t see in videos and when she doesn’t have the camera and she’s just a phan; she sees those moments as a photographer. The photos of these moments allow a person to enjoy it over and over again and is more enveloping than a video where moments get lost in everything else that is going on. The moments allow you to stop and see the emotions. Steph talked about capturing the moments when the band is just talking or those moments that people don’t get to see. She says that the photographers only get 15 mins at the beginning and when other photographers are all taking photos on one side, Steph goes the opposite way because maybe she can get a different perspective or angle that is better or more creative.
How is the competition between all the other photographers?
Steph says that there is a slight, healthy competition between all of the photographers but all of them are friendly and she is even good friends with some outside of photography. It’s a great group that she is a part of and she is always inspired by their work. She says that at the beginning, it was difficult for her to break into the group of mostly older men who had been in the profession for a while; some even verbally questioned her abilities as a photographer. For her this was tough to hear, like it is for some women in a male-dominated profession. However, this only motivated her more and after repeated visits to the Phish photo pit, she feels she gained more respect among the group.
Do you ever get defeated when seeing other photographers’ work?
Steph said that she is her hardest critic. But when she sees others’ work, it is a “driver” for her to be better.
Do you think Phish is more Apollonian or Dionysian?
Steph thought that Phish is more Apollonian to her because when she listens to the music it is more mental and more of an analysis that she is conducting when listening to it. Steph herself is a musician and so when she listens to Phish she is able to pick up on their transitions and it might allow her to understand and listen to the music on a different wavelength than people who aren’t musicians or aren’t educated in music.