For eight years, Local Spins has published some spectacular concert photography. And some of the best photos have been taken by Tony Norkus, who today shares his favorites, along with stories about each image, from Bassnectar fans to Charles Bradley’s Grand Rapids debut.
SCROLL DOWN FOR A SLIDER PHOTO GALLERY
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
The first time photographer Tony Norkus and I communicated was not long after I decided to launch the Local Spins website in 2012.
I had seen his photos and, somehow, he had found the fledgling Local Spins site about a year after he had started sneaking his camera into shows and was interested in contributing images to the online publication as a concert photographer. I didn’t hesitate for a second, eager to bring aboard what I perceived as a standout, top-of-the-heap concert photographer.
Nothing over those eight years has changed my mind. Tony has an incredible eye, a knack for capturing emotion and action on stage, and a brilliant feel for editing the images that he snaps. Oh, and as other photographers will point out, he’s VERY tall and uses that to his advantage.
More than that, he adores live music and has alerted me to artists and tours that I might otherwise have overlooked. It takes a special talent to be a good concert photographer amid fast-moving action and challenging lighting conditions, and those with a passion for the music itself have a leg up on other shooters.
So, I asked Tony to submit some of his favorite photos, along with brief descriptions and stories about the concerts and artists he’s captured with his arsenal of cameras. Of course, narrowing down the best from this catalog was virtually impossible, so consider this just a “snapshot” of his work over the years.
In coming weeks, we’ll spotlight the work of other freelance photographers who’ve been showcased at Local Spins. Consider it our way of drawing attention to the hardworking, dedicated photojournalists who’ve documented the most compelling concerts in West Michigan’s recent history.
Here are some of Tony’s favorite photos, accompanied by something rare: The stories behind those images in his own words. Plus, there’s a full photo gallery with more images below. Enjoy. – John Sinkevics
Editor’s note: Photographers retain copyrights. Used with permission.
Twin Peaks (MoPop Festival 2016) – Sometimes when you’re shooting a band, you get sucked into shooting one member because they’re so animated, you can’t take your camera off of them. That’s what happened here. About 80 percent of the shots I took from of their set are of this guy.
Twenty One Pilots (Van Andel Arena 2016) – Good drummer shots are hard to get because they’re usually buried somewhere in the back of the stage, but the drummer for 21 Pilots was right up front with great lighting. Besides Kim from Matt & Kim, I’ve never seen a drummer play so hard or intense either.
Kid Rock (Van Andel Arena 2017) – Say what you want about Mr. Rock, but he puts on a killer show and his jumping skills put Diamond Dave’s to shame.
Father John Misty (Mo Pop 2016) – If Jesus played guitar, I think he’d kind of look like FJM here. Very cool.
Fall Out Boy (Van Andel Arena 2016) – I’m 100 percent convinced that Pete Wentz knew I had my camera on him and did this pose for me. It’s too perfect. And when FOB came back 2 years later, I got the exact same shot again. Pete must practice this move at home.
Elton John (Van Andel Arena 2016) – I’m just a casual fan, but it was so surreal standing 5 feet away from Elton John. Usually big arena acts like Elton make photographers shoot from the soundboard, but we all got to shoot from up against the stage at this show. You could tell he was playing it up for all the photographers up front too, looking right into our lenses making sure every photographer got at least one good shot. Such a great performer.
Charles Bradley (The Pyramid Scheme, 2013) – I’ve never seen anyone sing with more emotion than the late Charles Bradley. His facial expressions were so powerful. I usually move around a lot and shoot from different spots at shows to get some variety. But this one I just stood in one spot and zoomed in on his face as close as I could. Shooting someone like Charles Bradley is a photographer’s dream.
Lana Del Rey (Masonic Temple in Detroit, 2014)– My wife is a huge LDR fan, so any time she comes close to Michigan, we have to go see her. I didn’t have a photo pass to this show or any special access, so I just went as a civilian like everyone else. We heard she’ll sometimes meet & greets with fans after shows, so we hung out by the back entrance with about 40 other fans, waiting for her to come out. After an hour or two, she came out and talked to everyone, signed autographs, and took pictures. I just had a point and shoot 35mm film camera with me. I was kind of bummed when I first saw this photo because her eyes were cropped out, but its one of my all-time favorite photos now. Its anonymous in a sense but you can still tell its her from the “Paradise” tattoo on her hand. Plus love the smile. It’s a great moment that I’ll never forget.
Kiss (Van Andel Arena 2019) – Sometimes it’s depressing shooting older bands because their shows don’t have the same energy they did 30 or 40 years earlier. This Kiss show was a blast to shoot, though. I imagine they looked and played exactly the same in the ’70s that they did here.
Party Wolf (GWAR at The Orbit Room, 2015) – This was some fan that dressed up for the show and was roaring. Or maybe he was in GWAR. Can’t tell the difference.
Haim (Mo Pop, 2016) – I don’t know if the term “bass face” was coined because of Este Haim here, but she was the reason I first heard of it. Google it and her photo is the first one that pops up.
Tip Top Punks (Skitchin Fest 2.0, 2018) – I was assigned to cover this event for a Local Spins story and to get a photo of the organizer and creator, Tyler Dykema. I think we took a couple outside by himself but they didn’t feel right. So we got all of his friends together and took these group photos, which I thought captured the whole grassroots and DIY vibes of the event.
Marilyn Manson (The Orbit Room, 2015) – I was very nervous about shooting Manson because I heard he likes to mess with photographers and breaks their gear + spits on them. I was expecting the worst at this show, but he was great to shoot, and he was playing it up for all the photographers.
Bassnectar Fans (DeltaPlex, 2016) – Bassnectar performs from a very tall stage, and it’s almost impossible to get any clear shots of him from the photo pit. So the only thing you can do as a photographer from that close is to turn around shoot the crowd. One of the few shows where I prefer shooting the crowd instead of the artist.
Andrew W.K. (The Pyramid Scheme, 2015) – There are usually rules against using flash at concerts, but this Andrew W.K. show was so insane, I knew nobody would notice or care if I used one. So during the last half of the show, I got as close as I could to the stage and and fired away. I’ve shot WK three times. This is my favorite pic I’ve snapped of him because there’s a great connection between him and the crowd here.
(Electric Forest, 2014) – Snapped this photo while walking through Electric Forest. Not sure what he’s on, but I thought it was funny that you had this densely-packed crowd and everyone gave him enough space to pass out like this in the middle of it. I like it a lot because it shows a side of Forest that isn’t as glamorous or as pretty as most of the photos you see taken there.
Steve Aoki (GVSU, 2013) – I don’t have a lot of favorites from EDM shows, but I really love this shot of Aoki. Super high energy and he really interacts well with the crowd during his set, as opposed to sitting behind a laptop pressing buttons and looking bored.
Blind Crowd Surfer (Killswitch Engage @ Intersection 2016) – Getting this shot was pure luck. Was at the side of the photo pit towards the end of KSE’s set and looked up and saw this blind guy crowd-surfing. Raised my camera and and just happened to get this shot. I think I shared it with KSE that night, and they re-posted it on their Instagram and the guy, Tony Gebhard, kind of became famous after this with local media (including Local Spins) doing some stories about it and interviewing him. I met Tony after this and he’s a real cool guy. We even went downtown to take some photos together and they turned out great. (This photo also appeared in the 2017 Local Spins calendar.)
PHOTO GALLERY: A sampling of the best of Tony Norkus