"Basically, it was an offshoot to concert photography assignments," says Sandy Carson of his new book We Were There. "I was in the photo pit shooting the bands... and turned my camera around on the fans, basically capturing the energy of the music experience."
Carson has been photographing live music in Austin for years, but We Were There is made up of a different type of concert photography; it focuses on music fans rather than the musicians themselves. In his years in the photo pit, Carson would usually grab a shot or two of the crowd, just to give context, and gradually amassed a large collection of crowd photography. "And I thought, there's something really going on here -- there's a bigger story. And then sometimes the crowd would be more lively than the music, or they had more of an emotion to express."
"There was kind of a turning point where I would be in there shooting the bands, and then I kind of turned more toward the fans," he says. "I was kind of actively seeking out more animated fans rather than the bands."
Carson estimates he's taken photos at about 3000 live shows over the past decade or so, and those thousands of photos made up the pool from which he's curated the shots in We Were There. Once the project was underway, Carson began consciously working on shots for the book. "I would seek out different genres to try and encompass a bigger picture," he says.
After taking so many pictures of fans, Carson's started to recognize his subjects around town. "I'll just be at the supermarket, and I'll be like 'Oh my God, I know that face! That's the guy from the book!'" he says. "And I've seen similar faces pop up here and there at different shows."
And since he's been doing this for a decade, he's seen those faces change. "You can see peoples' haircuts changing," he says. "They start off in the punk rock scene and then I'll see them ten years later and they're seeing like a folk band or something," Carson laughs.
We Were There features fifty of Carson's favorite photos, along with a forward by Alyssa Coppelman and essays by Dr. Katherine Parhar and Carson himself. To complete the music theme, it also includes reproduction tickets and a flexi-disc with exclusive tracks by Austin bands the Black Angels and the Sword.