Wednesday, December 2, 2009

5 Years: How it came to be

This isn't going to be an easy entry for me to write, nor will it be very short. All I ask is that if you enjoy any aspects of my photography, whether it's my concert work, still life, nature, anything, please read this. This isn't going to be me trying to get you to buy anything or support a cause or any of that. This post is a page right out of my life and I've torn it right from my heart to share it.

This entry deals with a matter of loss and gain, and explains how DIGImmortal Photo came to be, right down to the name. So without more useless introduction, here we go:

In March of 2003, my desires of working in the music industry, coupled with the same desires shared with me by my best friend, and accompanied by my family printing business, led me/us to start Paragon Music Magazine. Our very first issue was 2 sheets of paper, printed in black and white, stapled and folded to make 8 whole pages. We had a centerfold article which was a review of Black Label Society's "The Blessed Hellride," an interview with a friend of ours who was in a Hardcore band, a local comedian who I met through a friend, and my own column that I called "The Vent Column" where I would bitch and moan about anything and everything pissing me off at the time.

We started putting out issues once every month and driving them around to local music hot spots where people could pick them up for free. We did OK for a while, the issues got bigger and we started to network and make real connections in the music industry. We started doing interviews with bands whose publicists saw potential in what we were doing. We learned everything as we went along. We made many good decisions, and we had some slip-ups as well. I don't remember what interview we were trying to book when the PR agent asked if we wanted tickets and a photo pass to the upcoming show. Free tickets is a no brainer, but photo credentials would be awesome! We took them up on it and I shot my first show. The photos were awful because the camera was awful. To put it in perspective, it was a 0.3 megapixel Sony Mavica. Yes, 0.3 - not even one whole megapixel. Cell phones took better pictures 4 years ago!

Even with crappy pictures, it was fun, and it gave us something exclusive to run with the feature, instead of the same old press photos that were going around at the time. I did a few more shows with that Mavica until I rationalized that if I was going to be taking my own pictures for Paragon's features, I'd be better off investing in something a little better. So I got myself an Olympus 4 megapixel point and shoot, or Prosumer, as they called it, because it included some manual controls that would make it appealing to pro photographers.

That was the camera for me, I was sure of it, that would be the one to get me awesome pictures of awesome concerts and it would help me put Paragon on the map. Now I just had to figure out how to use it. You see, most people use the creative modes, or Auto, to take their pictures and they are happy with them. But shooting concerts in low, constantly changing lighting conditions, without flash, takes much more know-how of the camera system and its abilities and weaknesses. So I would figure it out as I went along. Until December 2004.

"I'm Broken"
It was December 4, 2004. It was a rainy night but I was on my way out the door to a concert I had been waiting on for weeks. Just 2 nights prior I was able to set up an interview with the singer. The band was Damageplan and I was interviewing Pat Lachman. I would have loved to interview Dimebag Darrell or Vinnie Paul, since Pantera was such a huge part of my life for many years and I always drew strength and inspiration from their music, but getting to interview Pat was just as awesome to me because I would get to hang with him backstage before the show. I got there a little late, but still early for their performance, got escorted backstage and met with Pat. We did the questions, he was nice enough to take a picture with me and sign my Damageplan CD booklet, and then we did a shot of Jagermeister and he gave me a beer. It was so awesome to be there, I couldn't even describe it to you. Mind you I was still new at this but trying not to look like the newbie, so I didn't wanna be all "Where is the rest of the band?! Can I meet them!?" - So I just played it cool and we wrapped up because Pat was going up on stage in a few moments to do a song with The Haunted, and I hung out by the side of the stage.

I stood there in front of the crowd barricade, watching as they hauled in Bob Zilla's and Dime's amps, set up Vinnie's drums, and did all the usual mic checking. The lights went low and the band took the stage. I think I did more singing along than picture taking, but I also blame the incredibly slow autofocus for that. I stayed right in front of Dimebag the entire time. I got a bunch of shots of him, some shots of Pat, one or two of Vinnie, and unfortunately none of Bob Zilla. I did the allowed 3 songs with no flash and was led out of the photo pit. I hung out for the rest of the set, discreetly snapping a few more shots from the side of the stage while Dimebag played his guitar solo that led them into 2 Pantera classics to close the set. As he was playing I remembered why Pantera meant so much to me. The power in the music and the energy in the lyrics, they just drive you, and when that drive is positive you feel like you can move mountains. As the band was leaving the stage, I reached out for a high-five but all I got was Dime's arm. Fine by me, the man is a legend and a hero to me, I'll take grabbing his arm over nothing at all.

I hung around for a bit while they set up the stage for Shadows Fall, but I didn't really intend on staying for them because I was fighting a pretty bad cold and wanted to get home and look at the photos. On my way out I was flicking through the LCD previews and they were much less stellar than I had originally hoped they would be. A lot of blurry shots, either from motion blur or flat out bad focus. In the end, there wasn't really much besides maybe 2 or 3 photos that I thought would be acceptable for print. But there was hope because now I had a contact at their label who could hook me up in the future, and during the interview Pat told me that after the tour they'd be in the studio recording the second album. I figured, hey, it was still an awesome night, and maybe next time I can meet Dime and Vinnie backstage if the label was impressed with the quality of the interview (because they sure as hell wouldn't be blown away by the photos).

5 days later I wake up and go online before work, only to see what I thought was a terrible joke. A headline on my homepage said "Rocker Dimebag Darrell Dead" - my jaw dropped and I felt a sinking feeling overcome me. This couldn't be true! No way! Dimebag isn't dead, this must be a different Dimebag Darrell, maybe some dummy in a tribute band crashed his car or something. Sure enough though, the article went on to read that Dimebag Darrell of Damageplan, formerly of Pantera, was killed the night before, December 8, when a crazed fan got on stage at the start of the band's set in Ohio and put a bunch of bullets into him.

Silence. That's all there was for a minute. Dead silence in my head. A man who meant so much to me was just killed in cold blood doing what he loved to do, doing the thing that people loved him for. How could it happen!?

I tried calling the tour manager, thinking that I'd be able to act like some big-shot press person or something, but got no answer. I found out later that day that the tour manager had also been shot. I called a photographer friend of mine who knew Dimebag personally, no answer. It was impossible to deal with, I was so shocked.

In the months that followed so much had been going on in the Metal community. Tributes, news pieces, interviews. You name it. If it had to do with Dime and his legacy, it was out there. All I had to offer was an interview with Pat and some blurry photos that didn't deserve the time it took to try posting them online.

"New Found Power"
I was depressed and angry for a long time, it took years to get over it. Some people would call it silly and childish, but when someone you could only wish to ever meet was inches away from you, or maybe just in the next room, and you blow your chance of meeting them, the last chance you'll ever have, because you're trying to look professional and play it cool, you find it hard to forgive yourself. I could have told him how much his music meant to me, or how his previous band got me through some pretty crappy times in my life. I could have told him that I loved the new album and couldn't wait for the next. Or maybe I wouldn't have had the guts to say any of that, maybe it would have just been one of those speechless "I'm a big fan" type situations, totally starstruck with nothing useful to say. But at least I would have had the chance.

Something changed the morning of December 9, 2004. I looked at my little bitty, virtually unknown magazine and my just-ok-camera differently. We put out a tribute issue featuring the interview with Pat. A year later we did another tribute issue that featured interviews with some of Dime's friends. We had Dean Z. from Dean Guitars, Chad Lee of, Nick Catanese of Black Label Society, and comedian Jim Florentine; all were close friends of Dime's. We got them to share some incredible stories and I ran some of the photos that I didn't really think were worth looking at when I took them.

But from the moment I knew Dimebag was really gone, I knew that I couldn't just take sub-par photos. I idolized a lot of these people, and I was DAMN lucky to be able to have the access to them that I had. I could not waste these opportunities. I started focusing on my photography much more seriously. If a concert came to town, I wanted to be there. Even if I didn't care for the band, and even if I didn't have a feature to run on them, I wanted to photograph them because someone, somewhere out there, idolized them as much as I idolized "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott.

I needed a place for people to see these pictures that I would take, though. I needed an identity as a photographer. Paragon was getting harder to keep publishing on a regular basis, and the gas prices were killing me. When you drive all over the state to give out your hard work for FREE, it gets hard to justify it. I decided I would make myself into a pro photographer somehow, someway. But what would I call my business? My name is Italian and it's hard enough for people to pronounce when it's in front of them, forget about trying to spell it on their own. So I wanted a cool company name. It came to me in part through the music, and part from my heart. I was looking for a name that would really exemplify what I do: I take pictures, digitally, that I hope will last forever and stand the test of time. I wanted to capture performances, bits of instances that people want to remember because they were at a given show. I was listening to Fear Factory at the time and one of their album names struck me - Digimortal - Yeah, that's it! The name is exactly what I want to convey. Well, sort of exactly. The way they spelled it and were using it, it was intended to describe a melding of human and machine, a digital mortal. I wanted something a bit different than "man meets machine," so I added an extra M to make it Digital and Immortal. After all, that was my intention, to make photos and memories that last forever, digitally, Digitally Immortal, DIGImmortal.

Since taking on that state of mind and determination, and coming up with an identity for myself, I've found myself in the photo pit in front of so many people that I admire, and even though some shows give me better pictures than others, I know I'm lucky every time. Every show is a reminder of why I do this, because everyone idolizes at least one musician out there. I have many musical idols, Dimebag was just one of them, but his death taught me to get off my ass and do something with myself - Take my artistic vision, bring it to a stage, and then put it out there for other music fans to see.

"Breathing New Life"
My styles and subjects have broadened over the years as I grow as a photographer, and my equipment and knowledge thereof has grown quite a bit, but with every single concert that I shoot I remember why I'm there. Every set of concert photos that I put out there, good or bad, is a tribute to the late Dimebag Darrell Abbott. He may be gone but he'll never be forgotten, and his inspiration will always be here with me.

It's been 5 years now since he was killed, and it still feels like yesterday. Sometimes I still get that sinking feeling knowing that there will never be a new album from him. No one loved fun like Dime did, and anyone who knew him or even watched his home movie DVDs will tell you that he was a great person, genuinely caring and light hearted and always wanted people around him to have a good time, no matter what the cost. So with or without him, let's all raise a Blacktooth Grin and be thankful that he was here at all. His time was too short, but he left us with so much. Here's to you Dime, getcha pull!

You can click on the photos in the blog entry, or go HERE to see the Damageplan photos, as I've recently re-uploaded them for the public to see.

Paragon Music Magazine is still alive and well, however in 2007 we decided to switch to an online-only format. It allows us to publish issues in full color instead of black and white, and it requires no physical distribution, which makes it less of a strain on our gas tanks as well as the print shop. We put out around 4 issues each year now, you can check it out HERE.

More soon, as always

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