At Jazz Fest, Photographers Have A Culture All Their Own : A Blog Supreme Some of the most iconic images of New Orleans musicians have come from its annual Jazz & Heritage festival — thanks to the scores of photographers who crowd the apron of the stage, vying for the best shots. Eve Troeh, of member station WWNO, tagged along with one of them this year.

At Jazz Fest, Photographers Have A Culture All Their Own

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The 44th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival wraps up tomorrow. This weekend and last, the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Phoenix and Los Lobos have played alongside dozens of local bluesmen, soul belters and Cajun fiddle players. Some of the most iconic images of New Orleans musicians have come from Jazz Fest. And the photographers who cover it have a culture all their own. Eve Troeh of member station WWNO tagged along with one.

EVE TROEH, BYLINE: For Skip Bolen, a day at Jazz Fest starts with three vital tools: iced coffee, a yellow highlighter and the festival schedule.

SKIP BOLEN: So, I'm looking at Little Freddie King. I photographed him before and he's a lot of fun. Diane Reeves, we've got Kermit Ruffins. Definitely want to see BB King. Dave Matthews, he's kind of a boring artist to photograph. Actually, if I photograph him I know I'll make money, which is kind of stupid but...

TROEH: But it's how he makes a living, balancing local favorites with venerable elders - and, yes, the money shots that will sell. Bolen works for Getty Images, which supplies pictures to news outlets around the world. Bolen's from Lafayette, Louisiana and he's lived in New Orleans for decades. He loves music. But on the job, he's not listening so much as looking.

BOLEN: Those blues musicians are so dapper. They're dressed in their suits and it can be the hottest day of the year and they're just pouring sweat. And they're just a lot of fun to photograph. You know what, let's go ahead and do the blues tent first.

TROEH: The festival's held at New Orleans' horse track...


TROEH: ...which is kind of appropriate for the way he works.

BOLEN: So, we're going to high tail it. We're going to pick up the pace.


BOLEN: You ready?

TROEH: Yeah.



BOLEN: It's always an obstacle course.

TROEH: He calls this his free gym membership. We dash into the Blues Tent, a show in progress.

BOLEN: Little Freddie King. So, we'll start from the back and photograph it to go towards the stage. Just in case it ends, we will have at least gotten a couple of pictures.

TROEH: Applause means we could be too late - but King starts another song. Bolen flashes a wristband at security and wedges himself alongside a few dozen photographers in the photo pit. The guitarist wears a purple shirt with white polka dots, red tie, blue pants, a voodoo-looking skeleton on his mic stand. Bolen changes lens. He crouches down. He climbs up on a sound monitor - probably not allowed, but he gets away with it.

BOLEN: I have a little bit of a science as to how I shoot. If somebody's holding a guitar, I kind of want to shoot in one particular direction to get the front of the guitar, not the back of the guitar. If somebody's playing a trumpet, I don't want to shoot the back of their hand. I kind of want to shoot into their hand. So, going into the photo pit, I have to think about who the artist is and what they're playing and where I want to be to get what I think is the best shot.

TROEH: The competition is fierce. So is the pressure to capture something unique. For the big acts, hundreds of photographers point their lenses at the same performer. And time is often tight. Many artists have a policy. After three songs, clear the photo pit.

BOLEN: Sometimes there's musicians who don't want anything between them and the audience. And then there's some bands don't even want any photographers.

TROEH: Bolen's built relationships with local musicians over years of shooting them. We run into Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty. Bolen photographed him at one of his first gigs on stage at Jazz Fest.

BOLEN: You got, like, a standing ovation. And you were, what, 12?

TROY ANDREWS: Twelve, 14, yeah. The one with the two trumpets, right? That's my favorite one, yeah.

BOLEN: Really?



TROEH: It means a lot to Bolen when the artists like his photos. He tells of showing one to Dave Brubeck. The late pianist liked it so much he asked to keep it. Bolen's even been asked to take musicians' family portraits. But today he's on assignment. So, we catch a merengue band, jazz singer Diane Reeves, then hit the Cajun Fais Do Do stage before getting to the obligatory headliner, Dave Matthews, where there's a sea of fans, and ominous grey clouds.


TROEH: Torrential rain starts during the first song. Cameras disappear under ponchos. Bolen bails and scurries to catch the start of BB King's set. It's still pouring as King warms up inside a huge tent.

BOLEN: We got the rain coming down and this is a perfect wrap-up, B.B. King. Can't ask for anything better than that. He's just got so many expressions and moving his hands around and throwing his hand up in the air. So, oh, here we go. It's starting.



TROEH: After a few songs, the photographers get shooed out.


TROEH: Bolen would like stay, just to listen to the rest of the show...


TROEH: ...but he has thousands of photos to edit, caption and upload just from today. He'll get only a few hours' sleep. Then it's back up, more ice coffee and more sprinting through the mud in search of the perfect shot. For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh in New Orleans.


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