Photographer in shadow on left of stage in black and white (Pic: Stephen Dowling)

I’ve been shooting Buffalo Tom on and off since 2002. One of my favourite bands from my time as a music journalist in the 1990s, I interviewed them for a New Zealand newspaper for their 1998 album ‘Smitten’. I still think their trio of early ’90s albums – ‘Let Me Come Over’, ‘Big Red Letter Day’ and the superb ‘Sleepy Eyed’ take some beating.

I began shooting their European tours in 2007, after they ended a nearly decade-long hiatus with a new album. Their time off was always punctuated with a show there and there so their return was never heralded with the kind of welcome Pavement got, for instance. Which is a shame, as Buffalo Tom are ferociously good live.

Last year, they played one gig in Europe. It was in Belgium, one of the countries where their appeal has never faded (their first tour outside the US, fresh out of college, was to Belgium and the Netherlands). The show took place in the courtyard of the M Leuven, an art complex in Leuven, a small city a half-hour’s train from Brussels.

I started shooting Buffalo Tom as part of a wider project shooting bands at soundcheck on black-and-white film, but liked the contrast between the quieter pictures at soundcheck and the sweatier, more intense live shots. I got to know their tight-knit crew just as well, who no longer noticed when I was snapping away on the side of the stage (as long as I didn’t get in the way or trip over any cable, of course…).

This pic was taken during the gig that night, and that figure on the left is not some stage-invading press photographer by Buffel, the band’s own guitar tech. He’s an accomplished photographer in his own right, and has been taking fantastic pics from side of stage with his Canon DSLR for years.

Pentax ES II camera (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
Read more: Pentax ES II review

Normally, when I shoot the soundchecks and concerts, I use a Nikon F100, a Nikon FM2N and Kodak Tri-X film. This time I used something else – a Pentax ES II with an SMC Takumar 50/1.4 standard lens and Kosmo Foto’s own Agent Shadow film, pushed to 1600. This 400-ISO film might not have quite the chalk-and-charcoal contrast of Tri-X when pushed, but it still looks great pushed to 1600 and even 3200. The ES II has some pedigree as a rock ‘n’ roll camera – not only didi Brian May use one to document Queen in the 1970s, but Pennie Smith used one to shoot the photograph that became the cover of The Clash’s ‘London Calling’.

So much of music photography concentrates on what’s in the spotlight, but the joy of finding yourself in positions like this is that you get to see the stuff most don’t.

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Stephen Dowling
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