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Photographing Made In America after a pandemic was an experience

So boom… During the pandemic, I picked up a camera and never looked back. And thus far, having a camera by my side has gotten me access to some of the dopest happenings in the culture, including photographing this year’s Made In America Music Festival.

My camera was the missing link and helped me, as a journalist, take my words off the paper and into the eyes of the beholder.

It’s been a year after the pandemic and now I’ve shot hundreds of flicks on my Canon AE-1 Program. Keep rolling the tape, and now I’m in the photo pit at Made In America Festival shooting Young Thug perform. Sheesh! Who would’ve thought?

Somehow, someway, my credentials as a writer worked to help me navigate exclusive pull-ups where some of my favorite artists were performing. Here’s how I did it.

Got the PR plug to Made In America

Made In America Entrance
Made In America Festival Entrance | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160

PR peeps are a journalist’s best friend… sometimes. You have to pick and choose your allies at PR firms as most reach out, use you, and never return the favor or in some cases don’t have anything to offer.

It takes a lot of good judgment and experience to know who to keep in your Rolodex. In this case, our PR contact for MIA Fest has been with us since we started KH and many times over has unlocked the gates to some great content. So, she’s the homie.

Still, this is where preparation meets opportunity. Anything my plug needed leading up to Made In America, we worked together to make it happen. Also, we didn’t reach out and ask about PRESS ACCESS a day or two before.

We gave our PR contact a month’s notice and started the process (filling out forms, COVID clearances, interview requests, agreements, the whole enchilada).

How are we getting to Philly, tho?

Now a native NYC aficionado, driving has become a thing of the past. And once I got the news that we were approved for photo and press for MIA Fest I hit Wanderu for the cheap transportation, there and back.

It was like taking a little time machine to another world. And yeah, I got to Philly a little early but it allowed me to get some practice shots in. Also, they just got hit by Hurricane Ida, so I didn’t know what to expect upon arrival.

Checking the vibes and sticking to my strengths

Check-in time was 11 am so you can guess what time I got there… 11 am. That’s the first thing we learn as journalists in college or from experience. Be on time and, oh yeah, hit deadlines.

But, getting there on time allowed me to map out my plan of attack. From previous MIA Fests, I’ve attended as a journalist, I knew that when you’re working a music festival, you’re working a music festival.

Plus, when you’re on time you can brainstorm with your squad, get some dope shots of activations without the business of a music festival, and interview some early arrivers.

photographing music festival
Visit USVI St.Croix | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160

Before the first set, I began interviewing and photographing some music festival fans, where I asked them about the feeling of coming back from a pandemic and going to a music festival.

Liam and James became the homies.

“I’ve enjoyed my last year creating with my collective in Philly. But this will be my first big event since the pandemic and I’m excited. Hopefully the artists bring the heat.”

Music festival fans
Liam and James patiently wait for MIA Fest to commence | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160

As the giant festival venue continued to fill up, the vibes led me to Marian and Kandy, both were sitting under a tree by the main stage. They were excited to be there and for them, it was a mixture of angst and a spiritual blessing.

“You still want to social distance but at the same time, I’m happy to be in an environment with other people because we’ve been isolated for so long. To be able to hear music, just vibe out, and be out in nature it’s kind of like a spiritual blessing. I’m grateful.”

– Kandy

Doing my rounds at Cause Village at Made In America Festival

Whats are good vibes without a good cause? Music is a universal language that can be used for good and being at MIA Fest reminded me of that.

It’s more than just music, it’s bringing people out to collectively support a bigger mission and Cause Village did exactly what it was designed to do.

With the power of music in mind, the vibes led me to my first stop at Cause Village, the School District of Philadelphia Office of the Arts and Creative Learning.

There I spoke with Frank Machos who told me about using music programs at the School District of Philadelphia to empower the youth.

“Our biggest mission at Made In America is to let people know that music education in Philly public schools is not only alive and thriving but it’s moving into the future. We want to equip the youth with the tools they need to be on these stages in the future.”

– Frank Machos, School District of Philadelphia Office of the Arts and Creative Learning
school district philadelphia
Frank Machos and team | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160

After having some fun with some of the instruments the Philadelphia School District had at their tent, I had to pull up on the fam at the Gathering For Justice.

There Luis Hernandez was setting up for passer-bys ready to learn more about the Gathering for Justice initiatives. It was great seeing a familiar face and make a connection over the music.

Listen to our podcast Advocate Daily (click here)

Asking him his thoughts on merging activism and music, Hernandez would go on to quote Harry Belafonte’s mentor ¬†Paul Robeson, “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth…”

Hernandez continued:

“We truly believe that, here at the Gathering For Justice. When the opportunity arose we were super excited. An opportunity to push out our initiative, let folks know about the amazing work that we’re doing, and to engage everyday people into our cause is amazing.”

– Luis Hernandez
activism music festival
National Director at Gathering For Justice, Luis Hernandez poses for a pic at Cause Village | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160

Into the photo pit. The stress that comes with photographing a music festival

Finally, I was ready to put my Canon AE-1 Program to work. It was time to hit the photo pit. I had to choose carefully and now that the Made In America venue was jam-packed with fans, navigating would from stage to stage became a little more than a breezy walk.

photographing music festival
MIA attendees line up at the front gate| Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160

The first thing I noticed, the stage was high and my Slim Zoom stopped working the day before… SICK. Still, I managed to get a dope shot of Morray as he took the stage.

Morray music festival
Morray takes the stage at MIA Fest | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160

Shuffling my way over to watch Griselda’s performance, shamefully, I was unprepared. It hurts so much. I wasn’t checking the status of frames I had left but I managed to swap out my rolls with just enough time to capture Benny the Butcher and West Side Gunn in action.

griselda performance
West Side Gunn and Benny the Butcher take the stage | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160

I then made my way to Baby Keem’s set. I was a little happier with the outcome here. I did miss a shot or two of Brent Faiyaz, who was also just casually chillin’ watching Baby Keem go off, but, it’s ok. =(

Feeling like I was on #TeamNoBreak, this time around I checked my frame count and swapped out my rolls in the press tent before Young Thug’s performance.

If you thought the stage was high in my other shots, to my luck, Young Thug pulled out all the stops for his very pink, very foggy performance. As we waited for him to hit the stage, to the crowd’s surprise, he would perform from atop a caged spider.

young thug music festival
Young Thug’s very pink performance | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160
photographing music festival
Young Thug’s very pink performance | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Portra 160

But wait what about the music festival fans, tho?

One thing we can’t forget when photographing a music festival is the fan experience. Because I had access to the photo pit this made capturing the overall experience of Made In America quite light.

Photographing a music festival is not easy, Here’s what I learned…

Remembering the (L) I took missing out on capturing Brent Fayiaz at Baby Keem’s set, for Young Thug’s performance I kept my eyes peeled for rappers who might be watching in the crowd.

With a touch of luck and preparation, I was able to capture A$AP Ferg in the photo pit.

ferg photographing music festival
A$AP Ferg looks on Young Thug’s performance from the photo pit. | Photo Courtesy: @claudejeasy | Film: 35mm Kodak Color Plus

Shooting film is its own obstacle. A lot of money and a lot of failures before learning what’s really good. The next time, I’m presented with the opportunity of photographing a music festival like Made in America, I’m definitely going to need a zoom lens and Portra 400 instead of 160.

The movement during live performances was just way too much. But who knows? I’m still waiting to see what I get from this CinePlus 800 roll. Those are mine.

Till next time. Stay fly and never stop creating.