Lead vocalist from Lamb of God, Randy Blythe, shares a glimpse of life on the vacant streets of a once a bustling town of Richmond, Virginia, and shares how he tackles his creative roadblock through photography. Explore how Randy navigates through a global pandemic, documented with the Leica M10 Monochrom.
Q. What’s running through your mind when you’re documenting these streets?
A. Right now, many things, but even more important to my photos than my thoughts are my emotions, I believe. I would guess the overall vibe on the streets could best be described as eerie – I’m certainly not the ﬁrst person to use that descriptor.
While I’m out shooting, I’m trying to capture that heavy feeling and covey it with my images, but that vibe is also seeping into my personal emotional state, and as I am in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, I think I feel a sadness a little more deeply as I pass vacant businesses and empty streets because I know these places, and they are normally bustling. I also ﬁnd that when I remove my stubborn emotional attachment to “the way things should be” and just accept them as they are, I am seeing a stark beauty in the stillness – there is also a bit of excitement at capturing an aesthetic in my hometown that simply didn’t exist until a very short time ago. And of course, I am wondering when this will be over, but I am a patient and realistic man – I know things will get worse before they get better.
As I shoot, I am hoping that the “worse” part will be minimised by people taking this pandemic seriously and implementing social distancing. Finally, when I do make a stranger smile on the street with my camera, I feel a weight being lifted, a sense of relief – this is still my home, and the people here are still friendly, even in this situation. It makes me hopeful.
Q. How do you express your visual creativity while practicing social distance?
A. Honestly, with the exception of no super-tight portraits, it’s not that much different than what I normally do. I’m not a studio photographer, and I tend to shoot outdoors a lot already. Right now is really not the time to be indoors around people you aren’t already living with, so being outside and shooting with a 90mm prime allows me both ventilation and distance from my subjects. I will say that on the street, the old trick of a warm smile to make your subject feel more at ease, either before of after the photograph is taken, seems to work more than ever. Most people are worried and tense right now and expressing the fact that you acknowledge their existence and shared humanity with a smile seems to be greatly appreciated. I’m not shaking anyone’s hands anytime soon though, that’s for sure.
Q. Tell us the story behind this image?
A. I shot this photo on March 13th, less than a week ago, but it already seems like ages. The local university, VCU, had announced that all classes for the rest of the semester would be conducted online-only, and people were just starting to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. My friend Matt and I decided to take a walk through the deserted area around VCU campus to check out the vibe. Almost no one was out, which was highly unusual for a Friday night in the city, even with school out of session. As we were walking, I spotted this abandoned mask- it was the only piece of trash I saw on that block, and the dirty mask really stood out against the dark brick sidewalk. I got down low and shot with my Summilux 35mm wide open at f/1.4 to make the contrast of colors and textures more apparent- even parts of the mask are out of focus. I think this visually reflects the fact that the Coronavirus is at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now. Just like the photo, we must remember that there is still light in the distance, even if it is out of focus right now. We all need to handle the task right in front of us (arresting this pandemic), but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that things will be brighter soon enough if we are just patient and do the right thing.
Q. What is the one takeaway you hope your images deliver?
A. That beauty never stops existing, even during hard times- you just have to stay out of the catastrophising monkey mind long enough to see it. Humanity has faced much, much worse situations than this, and we are still here. This too shall pass.
Q. Tell us about your professional experience or background in photography.
A. I’ve been shooting for about 9 years now. In that time my photos have appeared in various publications (Revolver, Unbuilt, rollingstone.com), used as album and t-shirt art by rock bands, and have appeared in a few different books. I have held three exhibitions – at Sacred Gallery NYC, The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, and the Leica Gallery Boston.
Q. How did you become involved with photography?
A. It was entirely accidental! I bought a “pro-sumer” DSLR in order to shoot video for a documentary I had in mind, but mostly just wound up shooting skateboarding footage. One day I was going out to skate and ﬁlm when I noticed my reﬂection in my coffee pot on my stove – “That looks kinda cool,” I thought “let’s try and use this camera for what it’s really made for.” I pointed & clicked. When I saw the image, I was instantly hooked – it wasn’t a great photograph by any means, but it gave me the bug. I had never wanted to become a photographer, but ever since that very ﬁrst photograph, I am rarely without a camera.
Q. What’s your gear of choice?
A. While I was shooting and learning to control exposure with various DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, I was researching the history of photography. This lead me to Henri Cartier-Bresson, and, like so many others I was stricken by the beautiful economy of his photographs. I found out that he was a Leica shooter, and although great, gear doesn’t guarantee even average photographs, there was something about the “look” of his photos that made me want to try an [Leica] M. A friend loaned me one for an afternoon, and after I shot with it for an hour I knew I had to own one – I bought my ﬁrst M not long after, and I’ve never looked back. I shoot primarily with an M10-P and M Monochrom (Typ 246), and the two lenses I use the most are the Summilux 35mm and Summilux 50mm (and my running-out-the-door-no-time-to-think-emergency-grab-and-go camera is the [Leica] Q.) For this series of photos, I used the new M10 Monochrom and Summilux 90mm (in addition to my 50mm & 35mm). I can say it’s quite a step up from my Monochrom (Typ 246) – the lowlight performance is insane. Fantastic camera and beautiful portrait lens!