Book Review: "We Were There" by Sandy Carson
By Frances Molina
For the last four years I’ve been living in Austin, TX, a city that has long boasted the title of “Live Music Capital of the World”. While I would argue that the city is more famous for its breakfast tacos and insufferable traffic, Austin remains a safe harbor for musicians in need of exposure and for music fans looking to find the next great sound. On any given night, if you walk down the right street or into the right club, you never know what you’re going to find. Trash or treasure - there’s a music scene for anyone willing to listen.
In We Were There, contemporary photographer Sandy Carson turns the eye of his camera from spectacle to spectator, capturing the shock, awe, and visceral excitement of fans crowded and crashed together in venues to witness their favorite musicians perform live. We Were There is an anthology collection of over ten years of photographs taken by Carson while on assignment at Austin’s most popular music festivals and events from 2007 to 2017.
Carson is no stranger to the eccentric Austin crowds, having already covered SXSW, a two-week city-wide celebration of film, music, and tech, once before. Carson’s photographs capture tourists and locals alike, frolicking in the mess and merriment of the festivities. But the subjects of We Were There are striking not for their weirdness but for their raw, contagious energy; joyous, wild, stunned, and electrified.
Pupils blown, mouths agape in howls of excitement or fixed into thin lines of silent awe, an array of faces glow silver with sweat and tears. Illuminated by the stage lights, hordes of bodies blur together. Concert-goers smile into the chaos whether crushed against metal barricades or under one another or even under the performers themselves. In this collection, Carson aimed to create a photographic experience that focused on the spectators as a way of communicating the action being watched.
We Were There reveals the symbiotic relationship of power between audience and artist; as he puts it “one just cannot exist without the other”, in the same way that gods need their believers and vice versa. In this way, Carson’s work becomes so much more than a beer and sweat-soaked kaleidoscope of candids; they become portraits of near-religious ecstasies, two parts coming together in a communion of sound and fury.