WASHINGTON, Sydney Opera House, 25 January 2012. Wow, just wow.
I recently had the opportunity to shoot Megan Washington at the Sydney Opera House, in connection with the Sydney Festival 2012, for her performance of Insomnia. Insomnia, an album released in October 2011, is a collection of eight emotionally intense tracks about “displacement, loneliness, grief and anger, anxiety”. Washington plans to perform Insomnia just four times, with the other three shows scheduled for New York, London and Paris.
Before I jump into reviewing the performance - I’d like to give you Washington fans a bit of background on how I landed this opportunity to photograph her at the Sydney Opera House, particularly since I’ve never actually professionally photographed a gig… ever. And this gig, well, it was rather important… being at the Sydney Opera House and all. Previously, all my live music photography has been from the crowd and has required a lot of elbowing my way through mosh pits and the like.
Anyway - I discovered Washington was hosting an exhibition featuring her album artwork at MART Gallery, Surry Hills. Having previously gone to MART for a similar exhibition by the Jezabels and having had the opportunity to chat to some of the band members, I decided to go check it out and see if I could have a chat to Washington. Surely enough, Washington was there and more than willing to have a chat. She took me through some of the album artwork, showed me her favourite piece and shared a couple of stories. She then asked me what I did for a living, “Financial analyst ….. but I *also* really like photography, live music photography actually”. I then proceeded to tell her about how I took some shots from the crowd at her Sydney Festival First Night performance and that I’d attempted to send them to her, but wasn’t sure whether she had received them. She then told me where I should send them so she could check them out. Kindly, Washington then said “if you ever need a media pass, just let me know”. Half jokingly, I suggested her gig at the Sydney Opera House the following week. Before I knew it, she’d brought her publicist over to introduce to me and told me to get in contact with her. Surely enough, I ended up with a media pass (albeit it ended up being quite late notice, just a mere 5 hours before her gig).
Arriving at the Sydney Opera House, I was introduced to some of the other photographers. I have to admit - I felt slightly inadequate with just my Canon 500D with an 18-135mm lens around my neck, while some of the others boasted $15,000 of equipment around theirs. But I thought, best not think about that! Focus. And I ended up with the photos above. Sure, I would have liked to have had a 1D Mark IV with a 70-200mm f2.8. But whatever.
As for the actual performance itself… I can completely understand why Washington has decided to perform this just four times. Emotionally intense is an understatement. On stage, in addition to Washington’s piano, the set included percussion, guitar, a conductor directing a string orchestra and a sofa where Washington sat between songs.
She opened the night with a soulful rendition of Sentimental Education. I have to admit - it almost made me openly weep. I looked back at the crowd and found that this sentiment was shared. Washington’s voice was beyond beautiful. She is such a talented musician. In between songs, Washington would retreet to the sofa and there would either be musical pieces performed by the rest of the band or artsy video clips played on the screen in the background.
Her performance throughout was unfaltering, each song performed with as much passion as the next. However, the emotional climax (for me, at the very least) was High Treason. This song is just amazing and I almost have no words to describe the experience of seeing this song live, but I will throw a few around anyway. It was sung so fervently - completely impassioned and earnest. So heartfelt. This was completely reflected by sincerity of emotion displayed by Megan’s body language. I almost felt numb by the end of the song, and even I felt exhausted by the emtionally charged build up towards the end. How Washington finds it within herself to perform this piece is beyone me. Quite miraculous, really. It will go down as one of the best songs I’ve seen performed live.
I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to a) meet the lovely Megan and b) take photographs of her at the Sydney Opera House (which by no means do this wonderful performance justice). No doubt the three remaining performances of Insomnia will be just as mind blowing.
Special thanks goes out to the Sydney Festival organisers who put this wonderful event on - absolutely brilliant!
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