By Erin Christie
In the absence of live music post-pandemic, globally, staff at live entertainment venues, concert-goers, and musicians have faced hardship as they’ve learned to adapt to life without shows. Their routines, and in many cases, careers have thus been massively changed, and may not return to their normal state for the foreseeable future (that is, until it is possible to gather in groups once more). In addition, live music photographers — who essentially make their living and strengthen their portfolios at the will of gigging — have faced just as much difficulty with their livelihoods also at a standstill.
For example, Boston photographer and creative Omari Spears (@o.shoots; website) spent many of his evenings camera bag in-hand, moshing around in basements and at stages all over the city for publications such as Allston Pudding for the past few years. Historically, he has been able to photograph anyone from local favorites such as Anjimile, DUMP HIM, Night Moth, Raavi & the Houseplants, Camp Blood, and countless others; touring bands such as Show Me the Body, Frankie Cosmos, and FKA Twigs; and even Boston Calling (view some of his work below). Currently, however, his world (like many music photographers have experienced) has been turned upside down since gathering at and covering shows became a thing of the past.
With the future being so uncertain, I recently caught up with Omari to learn about how his career has shifted since the beginning of the pandemic and how he is feeling regarding the future of the industry moving forward, in addition to what he has been focusing on .
Hi! To begin, can you give a little background on yourself and your career thus far?
My name is Omari Spears. I've been photographing live music in Boston since around the end of 2017. I go to a lot of different types of shows but I'm a huge fan of local bands and smaller, more intimate shows.
How would you say things have changed since the pandemic began?
Since things have been shut down due to the pandemic, I haven't been doing too much interesting stuff. The first few months of being on lockdown, I focused more on playing music and practicing instruments, but lately, I've been spending more time just kind of on the computer. I've been listening to music, but I've been sort of behind or out of the loop when it comes to new releases or new artists to check out. I'm not a huge social media person so a lot of discovering new music for me happened at shows.
How have you been keeping yourself occupied since live shows are on hold at the moment?
Photography-wise, since live music was the main thing I shot, I haven't been shooting too, too much. I have been able to do a few promo photos for bands and I've also been part of a group of folks working on a project called Bring Music Home that focuses on venues that have been closed due to COVID-19. That project has let me get to go to a handful of venues around Boston and photograph them, which is a surreal feeling since, other than me and a few other people, the buildings are empty. The whole thing has been cool to work on, but a definite highlight, though, was going to ONCE in Somerville and photographing one of their soundstage recordings. I felt pretty lucky to be one of a handful of folks that got to see live music being performed in a venue that day. Seeing how they COVID-proofed their space was also pretty cool.
Additionally, how are you feeling about the future?
The current predicament with live shows being on hold is a pretty huge bummer. Pre-pandemic, I was at shows maybe like 3-5 times a week, and time that I wasn't spending at shows or my day job went towards working on photos, so not having that to do was a pretty jarring shift that took a lot of getting used to. Something that I've heard from a lot of folks who work at venues is that live entertainment was the "first to close and will be the last to re-open" and we've got a while until we'll have live music inside of venues back. Hearing about places closing down in Boston and across the country has been sad, and knowing that we've still got a lot more waiting to do makes the whole thing feel like it's in a pretty shitty state of limbo. I think, because of that, I've tried not to think of it too hard.
It's tough to think about how things will look in the local music scene in 2021 or whenever things are able to re-open. In the meantime, it seems like a lot of artists and venues have turned to different digital ways to perform like livestreaming sets, which is cool, and it's great having different avenues to support artists, but I'm pretty eager to get back into venues.
While we wait for live music to return, it’s important to also support creatives such as Omari whenever possible. If you’re in the Boston area and interested in setting up a photo session/interested in learning more about his rates, make sure to send him a message here or via IG. Additionally, check out his website and his work with Allston Pudding.