The Story of a Rock Photographer


In November of 2000, I spewed out from shangri la-ic mountain tops, my teepee home and my most precious lover to find my worth in the world. Answering a quiet and ever patient inner calling, and with the wind at my back in the form of good luck, I found promise in an apartment in downtown San Francisco. I could feel big waves a comin’.

My place was next to a hotel and when my friend [photographer Natalie Fiteni] and I moved in I pointed out our kitchen window and threw out the remark “We’re going to meet bands through that window.” Why that was the thing that came to mind is quite coincidental. Two weeks later and after a crap day of getting my car towed, teaching gymnastics for $10 per hour and crying in my bath, we saw a guy with headphones rocking out in his hotel room. Both of our windows were open and when he took them off I howled and hooted. We chatted. He was playing a show at the Warfield Theater the next night opening for The Wallflowers. They came over, we drank ’til 5am and they invited us to the show.

Afterward, backstage, a man came over and said to Natalie and I “Where ever you go tonight, Wallflowers are going with you.”. We thought ‘OK pervert.’ Five minutes later Billie Jo Armstrong of Green Day and Jakub Dylan, Bob’s son, came over and asked where we wanted to go. My two weeks of living in SF-ass hadn’t a clue of where to take them. We ended up back at mine after a jukebox Fugazi session at the no more El Bobo in the mission.

The man who told us “Wallflowers are going with you” was then President of Capitol Records Andy Slater. I showed him my photo work which consisted of non-famous. He said “Wallflowers are going on a short tour in January.. I’d like you to come document it.” Oh how my mind frolicked at the idea. Oh yes yes yes.. music and photography of course, so simple. My two passions combined, how did I not plainly come up with it, or had I? Yes yes yes, that is what I will be, a rock photographer. Though in actuality that initial whisper that called me to San Francisco embedded that fact, I did know I was putting myself in a position. I did know I was going to be involved in music. Like when you can smell snow coming in the air, it was instinct.

I never heard from ole Andy again about it. Typical music business as I’ve learned to this point. But after that night, some flood gates were opened as I started regularly and randomly meeting bands. Not the locals, but established bands clearly on their way. A noticeable movement was happening, capturing my imagination and hope for music at that time. The Doves, Coldplay, The Strokes, The White Stripes, Air, and Sigur Ros were coming up. I had been living on an oldies drip of the Big Band era and fifties and sixties music. Nothing new in music had got my goat for far too long and this new wave I was embracing. And so began my documenting of these chance encounters and then my requests for photo passes to gigs and the note writings to managers via security guards delivery for permission to come backstage for a portrait. I was never on an assignment. I was self appointed. I was twenty-two. Here are some of my moments in that time and space.

Big Vic Smith