We checked in with photographers Michael Thorn and Reid Haithcock on how they spent 2020, what they learned, and their thoughts and hopes for what 2021 will hold, as part of our New Year’s Evolutions Series!
If you’ve picked up a copy of New Noise, inevitably you’ve seen the incredible live photos by Michael Thorn. He also does his own zine, Razorblades & Aspirin, and pre-COVID spent a lot of time documenting truly underground shows. When the world shut down, his biggest pastime was a thing of the past.
How did you spend this past year?
Drinking too much, listening to music, releasing five issues of Razorblades & Aspirin, watching too many movies, sleeping a lot, staring off into space, working my day job, and playing with my dogs.
What new avenues did you find to express yourself and get your work out into the world?
My photography has basically stagnated. I did some documentation around the BLM protests in Richmond but outside of that… not much. I guess I focused more of my efforts towards interviewing and writing. I switched R&A from being just a photo zine to being a full-blown ‘zine.’ I put zine in quotes because let’s be real, it is a glossy art magazine for bands that play to like 50 people in a basement. 50 might be pushing it…
How did you make ends meet to simply survive?
I’m lucky to have fallen into webcasting and doing virtual meetings about 13 years ago— suddenly there was a big demand for that.
What new things did you learn?
I’ve spent a lot of time taking guitar lessons online. I’ve played guitar since I was 15 and I’m still awful at it. I’ve also spent a good amount of time watching cocktail instruction videos, photo editing tip videos, weird videos where dudes compare and contrast minute differences in guitar amp sounds while wondering which one is louder (I only really care if an amp is loud). Uh… that’s it, I guess. I really feel like I just took this year, tossed it into a fire pit and lit it on fire.
How do you feel about the coming year in terms of ‘getting back to normal’? Is there going to be a ‘normal’?
There will never be a ‘normal’ again. I mean there will be a new normal, but it will be once soaked in paranoia and anxiety. I would give anything to be crammed into an overstuffed, claustrophobic space watching some band blow my eardrums out while people’s sweat and spit coat me. But after this year, I fear I’m gonna have such insane agoraphobia. WHAT IF IT COMES BACK!? Sigh.
Any sort of predictions for how this year is going to be?
The only thing that’s good about the band U2 is they once opened for DISCHARGE and this lyric: “…nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”
I don’t expect too much to change. I’d like to be more optimistic, but the current rate of vaccinations is atrocious and the world is just filled with so many selfish, entitled people that I have doubts any real progress will happen. I want to believe, but this year has destroyed so much of my faith in the generosity, kindness, and compassion of my fellow human. I want to be wrong.
As a photographer who, for closing in on 20 years, has focused heavily on live music and working with bands, 2020 came as quite a personal culture shock.
Obviously, there were huge social, medical, and personal challenges for everyone, but one of the more jarring things I found was the 100mph to 0mph feeling of spending two decades going to shows at a varying but consistent pace… to just not going to anything music-related.
As things were starting to really spin out in mid-March, I spent a hectic afternoon trying to find a basement or something for the Dream Decay/The Body tour as it was coming through NC on like the 14th or 15th, and watched as the next week saw everything close, friend’s tours being cancelled en masse, and the few weddings I was scheduled to shoot postponed.
That left the year pretty open. I’m super lucky to have a day job working in video that I can do from home, which is pretty much what I’ve done for this past year.
As the work ebbs and flows I’ve been focusing much more on making photography books and reviewing and sequencing projects that have been sitting for a while, so that’s kept me busy and kept the creative ideas moving.
I’ve currently got 3 books in the works and am figuring out printing options for them down the road, with one being produced totally DIY with my risograph printer. Along with short travels around the South to work on a larger body of work, these projects are what keep me engaged and learning more in photography. From working with long-expired film, making books, and trying to keep up a Youtube channel, I’m keeping myself creatively busy.
As far as getting work out there, I’ve been offering limited prints via Instagram and have kept a steady amount of new work available through my pals at Deathwish Inc at their online store. Another way, after the protests over the summer sparked by the continuous murder and violence committed by police, I went around the downtown area of where I lived and collected tear gas cans and remnants of police violence and made a limited print series and was able to raise more than $1000 for some mutual aid groups and BLM suggested community-focused non-profits.
In the coming year, hopefully, once things can get more in control with the vaccine, shows will return. I’m torn though because I have no desire to see a show at a half-cap venue. After this year, I want full chaos from a pit with people walking on each other’s heads. That’s the show I miss and I’m not sure how soon we’ll see that return. But I’m hopeful that it will in the next year, and when it does, it’s going to BE WILD.