After a busy week partying with Beyonce at the VMAs, the MTV News staff was exhausted. Which is how I ended up volunteering to be one of the people to head down to Philadelphia to cover the third year of the Budweiser Made In America Festival.
Kanye West was headlining the first night and Kanye West happens to be my number one. So, despite the fact that I do social media (follow me?), and know basically nothing about apertures and f-stops, I borrowed my boyfriend’s camera, downed a Five Hour Energy, and headed off to Philly with a photo press pass.
After grooving with some out-of-control teens to Destructo and reliving my senior year of college with Chromeo’s throwback set, I was bummed to get an email that said Mr. West was particular about his photo pit and only 10 elite photographers would be chosen to shoot.
Turns out, I was one of those photographers, but I didn’t know it until I got a second email. “Hi,” it read. “You are approved to shoot KANYE WEST tonight at Budweiser Made In America – Philadelphia. Meet at the media check-in area at 10:00pm to be escorted in.” It was 9:30. I tried not to panic.
After a pep talk from Rob Markman, I joined the nine other photographers at the media tent where I lived the most surreal 20 minutes of my career thus far.
Here’s what I learned.
1. Kanye is very particular about media permissions. We were told we were to shoot the first two songs only, no flash, no crowd.
2. Pit photography is still a man’s game. Out of the 10 shooters, I was one of two women. Both of us were the only photographers under 40.
3. Pit photographers don’t get excited. Even if you’re shooting I Am A God Kanye Motherf—king West. They complain about the bad angle and whine about how long they have to wait. They never say, “Holy moly, I am 15 feet from the man whose career has shaped the whole way I listen to music.” And they will definitely judge you if you say that. Trust me. Don’t say that. Even if it’s true.
4. Pit photographers are explicitly told not to shoot anyone other than Kanye West. Even if there are people standing right next to you that you want to shoot. “If you position your camera anywhere other than the stage, you’ll lose your pass for the weekend,” they said.
5. Pit photographers make friends with the crowd. “I’m not allowed to shoot, but you should take out your camera phone right quick,” the guy behind me said to the kids in the front row. Thirty seconds later, said kids shot the best Instagram ever of Jay Z and Kim Kardashian walking through to VIP.
When the lights dimmed and a masked Mr. West took the stage, I pulled out my camera (on auto everything mode) and shot 320 photos in 10 minutes. The media wrangler proved to not be a Kanye fan as “Black Skinhead” flowed to “I Don’t Like” to “Mercy” and turned to me like, “This is still the second song, right?”
Kanye’s third track ended and we were ushered through the crowd and pushed back toward the media tent. I slipped off to the side and watched the rest of the set like a fan girl, screaming every lyric with my hands in the air, camera forgotten at my side.