If you wind up captured in a Leighton Hoey print, the chances are you’ll never even know it. In recent years, the photographer has been honing her skills in using a kind of spontaneous surveillance to capture the crowds, performers, and energy of local gigs. Whether she’s chronicling shows at band houses, backyards, or gigs at clubs like Rain Dogs., Jack Rabbits, and Justice Pub, Hoey exhibits a discerning eye at composition and time, sensing the moving target of “when” to shoot.
An Atlantic Beach native, the 22-year-old interior designer was raised in a creative household by parents who instilled an appreciation of the arts in their daughter. Her dad, guitarist Jason Hoey, has long been a fixture on the local music scene, and currently plays in heavy rock outfits Darkhorse Saloon and 9E.
It was her mom, herself a professional photographer, who gave Hoey her first camera: a manual-automatic Nikon N70. In some ways, Hoey experienced an accidental passion.
“When I was 15, I started going to concerts and one of my friends was in [local indie rock outfit] Hensley,” says Hoey. “I went to all of their shows and started taking photos of them. Then I met other bands. I started going to more shows and it kind of expanded from there.”
In 2017, the band Faze Wave told Hoey about a house venue called The Bughouse. Located on the Southside, the now-defunct space hosted a litany decidedly DIY acts. As bands were working out their songs in real time in front of an audience, Hoey says she adopted a similar approach to honing her camera chops; shooting pictures of the entire experience.
“Originally, I was documenting shows for myself. And then I realized that other people liked the photos, too. Then it just escalated from there.”
In her images, Hoey is hardly a wallflower. She will stand right in the crowd, dealing with camaraderie, the joyous, drunk, and sweaty—even the glimmer of aggression—that manifests at indie and punk rock shows.
The compositions run the emotional gamut of smaller gigs. Interspersed throughout an audience of wild-eyed fans the viewer finds somber, self-absorbed, maybe stoned, if not unconvinced, faces. A drummer mugs with his knitted cap covering his face; tight-lipped, short-haired dudes stare down at their guitar necks; outdoor, daytime mosh pits, and lead singers hoisted up by the crowd in black and white. “Hardcore punk and metal shows are the most exciting,” she says. “The energy there is so much harder and present.”
Her penchant for focusing on the crowd as the bands puts Hoey’s work squarely in the tradition of 80s punk-and-skate photogs Glen E. Friedman and Edward Colver. “You know, I never even saw their work until way later,” she laughs when I compare her imagery to the output of such seminal and influential lens-people. “I think it’s just that excitement to be in the middle of it all.”
Locally, Hoey says she prefers venues that “don’t feel” like venues. “Rain Dogs is probably my favorite venue here to shoot. It has such an intimate aspect. They’re super laid-back and it’s small so that it always looks packed,” she laughs. “And I’m always trying to capture the crowd and the band instead of one or the other.”
Hoey shoots her images on 35mm film. While she has a couple of cameras at her disposal, her current go-to is an Olympus point-and-shoot. “I like it because it’s small and people aren’t intimidated by it, either.”
With film, the natural gradients, mottled saturation and atmospheric colors appear grittier; truer. “I feel like 35mm film already has an ‘effect,’ and I like getting them printed and to be able to hold them. I like the tangible aspect of it all.”
This handheld, guerilla-style gear choice gives her a home-court advantage, allowing her to bypass any audience members making Instagram duck-faces. “I feel that whenever I bring a larger camera, people in the audience immediately become self-conscious. Many times, people see a camera and they automatically adjust, they’ll move out of the way, or everything suddenly feels posed.”
If Hoey has a definable aesthetic, it’s to simply be present.
“I don’t really think about any kind of process when I’m shooting. But I really don’t want the crowd to know I’m even there. I’m really into capturing relationships between people; like groups of friends dancing or the guitar player laughing at the singer behind his back. So I increasingly don’t want people to really be aware of me, or even know that I’m there.”
This feature originally appeared under the headline “Shoot to Thrill” in Void Magazine’s January 2020 issue.