Rock concert photographer Michael Spleet hails from the Motor City, USA. Spleet, an exclusive Canon camera user, has attained in his archives some of the most beautiful photographs of Michigan artists and music acts coming through the Detroit area since the late 2000’s.
While editing photographs in the basement of his Michigan home, Spleet takes a phone call from Jerk Of All Trades and gives us an exclusive in on a handful of photographs that have never been published until now.
“Photography is all about experimentation,” Spleet begins…
“I had tickets to see Queen in 77′ at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I was a kid in college, taking my first Photography class and shooting 35mm B&W film. My friends that came up from Detroit knew I had my camera on me so they walked me right up to the front of the stage. There wasn’t any photo pit, it was all festival seating. One thing I noticed about being so close was that this was where it was all at. This was where all the action was.
When it came time to developing my film, I had no idea what I was doing and I developed the negatives while I was in my buddies closet of his dorm room. I stepped inside the dark area and rolled the film onto the spool. Since I was shooting Tri-X Pan 400 with a 2.8 lens it was obvious I wouldn’t be getting anything that was usable with those perimeters so I pushed the film. I had no idea how much time to add to the agitation but after reading the directions I formed an educated guess. I made some prints from that in the darkroom at school and then went to class, where I sat in the back. The teacher was getting tired of seeing “concert” photographs from everybody, and said, “If I see another concert photograph I’m going to puke.” He walks over to my desk where I have my photographs faced down, grabs my pictures, gives them a look and with excitement he spins around to the class and said, “Now that’s what I’m talking about, THIS is a rock n roll photograph!” I sat there in shock as he held up my freshly developed prints.”
I went back to school for a refresher course in 2004 after doing the machine shop, manufacturing business for a number of years. I thought it would be a good hobby. I had a new digital camera and had forgotten everything!
I was looking for subject matter to photograph and a friend asked me to go to see his band play. In return, I asked if I could take my camera that way I could do the school assignment and support my friend the same time. One thing led to another.
In 2005 we were working on a Photoshop project in my next class. The idea was to reclaim old film photographs and convert them to digital. They had film scanners there and I had all my slides from school stuff in a box at home. I collected the box and took it to school. One by one I put them in the scanner and things turned out pretty good! I couldn’t believe that several of the Queen photographs survived after all these years.
I had told some people that I had photographs of the band Queen back in the day and was referred to Dennis Pernu, who was publishing a book about the band. When I got a hold of him he confirmed that he was, but I was late. He let me submit some images any way and he really liked image in particular of the crowd back in the day that I took. The photograph showed the area (Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo MI) looking back from the stage to the back of the arena with people in their winter coats and bell bottom jeans. The image was used on the inside cover of the back and front of the book. It ended up being called ‘Queen, The Ultimate Illustrated History of The crown Kings of Rock’. “
The big event for me was a benefit for A.J. (Ahmjed) Abdullah. It was called the A.J. Lovefest.
The backstory to that show was about AJ Abdallah, a musician and producer that was murdered by a local musician he was working with. Apparently they had a disagreement and he was shot. The guy took some equipment and tried to sell it leading to his arrest. It was pretty emotional as A.J. was well regarded. So they were having an event to say goodbye to their friend and raise money for the family.
That show was made up of so many incredible artists that were paying respects to this man, like Tino Gross (Howling Diablos), Kenny Olsen (Kid Rock), Vinnie Dombroski (Loudhouse, Sponge, Crud, Orbitsuns), Bobby East (Kid Rock, Reefermen), and more that I can’t remember right now but you get the picture.
I met a fellow photographer there that was shooting for the paper. After the first music act I found myself standing next to him having a pop. He was showing me his photos and he was zooming in on them at the same time showing me the crop he was going to use and other general “tips” he wanted to share. Then he said he was going to leave and I questioned him about that. He said he got what he needed for the paper and he was going to leave, his job was done. I thought there was so much more to the show and I was right. Had I taken this man’s advice, I would have missed all the acts. It was then that I realized that even though I didn’t know A.J. Abdullah myself, but I could feel the love and realized that photographs can mean much more than just a snapshot. They can mean a great deal to people.”
Scorpions- “Detroit was like the 2nd stop when The Scorpions started their Humanity Hour tour. One of the coolest things I remember from that day was Klause Meine looking right at me as he waltzed over to my right side, took up the tambourine and centered his face giving me the shot. That was the first time I realized just how cognizant these musicians are by the people they’re being photographed by.”
Ted Nugent– “This photograph of Ted Nugent is super rare and cool and is one of my favorites because aside from recognizing the action that is taking place with Ted playing his guitar, you can actually see his face minus the microphone he usually wears at his mouth. . The reason for this is he was playing with the Amboy Dukes and had John Drake singing.
I wasn’t prepared for some of the aspects of photography that I encountered, like when people pass on. Losing people is never easy and a lot of times as a photographer you get approached by people who ask for photographs and they never consider how you may feel or the pain you’re in. After all, the people you get to encounter at first are strangers but later on if it’s a good thing it turns into a friendship. I hate losing friends. So in a way we [photographers] become historians. We record the good times and try to forget the bad.
“I’ve never been one for getting selfies with people. I get to tell the story with my camera and that’s pretty intimate right there. Just being allowed to photograph was more than enough to ask of these artists. Photographers get that special intimate access that a majority of people will never understand.”
Michael Spleet’s photographs have been published in Detroit Free Press, Real Detroit, Hour Detroit and Metro Times to name a few, as well as many CD covers and promotional items.
Photographs: Michael Spleet
2SnapsUp Photography – photographs of current and past, concerts, events, and fashion from the Detroit and the Detroit metropolitan area.