Gallery show puts local music history on display

The power of a photograph is immense. A single moment is captured forever; where memories may fade, the image remains. Concert photography is in a field of its own – capturing the artists, audience and atmosphere in such a lively setting is a daunting task. As Chris Fuller described, “You are really capturing the feel of the moment. You are visually capturing the sound.” Fuller is amongst the many photographers featured in Make.Shift’s art exhibit for March, focusing on our local music history, and includes a display of every What’s Up! cover ever published and iconic live music photographs.

Featured photographers in the exhibit include Chris Fuller, Jacob Covey, Hollie Huthman, Gunther Frank, Matt McDonald, Chris Howard, Kevin Lowdon, Paul Israel, Ashley Bennett, among others. Photos display momentous bands like Federation X, Reeks and Wrecks, At The Drive-In, Murder City Devils, The DTs, The Gallus Brothers, Full Frontal Assault, The Trucks, Femme Uke, Black Eyes & Neckties, Macklemore, Black Breath, Palisades, and more. While this roster is impressive and quite varied, a prominent commonality sticks out – all of these artists, both the music and camera inclined, have played a role in Bellingham’s history.

Bellingham’s music culture is constantly adapting as venues and bands come and go. Their contributions have been immortalized through the 175 editions of What’s Up! Magazine. The exhibit features 19 photographs, although many more were considered.

Make.Shift Gallery Director, Jess Flegel, explained the selection process. “When looking at a photograph, it’s a matter of color, action, and composition. In this case, the quality of files on hand was also important for the prints.” The selected photographs spotlight notable moments that also are visually appealing to a degree that, as Flegel put it, “would still be interesting to look at even if you didn’t know the details of anything that were going on.”

Included in the photos are early works of the magazine, taken by photographer Jacob Covey. While cameras have gone digital, Covey’s photos (along with early Fuller photographs) used film, obviously a completely different process. For Covey, who operated on a shoe string budget (as well as the magazine), this meant using his camera only at just the right moment and without any true idea if the shot he took was any good. “I had to guess how my flash was going to register ambient light and the film speed,” he said. Every shot had to capture the moment because “being a poor college student, I knew that every frame was going to take money and time.” Some, if not most of the photographs, never went beyond a proof sheet. But, if a photo was good enough, Covey would beg a friend to use her small dark room to develop the film. While the process was more difficult at the time, Covey feels it helped train his mind to become a better photographer. “When I was doing those photos, every moment was a moment, but I had to choose – I had to be in tune with the band.” (Covey has gone on to become a top graphic designer, working on such projects as Johnny Ramone’s biography).

A feast for the eyes, the varying styles in covers and photographs are a joy to observe. This is truly a treasure trove of music history. As McDonald stated, “The exhibit shows the best that the Bellingham music and photo scene has to offer. For a small town, Bellingham has a great music scene and I think that it is often overlooked.”

The featured photos showcase some of Bellingham’s favorite live music haunts, from the greatly missed 3B Tavern to the ever lively Shakedown. The constant progression of venues is yet another unique attribute of this town, from the bar scene to the all-ages spots.

The art exhibit at Make.Shift will provide a comprehensive look into a slice of Bellingham history that has universal appeal. As Fuller shared, “I think people will come partly for the nostalgia aspect and younger people will want to see what was going on in Bellingham about 10 years ago.” Fuller has been photographing the Bellingham scene since he moved to the area in 1998 until his departure about a year and a half ago. “I moved to Bellingham to go to Western and study photojournalism. The 3B was definitely a favorite venue of mine.”

The 3B is a perfect example of why this art exhibit – which organizers say is one the most time-consuming shows they have put on – is so important. Many don’t remember or weren’t around for the last show hosted by the 3B; it was on December 21, 2005 and featured Bob Log III, Federation X, the Cheeps, and the DTs. However, ask any person if they’ve heard of a group called Death Cab For Cutie and chances are they’ll say yes. Death Cab For Cutie had their first bar show at the 3B Tavern.

For some residents, it’s easy to cast envious eyes towards Seattle and Vancouver’s music scenes. Thankfully, reflection grants us the realization that our Bellingham music scene is talented and amazing, and is one that attracts other bands to come through on a regular basis.

The opening reception is Friday, March 1 from 6 to 10 p.m. Make.Shift is located at 306 Flora Street and open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gallery show runs through mid-March.


Editor’s Note: The show would not have been possible without the efforts of Cat Sieh and Jess Flegel, who put everything into this show to make it happen. They compiled the photos (which meant going through every issue of What’s Up!), worked with the photo printer (Mellis Photography), organized the gallery show, hanging every issue, writing cutlines for the photos, working with photographers and everything else imaginable with the show. We also couldn’t have pulled it off without our sponsors (and four photographers) who paid for the printing and framing. Thank you Skipping Stone Foundations, Studio Galactica, Carnelian Agency, Checkmate Music, Wild Buffalo, The Table, The Shakedown, Caps, Streat Food, La Fiamma, Mallards Ice Cream, Film Is Truth, Industry Tattoo, Sabbath Tattoo, Jeff Braimes, and Mellis Photography!