There are few art scenes quite like the punk rock scene of the 90s – Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion – all acts that defined an entire subgenre while carving out a name for themselves in popular culture. The craziest part? SIGMA technical representative, Mike Hill, was there to capture those moments, camera in hand.
At SIGMA, we pride ourselves on constructing a team of not just photography know-it-alls, but real, professional photographers who know what it means to eat, sleep, live and breathe photography. One such employee is Las Vegas native, Mike Hill, who was recently featured in an exhibition celebrating the resurrection of Vegas’ very own Huntridge Theater.
Following the Art
Mike grew up wholly drawn to art, ever in pursuit of building out collections and albums in the style of his late Grandma Maxine, who handed Mike his first camera at thirteen years old. From capturing BMX and skate tricks with friends, to graffiti art made by his own hand, Mike had a particular affinity for the cultures that sought to create for creation’s sake.
Freshly dropped out from the Art Institute of Colorado in 1992, Mike knew that a portfolio, not a degree, made a photographer. It was only natural that Mike return to what he loved capturing most – the raw, primal energy of youth. And what better place to return to his roots than Vegas’s all-ages, all-thrills punk venue, the Huntridge Theater?
A Punk Kid Learning Photography
“I think maybe the first time I brought [my camera] in was… Bad Religion,” Mike reminisces about his first documented show. “Once I did it once, and I saw the photos, I was really stoked on it – I really wanted to do it more.” Each shot is a time capsule, and to Mike, that’s enough to justify its worth.
Sneaking into the venue, camera locked and loaded with film, Mike never thought he’d be capturing moments fit for the annals of music history. “There’s beauty in doing something for the hell of it,” Mike says about taking a stab at concert photography in this way. Having always chased the art first and worrying about the technical limitations later, Mike used this time to experiment first and foremost. That’s why so many of these shots appear somewhat blurred; long exposures were necessary in the dark of the venue hall, but as per the limitations of film, Mike had no idea how any of these photos would turn out.
Photography In the Pit
To Mike, experimentation is key to photography, and capturing memories is the core of what Mike values about the medium. There was a moment, Mike recalls, when a fellow concert goer suggested he get up higher to capture more of the room. “I jumped literally on his shoulders,” Mike laughs, “and he runs right out into the pit. Instantly my batteries fall out, I fall down…” But to Mike, that was what made the experience memorable – risking failed attempts for the opportunity to nail that once-in-a-lifetime shot.
Although, his experimentation with different development processes didn’t always yield the best results. “I think I had maybe seventy-two photos of Green Day,” Mike says with a laugh. “But I lost those rolls because of bad chemicals.” Such was the life of film, but it wasn’t enough to discourage him from trying again.
Mike says a great deal of the joy he derives from photography is not just in the shooting, but the curating. Most of his personal projects nowadays are comprised of building out collections established from themes and ideas across his lifetime of work. Even this project with the Huntridge Theater happened more out of happenstance from Mike going through old film shots.
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
Of course, like any photographer, Mike had aspirations for what his work could be, but connecting the dots proved a challenge. Album covers, zines, it didn’t matter – Mike simply yearned for a way to contribute to the cultures he loved to be apart of. “I could tell… they were never going to end up on the cover of anything,” he chuckles, recounting the moments when he would show his work to Fishbone or Green Day. “I just wanted more photos. Every part of my life, I just wanted to collect something from it. I’m really nostalgic.”
It wouldn’t be for another 30 years that Mike’s concert work would finally surface. In honor of the Huntridge Theater’s reopening, SIGMA’s very own Mike Hill was chosen to celebrate the history and culture of the venue with an exhibit titled “A Joyful Pandemonium”. Curated and named entirely by Hill himself, the exhibit highlights what it means to be a punk kid learning photography.
And it hasn’t stopped there! Mike Hill has shared that soon his work will even be included in Las Vegas’s Punk Rock Museum, founded by Los Angeles punk rocker Fat Mike of NOFX.
Growth and Joining SIGMA
Mike has been part of SIGMA America for six years now. As a member of our team, Mike hopes to bring a little humanity to a culture that’s becoming increasingly focused on the technical aspects of the art form. Having been a photographer just for the joy of it, as well as a commercial photographer, and a studio photographer, Mike understands most industry perspectives; his strengths lie in connecting with and understanding people to show them what tools they may need for a job.
And this has helped Mike to grow as well. “I’m now more mindful of trying to shoot [for sharpness],” he says. With such a diverse range of product for all shooting situations, it seems unavoidable. “I’m still a punk kid learning photography.”
Though he’s a little bit older and doesn’t roam the deserts of the southwest as much, looking for art, Mike Hill is still doing what he’s always loved to do.