As a tipsy horde dances and roaring guitar fills the musty basement at deafening volumes, photographer Matt Jaskulski crouches and waves his camera around. He’s trying to snap the perfect shot.
Jaskulski, 33, moved from Spain to Bloomington in December 2017. Since then, he’s become a recognizable fixture of the local music scene, photographing bands at venues around town.
Bloomington’s music scene is known for house shows, DIY performances often in the basements of cheekily named houses like the Rat House or Mosquito Mansion that host mostly local bands. Tangles of colored lights hang from basement ceilings, strange paintings adorn the walls and concertgoers, party animals and local music nerds alike pack into the basement. Sometimes, the shows are so loud that bowls of earplugs sit at the ready.
And usually, Jaskulski is there, camera in hand.
“I miss one or two of them now or then,” he said. “Whenever I know there is one going down, I’m there.”
Jaskulski’s friend brought him to his first house show, a performance at Rat House. He happened to have his gear on hand because of a shoot earlier in the day, and he decided to take photos of the show.
After that first house show, audience members and performers already began to notice him. He uploaded his photos right away, and at a house show the next night he received a slew of compliments on his work.
“People really loved them. That gave me a boost,” he said. “Everybody was welcoming from the get-go.”
Bryce Greene, a member of the band Strange Implications, said Jaskulski always captures the energy and emotion of the performances he shoots.
“It’s really hard to describe or really capture in any other way than being there,” he said. “But it’s sort of like Matt’s pictures manage to lock in the moment.”
Jaskulski’s passion shows in all of his work, Bryce Greene said.
“I imagine he just adores doing the job he’s doing,” he said.
Jaskulski’s love of photography began when he explored web design as a hobby while in graduate school at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology in Poland.
Because he wasn’t exceptionally skilled at drawing, photography was a sort of work around for incorporating the elements he wanted into his designs. Eventually, he stopped doing web design but his interest in photography stuck.
That interest grew through the rest of his time in graduate school, where he received three degrees in science and engineering. Jaskulski also earned his Ph.D. at the University of Murcia in the south of Spain, studying physiological optics.
Jaskulski moved to Bloomington for IU’s School of Optometry, where he works in physiological optics, which he explains as “the physiology of how we see.” Through his job, Jaskulski works on writing software that can analyze data from human eyes to simulate how a person sees.
To Jaskulski, his scientific work and his photography aren’t that different. Eyes are like cameras, he said, and vice versa.
“Both photography and human vision, you can appreciate how those two worlds are similar,” he said.
Several times already, Jaskulski said, he’s encountered opportunities where he could have taken his photography in a professional direction. He’s tried to work with photo agencies, but that would take him down a road toward fashion and beauty photography, away from the joy of shooting Bloomington house shows.
“I fear that if you do something that you really enjoy for a living then it can quickly become a chore because you have to make a living out of it,” he said. “I’m keeping photography as just something that I really enjoy.”
For Jaskulski, part of the fun is in the experimentation. He loves the energy of house show venues and performers, and he wants to channel that into his photography.
“I tend to go for this crazy, exaggerated kind of thing because those house shows are crazy; everybody is drunk or stoned or both, and having fun with the music, and the music is so loud that without ear plugs, you’ll probably go deaf,” he said. “I think it kind of suits this kind of an event.”
He also favors the immediacy of close-ups to shooting from farther away – it’s why he likes the intimacy of house shows far more than the scale of standard concerts, and it’s also why he’ll generally crouch on the floor between the performers and their audience.
“You really need to be mindful of the audience,” he said. “If you’re like me and you want to be right between the band and the audience, you’re probably disturbing.”
He crouches to avoid obscuring people’s views, and to get a variety of angles he extends his arms up over the fray to get the perfect angle but not ruin the view for others.
Doing that requires an awareness, he says. It’s important that he knows his camera settings and the focal length of his lens, so that when he thrusts his camera above the crowd he can still envision what it will see. He prefocuses the camera and knows its approximate depth of focus.
He rocks it back and forth so that he’ll have a finely focused shot in at least one of the final images.
Much of it is more developed instinct than careful planning, he said.
“Thought process is a little bit of an exaggeration,” he said, “because I’m probably somewhat intoxicated.”
Rob Greene, a member of the band Secret Mezzanine, said he first noticed Jaskulski at a show at the Brick House a couple of months ago. Since then, Rob Greene, unrelated to Bryce, said that Jaskulski has become as much of a fixture of the house show scene as the bands themselves.
“He isn’t just there to take photos or get something out of it,” Rob Greene said. “He really likes the experience of just being there and listening to the music as well.”
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