Portland native, James Pappaconstantine, 52, has been watching rock and roll memories transpire through his camera’s viewfinder for almost 40 years. He’s shot the likes of Alice Cooper, Blue Öyster Cult, Pat Benatar, the Ramones, Judas Priest, J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart and Nazareth.
Pappaconstantine got thrown out of Three Dollar Dewey’s in the Old Port with Iron Maiden. He hung out on Mötley Crüe’s tour bus on Congress Street. He met Gene Simmons of Kiss without his makeup on (in the days when no one saw him without it) but didn’t dare take a picture.
In the 1980s, he got in trouble with the fuzz after partying with Quiet Riot in his apartment. Ask him for the details on that one.
Pappaconstantine started out in 1977 with a Kodak Instamatic, in the days when you could bring a camera right into a rock show. It had an extension for a rotating, four-sided flash cube. He remembers it looking like a lighthouse on top. Then he saw some pictures a buddy had shot at a Jethro Tull show with a Pentax K1000 35mm camera.
“He had way better photos than I did,” said Pappaconstantine during an interview in Portland. “I was like — wow — I gotta’ get a better camera.”
Less than a year later the buddy sold his Pentax to Pappaconstantine’s mother, who gave it to him for his 18th birthday.
“I used that camera forever,” he said.
Back then, he shot straight from the audience. He didn’t have any special access. Standing in line outside, often in the cold, he waited to get into shows at the head of the crowd. Then, he’d make a dash for the standing room right in front of the stage. Once there, he did his best to cling to the barricade in the surging crowd.
“If I didn’t (get up front) I’d always get heads or hands in my shots,” he said.
Money was tight for the teenage Pappaconstantine and he didn’t have film to waste on photos of concertgoers’ noggins and hairdos.
“I could afford a concert ticket and then maybe a roll of film — maybe two,” he said.
After the show, with the concert still ringing in his ears, Pappaconstantine would drop his film off at the Fotomat and wait a week to see if his pictures came out well. Sometimes he was happy, sometimes he was disappointed.
“Then, right around 1980, I had this brilliant idea,” he remembers.
At the top row of the Cumberland County Civic Center, where most of the big rock shows used to take place, there was a booth where radio broadcasters would call hockey games. Pappaconstantine realized there were folding chairs in that booth.
Instead of waiting in line to get in first and run for the barricade, he’d run like Rocky Balboa to the booth at the top of the stairs. There, he’d grab a folding chair and sprint back down to the floor and find a spot to stand.
During the show, when he wanted to take a picture, Pappaconstantine unfolded the chair, hopped on, aimed and fired away. Then he’d hop back down before security noticed. By then, rockers were starting to ban cameras at shows.
“I’d be above all the heads and hands and I could get good shots,” he said.
His system worked out great, for a while.
In 1981, he was shooting pictures of Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist, Randy Rhoades, from his temporary perch on a folding chair when his plan fell apart.
“I kept seeing this flashlight point at me,” he said. “I thought, ‘what is going on?’”
Suddenly, he felt hands seize him and pull him off his chair. Security guards dragged him out of the crowd and into the hallway where they threatened to break his camera if he didn’t hand over the film. Pappaconstantine was 19 or 20 years old at the time and pretty freaked out.
He gave them film from his camera. It’s something he still regrets.
The roll of film in the camera had, what he thought would be, great photos of Randy Rhoads — who died the next year at age 25, going down in history as one of the greatest and most influential rock guitarists of all times.
The guards didn’t get the roll he had in his pants pocket, though. It had a few, precious shots of Rhoads, but mostly pictures of an unknown opening act called Def Leppard.
“Back then, in the back of every magazine, people were selling photos,” he said. “The record companies weren’t getting anything from it.”
So, he said he understands why artists and their managers want to control who is taking pictures at a show — up to a point.
“For me, I wasn’t selling my work. I was creating a memory that I could always look back on,” he said. “I think that’s what photographs do.”
Around 400 shows later, Pappaconstantine is still shooting at concerts. His camera has a digital chip in it instead of a roll of film, but his outlook is just the same. Although he often shoots on official assignment for magazines and websites, and his pictures have graced artist’s CD packaging and posters, he still doesn’t do it for money. He does it for the love of music, pictures and memories.