Last time Zaghal was here at the Rocketship — a group house in 16th Street Heights where underground rock bands make urgent noise on a cold basement floor— he thought he was shooting local punk quartet Priests. Instead, Zaghal went home with some blurry snaps of the pipes and paneling.
“I thought there was some kind of stage here,” he says. “But my friends are pretty honest. They’ll tell me, ‘Oh, you got a bunch of pictures of the ceiling.’ ”
When his subjects don’t elude the frame entirely, they’re often truncated, decapitated or abstracted into blurry smears of pixels. The least successful images become the most successful. Which is beautiful. And hilarious.
“It’s a totally funny idea,” Zaghal, 31, says. “And now people are taking it more seriously. And that’s great. Maybe there is a point to this!”
Point or no point, Zaghal is dedicated to pursuing this project — some thing he refers to as both “a joke” and “an experiment.” He attends roughly 20 concerts a month, always arriving in time to snag a spot up front. Once the band gets started, he hoists his iPhone to his ear and listens. Screen-reading software tells him when he’s selected the camera function. Then, he points and shoots. If there’s nobody to chat with between sets, he’ll caption the images and post them to Instagram straight from the gig.
That isn’t the case at last Tuesday’s Rocketship show. Between bands, Zaghal is hanging out in the front yard, chatting with the singer of Neonates, a band he photographed in August, and the guitarist of Fell Types, whom he’s about to snap in a few minutes.
The social demarcation line that usually separates bands from fans is nonexistent here — an attitude of acceptance and inclusion passed down from Washington’s storied hardcore punk scene. Which is to say, the blind guy shooting concert photos is really no biggie.
“I don’t get asked about [being blind] as much as you’d expect,” Zaghal says. “Maybe that’s what keeps me coming to these shows, subconsciously. . . . I never thought about it.”
An alterna-rock beginning
Zaghal’s taste gravitates toward the vanguard, but his first concert was anything but — Limp Bizkit, Everclear and other alterna-rockers at the 1999 HFStival at RFK Stadium. After that, he dipped his toe into the jam band circuit but didn’t start attending concerts regularly until 2003.
“I think there was a bit of trepidation to venture out,” says Zaghal, who has been blind since birth. “And I thought to myself, ‘Why do that?’ I’m just as capable of getting out and going to a show like anybody else. If you want to do something, go ahead and do it.”