Gerard Elson on the importance of The Damage Report

You have to admit, it’s a crazy idea.

Beginning February 25, 2016, Zo Damage, Melburnian gig photographer extraordinaire, would photograph at least one live band per calendar entry over the next year. For obvious reasons, the endeavour came to be known as the 365 Day Project. Four days later, when Damage and her Canon EOS-1 were primely positioned at a Golden Girls gig at the Northcote Social Club to capture a gallery-worthy shot of the band’s lead singer, Jocelyn Richardson, it was still February. A leap year! That really must have seemed like the universe taking the piss. Firstly, it left a snappy, efficient moniker open to the hairsplitting of pedants. And as anyone who’s ever eavesdropped in a record store knows, any rock scene worth its tequila, salt and lime has its fair share of those, the kind of men (and they’re always men) for whom literalism is a calling only fractionally lower than the search for a mint copy of the 1978 French pressing of Prehistoric Sounds. (‘The 365 Day Project? But this a leap year!’ some craft-beer-sipping Socrates almost certainly exclaimed during the project’s course.)

But most rudely of all, February 29, 2016, would protract an already epic undertaking by 24 hours. After 365 consecutive days of sticky carpets, little sleep and persistent tinnitus, this would have felt like a cruel and unusual punishment.

Then again, maybe not. Unlike those of us who struggle to find the energy to take out the bins once a week, Damage clearly has drive to burn. Had Hercules been equipped with a DSLR camera and an ‘Access All Areas’ pass to every venue in Melbourne, I’m not sure that even he could have completed the 365 Day Project as one of his mythical Labours. Really think about the project’s conceit: a minimum of one gig, per day, for one calendar year. The conceptual goal posts were unbudgeable. No leave, no sick days. No latitude to account for life’s unaccountable surprises. Drop the ball even once, and the whole enterprise would fall apart faster than Sydney’s live music scene did under lockout laws.

Of course, Damage did it; The Damage Report is the proof. Even without the conceptual undergirding, it would be an astonishing book. It contains hundreds of great shots of artists whom you love, doing what they love to do. Nun, RVG, Jade Imagine, Teeth & Tongue, The Drones, Gold Class, Camp Cope, Harry Howard & the NDE, Draught Dodgers, C.W. Stoneking, Tash Sultana, Cash Savage & the Last Drinks, Gabriella Cohen … All are here, looking as vital and seductive and exciting as they sound, thanks to Damage’s decisive eye and quick shutter-button finger.

The Damage Report also serves as a ready-made ‘To Listen To’ list. Based on the concentration of artists whom I know and love in the book – there’s no act in here that I know and dislike – I can’t wait to check out all those other, unfamiliar artists deemed worthy by Damage of being the/one of the acts to document on a particular night. (On certain nights she attended multiple shows; on March 4, 2016, she shot four, a feat she hadn’t managed since 2007.) Her tastes run a richly egalitarian gamut, making her a dependably impartial Virgil to Melbourne’s thriving live rock scene.

Which is not to imply that said rock scene is like either Hell or Purgatory. How could it be, based on the proof of unqualified plenty offered by The Damage Report? Music fans have it unbelievably good here in Melbourne, a city where the 365 Day Project was not only feasible, but where hard curatorial decisions would have been necessary on Damage’s part on a regular basis. There are Big Shows by Major Artists – a rock photojournalist’s pay dirt – that are conspicuously absent; in each instance of this that I can identify, Damage has admirably opted to photograph lesser-known – though never unknown – artists. On no day do we find her without a subject worthy of her talent; she’s never snapping a Cold Chisel cover band on a Pint and Parma Tuesday. (Note to Damage: I would like to see this humanist live music photo book, too.) The quality of talent on display is so embarrassingly consistent that from every page floats the implication of abundance: if this was happening in Melbourne on a Monday night, what else was going on?

The Damage Report is at once the testament to an incredible feat of endurance; a blinding anthology of live rock photography by one of the form’s greatest Australian practitioners; and Exhibit A in the case to be made for Melbourne as the Live Music Capital of the Southern Hemisphere. Once the book’s aura of nowness gathers a little dust and the moment it so valuably captures slips conclusively into the preterite, we’ll be better placed to appreciate the extent of Damage’s achievement. For now, it’s enough to know that I hold in my hands a book that I’ll find myself reaching for years to come.

Gerard Elson works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.