Eric Frommer: Bluegrass Through the Lens
by Susan Marquez
Eric Frommer has been a bluegrass fan since he was 17. The Long Island native heard Lester Flatt on television, but it wasn’t until he bought a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album and heard “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” that he became a big fan of the genre.
“That was a kind of gateway album for me,” Eric laughs. “I knew the song was by Lester Flatt, so I went to the record store and bought a Lester Flatt album and listened to it over and over again.”
Eric went to many bluegrass festivals up and down the east coast. “I saw Bill Monroe several times, and I must have seen the Osborne Brothers 40 times. I saw Jim and Jesse, and I saw Ralph Stanley, and of course, Lester Flatt and many others.” At the age of 21, Eric moved from Long Island and now lives in Everette, Washington.
“I am a big bluegrass fan,” says Eric. “I can’t pick or anything. I am just a fan, but one of the biggest fans ever.” He has been attending the Wintergrass festival since it started thirty years ago and began taking pictures for fun.
“I had a two-megapixel camera, and I wasn’t very good at photography, but I enjoyed it and I wanted to get better.” As he could afford it, he bought better camera equipment. “I took some classes before going on an Alaskan cruise,” Eric recalls. “My dad died, and my siblings and I wanted to do something nice for my mom. We decided to take her on an Alaskan cruise, and I wanted to improve my photography skills so I could get some nice photographs during the trip.”
The more he went to bluegrass shows and festivals, the more he realized that the old-timers weren’t going to be around forever.
“I wanted to be sure I got good photographs of them so they will be remembered in the future.”
He has been shooting music photography for so long now that his status as a world-class photographer of musical acts has given him the freedom to shoot Earl Scruggs in venues where photography isn’t allowed.
“I’ve also shot photos of his brother, Randy Scruggs, as well as Doc Watson. Sadly, some of those pictures were used by public radio for their obituary pictures.”
Eric now shoots thousands of photographs at each festival, along with photographer Maria Camillo. “Wintergrass is huge. It lasts for four days, with four stages that have music jamming 24-hours a day. I have been a fixture at the festival for so long that I know most of the people there. I never wanted to volunteer, because I didn’t want to miss the bands I wanted to see.” Eric gets to a show before setup and doesn’t leave until after it’s all over. He gets crowd shots, pictures of jam sessions as well as the youth symphony at Wintergrass. “No matter what I shoot, I want the people who see the pictures to feel like they were there.” When Facebook and blogging platforms came out, Eric realized that could be his venue for sharing his photographs year-round.
“It takes me a year or more just to go through all the photos I take, choose the best ones, and edit them. It’s very time-consuming, and I have a full-time job.” Eric works for a mortgage company on the appraisal desk. “I have 1000 independent appraisers under me, and I have to make sure they get things in on time for closings. It’s demanding.” While his office is just 28 miles from his home, it would take him an hour and a half to two hours each way. “Since COVID-19, I’ve been working from home, so that gives me more time in the evenings to edit. It’s not that different from Ansel Adams. He didn’t have photoshop like we have today, so he had to manipulate photos with developing chemicals and an enlarger. Both processes are time-consuming.”
A fan first, and a photographer second, Eric says he waits in line for his seats, and he sits with friends. “We always sit in the second row. I don’t want to get too close to the stage because I don’t want to look up the performers’ noses. I don’t even think about camera settings. I look for certain emotions. I am such a fan that I know when a performer like Doyle Lawson will stand, walk around, and turn. I am careful with my angles so that I won’t get a mic stand in the photo, but I’m careful to capture the instruments because people want to see Doyle’s mandolin!”
While he loves shooting photographs of bluegrass artists, Eric’s love of photography extends to other subjects as well. “I love shooting air shows when I can, and car shows, even though I know nothing about planes or cars! I also love shooting wildlife, particularly birds.” But music is his passion, and his love for the artists makes his hobby of photography the most rewarding.