Mercury Lounge: NYC Venues Broken Down

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As a part of our Concert Photography series, we’ve previously listed all the New York City concert venues categorizing them based on whether or not those venues had photo pits. Now for this next installment, we’ll be breaking down specific venues and including our personal experiences.

 Photography by Emily Korn

I was recently asked by a publicist to name my favorite, and least favorite, venues to shoot in New York City. Candidly, I answered that my least favorite was probably Mercury Lounge (I say candid because the show I was shooting through her agency was being held at that venue later in the evening).

I’d been going to Mercury Lounge for a year or two before I actually began photographing shows. As a patron, the venue always seems a little claustrophobic (the walls constantly feel like they’re closing in as the ceiling hovers closer to the floor with every passing moment). Shows never seemed to be well lit and the sound was always off. Granted things have changed over the years as different lighting and sound technicians have come and gone, the overall atmosphere hasn’t.

“Photographing at Mercury Lounge is, and probably always will be, a challenge.”

“If a show is sold out, expect to be flush against the stage taking shots of musicians in what often seem to be unflattering angles.” Photographing at Mercury Lounge is, and probably always will be, a challenge. For starters, the venue is 21 and up (don’t look to gain access to any event if you’re under that age, unless you’re just visiting the Bowery Presents Box Office, located inside the Lounge). At shows that aren’t sold out, you can expect a 5 foot gap between the stage and the audience (that’s how intimidating the intimacy of this venue is). It’s nice for a photographer, in this instance, to have free reign to capture different vantage points (though if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to squat down to avoid feeling like the center of everyone’s attention–you’re probably the only moving object in front of them with any consistency). If a show is sold out, expect to be flush against the stage taking shots of musicians in what often seems to be unflattering angles (again, plan to arrive at doors if you want one of these coveted spots). Your ISO will stay high and your aperture low as you struggle to find your footing at Mercury Lounge.

My scathing review may not hold true for all photographers, but I’ve gotten the impression that many of us try to avoid the venue unless we’re there to do pre-show portraits (especially with the rising competition in Williamsburg for better venues—Baby’s Alright and Glasslands). Every once in a while the venue will play host to artists that are not to be missed (Katy Perry, The Strokes, The National, etc.), and in these instances there may be the venue’s only redeeming quality.

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Emily Korn is a photographer based in New York City and Colorado, specializing in concert photography and celebrity portraiture. Her work has been published in CMJ, QRO, SPIN, SuperGlued, Teen Vogue, VIBE, The Waster, XXL, and more.