With hair flying and faces contorted in expressions between joy and agony, the heavy metal fans captured by Danish photographer Jacob Ehrbahn are a frenzy of movement in saturated color. Out of the thousands of photographs Ehrbahn took at heavy metal festivals in 2012, including Copenhell in Denmark, Wacken Open Air in Germany, and Metaltown in Sweden, 67 images were selected for his new monograph, Headbangers, recently released by Powerhouse Books.
Headbanging is one of the more intense expressions of musical ecstasy, although compared to group actions like moshing, it’s a solitary activity, just one man or woman swinging his or her neck or whole body to the music’s pulse. Headbangers handily includes a short glossary on the “styles of headbanging,” like the “Circular Swing,” the “Figure Eight,” the “Whiplash” (an “especially violent form of the traditional Up and Down style”), and the “tandem,” for two people to headbang in parallel.
Ehrbahn writes in the book that “the music was never the most important thing to me in this project. I was fascinated by you headbangers and your sense of complete abandon.” Quotes from concertgoers accompany the text and photographs, such as one from Stine at Copenhell 2012, who said: “When I headbang, I feel like I’m giving something back to the band that they have given me through their music.”
Ehrbahn has been a staff photographer at the Danish daily newspaper Politiken since 2003, but this is one of his first projects that’s pure portraiture, the flash of the camera freezing moments of wild, personal movement against the sky. Per Folkver, the longtime photo editor-in-chief at Politiken who passed away in 2014, writes in an essay for the book: “In Headbangers, the raw and unadulterated feelings of freedom and abandon, euphoria and joy, hit us directly in the face. This is heavy metal fans at full throttle; it’s life-affirming and beautiful.”
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