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Into The Pit with Nikki Gibala

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

Do yourself a favor and google “Murray Bowles Photography.”

Go ahead, right now. I’ll wait.

To spoil it for those who are impatient, what lies waiting is an insane collection of

black and white photographs of the East Bay punk scene in the late 80s and

early 90s, primarily documenting the local music scene at the legendary DIY

venue, “924 Gilman St”.

All captured by the legendary late Bowles, his collection of concert photography

is the raw essence of live music: showcasing hundreds of film shots of young

punks all crammed into sweaty mosh pits, rocking out to local emerging talent.

Murray’s work has played a key part in my development as a photographer.

Discovering his collections almost five years ago ignited my passion, lighting a

fire under my ass and granting me the motivation to capture equally powerful

concert images of my own.

When I first saw his work, I wasn’t only inspired, I was jealous. Even though I

had never been to those shows, I was able to feel exactly how energetic and

powerful those nights were. Scouring hundreds of photographs nameless kids

having the time of their lives made me think: “Wow, that looks so cool. I want to

be there.”

Come to realize, I not only wanted to be there in the pit, I wanted to be behind

the camera. I desired to be the person waiting for just the right moment to shoot

into the crowd and freeze a moment in time, a moment that could never be


And then I realized: I didn’t have to travel back in time to exist in those moments

—that exact same thing was happening right now, right where I live.

All I had to do was bring my camera.

So I set my sights on the “924 Gilman St.” of Flagstaff: The Hive, an intimate,

semi-grimy, DIY venue that really captures the authentic heart of the local music


As Murray once did, I wedged myself in. I took my camera to every show I went

to, and just shot.

And sure enough, the photos I started taking brought me the same rush of

adrenaline and passion—if not more—than the ones I was looking at from

decades ago. The faces may have been different, but the aura was the same:

just kids being kids, getting sweaty and enjoying the sheer power of live music.

I never considered myself a documentarian, but I suppose that’s what my

photography has become, and, honestly, I’m not mad about it. I’ve fallen in love

with capturing people in a raw, emotional state in which they feel the best: at a


Even if it’s not in the middle of a mosh pit, saving memories of the unique

individuals who are a part of scene is just as important. This has lead my body

of work to be equally composed of action shots in the middle of the crowd and

of candid stills of people at that show, whether they be standing outside sharing

a cigarette, or posing together in a haphazard attempt at a group photo.

I am so privileged to have the opportunity to capture the Flagstaff scene as it

currently is. To me, being able to freeze precious moments and catch such

interesting and expressive people in their “natural habitat” is the most gratifying


Hopefully one day, I can offer others what Murray offered to me: the emotional,

visceral experience of looking through live music photographs from a time that I

never knew—yet felt so connected to—and allowing me to experience the same

rush of passion and pure joy from knowing exactly how those kids were feeling.

And maybe I can, in turn, inspire someone new to pick up a camera and begin

documenting their own unique and irreplaceable period of time.

Nikki Gibala is a Flagstaff-based photographer and filmmaker, specializing in live-music photography and videography. Combining her two favorite interests—music and digital media— has allowed her to find her home in the concert world, expressing herself through wildly energetic concert recap videos and colorful, raw live performance images. Inspired by the “do-it-yourself” mentality of the new generation, Nikki aims to capture and evoke unfiltered emotions with her photos, while having a blast creating and cherishing intimate, irreplaceable memories of both her existence and of those around her.

Follow her on Instagram @nikkigibala

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