A fan kissing a performer as other fans take selfies. ​

Up Close and Personal

Jessica Lehrman captures the joy of being a fan.

This is part of a special series, The Future of Fame Is the Fan, which dissects how celebrity became so slippery. It’s also in the latest VICE magazine. Subscribe here.

For the last 15 years of my life I’ve been a photographer. Until the pandemic hit, I hadn’t gone more than a week without taking photos since I was 17. Documenting the world around me is something I learned from my family. My parents religiously recorded me and my younger sister growing up—at some points living in an RV, moving from town to town in search of the ideal utopian village. My dad, who had plenty of stories about the 60s and 70s, won a contest in 1965 and got to see the Beatles play live at Shea Stadium. He has countless anecdotes of his times at rock festivals, naked in trees during a Jefferson Airplane set or hanging out with Hells Angels. My mom went to a million Grateful Dead shows.


I grew up on these tales and the soundtrack that accompanied them, instilling in me the concept that every moment of life is something magical to be remembered and retold, especially when it comes to the world of music. I never thought of documentation as a career until I fell into a photography program at the Rhode Island School of Design my junior year in high school. After the first day of the class I was hooked. Photography was like a drug that left me feeling both elated and totally natural. It made sense like nothing had before. It gave me access and a reason to go places and meet people. It gave me the power to help tell and preserve others’ stories and struggles and triumphs.

A fan peeking through a fence.

I went to a family reunion in 2011 where I was seniored by everyone else there by at least 50 years and found out that I come from a lineage of documentarians—history book writers, speechwriters, photographers, book publishers. My entire extended family seemed to be as obsessed, if not more, with preserving the histories of the people around them. Maybe there’s something in my DNA?

Really searching and finding something to live for and sharing that potential with like-minded people is magical.

I did two years of college in upstate New York at SUNY Purchase before dropping out and moving to Brooklyn. Purchase had been filled with budding musicians. It felt like everyone I knew was in a band or was a rapper, and I was pretty certain they were all going to be the most successful artists in the history of the world. I started to spend every bit of my free time shooting musicians, because their journey upwards and onwards felt important and inspiring. Then I discovered the ecosystems around them and my lens expanded. I never set out to be a music photographer, but my early 20s were spent in a world built around music. Through years of shooting musicians and celebrities and subcultures, I’ve found that I’m just as passionate about the worlds that surround and inform a scene as the scene or individual characters. That’s how my love affair and obsession with the wide universe of fans began.

A group of women admiring and dancing with rapper ASAP Rocky.
A view from a tour bus of a line of fans waiting outside.
People talking at a music festival.
One person sitting on a bench while another person lays on top of them.

I didn’t grow up religious and no one in my family is devoted to any specific belief system or thing. I also moved around a lot as a child. That combination has given me a weird fascination with people who have an unwavering devotion. I find deep personal joy in capturing the adoration that other people create for themselves through their fandom. The amount of love that exists in a venue when you have hundreds or thousands of people focusing their energy on shared appreciation of one thing is so special and is so hard to find elsewhere in life. I’m addicted to that feeling and to the groups of people who structure their lives around chasing it. I’m not particularly interested in asking deep questions about why they care, or the details of their fandom, I just find myself in awe of that pure dedication, and I’m almost jealous of their blind love for something they’ve made so much bigger than themselves.

A fan looking deadpan at the camera.

Having faith in something other than yourself is difficult right now, and I think being a fan offers a lot of the same promise of religion or faith. Really searching and finding something to live for and sharing that potential with like-minded people is magical. That’s the emotion and the moment I find myself searching for and photographing when I’m jammed into the front row. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a rap show, the Warped Tour, a Christian rock or heavy metal festival. It’s the same feeling—it’s finding that person in the mosh pit that moves like you, a new best friend with a matching Paramore shirt in the bathroom line. All of the reunions and the breakups and the romance and the unending love for a world that is created by, sustained, and sometimes even destroyed through this singular act of devotion.

A fan breakdancing at a music festival outdoors.
Fans and rappers dancing together.
One fan passes a joint to another fan in the audience.
One fan embraces a rapper as other watch in admiration.