Former broadcast media editor finds new love with photography. Photographs one of the last Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker performances
By Paula Burr
Ecstatic and elated are two words former commercial television production editor chose to describe her invitation to photograph and meet one of her longtime favorite music bands, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The news and excitement seemed overwhelming but her next step was to prepare for the event which was about 120 miles away. After all, it was an outdoor ampitheater, called Red Rocks, in the Denver, Colo. area. Little did photographer Trenda Allen know at the time, this would be one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s last performances. A few months later the chart topper from the 80’s and 90’s passed away at the age of 66 from cardiac arrest. Her photos would become even more precious than when she took them . This media photographer had been away from her original career in media for over 10 years and had returned to the media as a photographer about two years prior to landing this gig as part of the band’s 40th Anniversary tour. “It was a little tricky getting the pass,” she recalls. A friend who had worked in the industry in Australia had told me to contact the management via email for Tom Petty, she stated.
After sending the email in January and no response, her last-ditch effort was a call to management in April. The concert date was on the horizon for late May and she was not expecting to get much for a response. Trenda was shocked that the call landed her the number to the publicist, who wanted a media company to sponsor her pass. Fortunately, the former news and sports director from the NBC affiliate she had worked for in the late 90’s was now a director for Town Square Media - the number three radio conglomerate in the United States. Trenda had been employed as a freelance photographer for the company for University of Wyoming sports, local high school sports and a large annual concert and rodeo event, “The Cheyenne Frontier Days.” The company agreed to sponsor her and she received her press pass immediately.
She was able to photograph the first three songs of the former Eagles and solo career artist, Joe Walsh’s show as well as the first three songs of headliner Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. This was all the media pass had allowed for. Between the two bands’ performances, she noticed the bass guitarist, Ron Blair, at the side of the stage. As a fan, she reacted quickly and pointed this out to the Denver Post photographer. Within a few minutes, she was now posing as the fan in front of the camera with Ron Blair and the Denver Post photographer taking the photo. While Trenda was able to meet some of the band members, her biggest regret was not being able to meet Tom Petty. “I wish I would have asked but I didn’t want to impose,” she reminisces.
The happy-go-lucky gal from Wyoming who had never worked as a professional photographer until two years ago is not a stranger to the media. Her career started as a videographer and newspaper writer in high school. She worked both on the monthly high school newspaper and in TV media production for the school’s television channel. Trenda became the co-editor of the newspaper her senior year. While she went to community college and received a degree in retail management, she still yearned to work with the media, so she went back to college, landed an internship with a local TV station and over the years works as a videographer, copywriter, and commercial television producer. Trenda had developed relationships with the entertainment world early in her career as a local segment producer for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon each year. She interviewed many stars who were part of the show including, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, and country legend, Garth Brooks. For four years she worked as a copywriter as well as the local NBC affiliate which landed her two copywriter of the year awards for her word as both a copywriter and producer of television commercials. Her experience with the music industry landed her the freelance gig and opportunity to meet with the Tom Petty group. “They were the most down to Earth people I came across in that situation.” After she finishing the shoot Trenda’s reaction was “I am going to do this forever!”
Photography has changed significantly since her husband, Mike, bought her a camera body and two lenses in the 1980s for a hobby. Trenda laughs, “My husband kept telling me to quit taking the same picture of the same thing” after he bought her the family’s first professional camera in the late 80’s as a “hobby.” Back then, it was a film camera and it cost money develop the photos. She would take a photo of the same subject many times and change the camera settings slightly until she learned which settings were best for what she was shooting.
It was about four years ago she upgraded from a single lens digital camera to a Nikon digital camera with two lenses. The mother of three watched YouTube tutorials on the tricks of digital photography until she felt comfortable with it. Since film development was no longer an issue, Trenda took “as many photos with different settings as I wanted to,” she giggles. “I had been honing my skills to photograph UW (University of Wyoming) games,” she said about getting involved with Town Square Media, “So I went out and did a few high school games and said, ‘Hey, I think I am pretty good at this. ‘“ Her next call was to her former colleague, sports guru, Frank Gambino of Town Square Media. Frank scored a media pass for her to one of the the games and her career was relaunched in the media and in photography. Trenda is excited when she sees her byline for local sports in her area on the company’s website. She is always looking at a variety of photography and recently took photos for a 90 year old woman’s birthday. “The people were extremely appreciative of me and kept thanking me throughout the party.” Trenda does not anticipate the Tom Petty concert will be her last as she continues to grow her business as a freelance photographer in southeast Wyoming. With her skill level and “passion to return to the media,” expect to see Trenda’s byline at many upcoming events.