INTERVIEW: Daniel Boud, chief photographer for Time Out Sydney
Aussie photographer Daniel Boud is kicking some serious ass with his highly creative, off-the-wall and colourful portraiture. He kindly took time out of his busy Time Out Sydney schedule to tell us how he stumbled into photography in the first place, what kit he loves, how to direct a 13-second photo shoot and how his ideal portrait subject would be some dude with a beard, wearing a dress and sandals…
Questions by Ash and Danny
RTL: Can you remember the moment when you first thought ‘I want taking photos to be my life’? What sparked it?
Daniel Boud: My photography career is by accident rather than by design. I’ve never been one of those photographers who knew they wanted photography to be their life from a young age. I read in lots of photographers bio’s variations of “my dad handed me his film camera at age 12 and from that moment on I knew I wanted to be a photographer”. Not me. I tinkered with taking photos as a teenager, but was never really very good at it.
It wasn’t until I bought my own digital camera in my early 20s (about 2002) that the love affair with photography really began, and even then for several years I only entertained it as a hobby, not something that I could ever make a living from. I didn’t know any photographers. My parents were academics. I had no idea how you became a photographer.
I was really into music and went to heaps of gigs and began taking my new camera to local shows. I’d shoot pictures of the band from the crowd. I’d take pictures of my drunk friends. And I put them on my blog. And I repeated that process every week for a couple of years just for fun. One night while I was out I met a girl who needed a photographer to shoot a party for the magazine she worked at. I’d never had pictures published outside my website before, but I took it on and had those photos published. Now I look back and think how mediocre they were, but at the time it felt incredible to see my photos in print.
That led to more work for her, shooting parties and then gigs and festivals. It was my first foray into being an accredited photographer, which meant I got to shoot from the photo pit.
Anyway, rather than bore you with all the ins and outs, the tipping point happened when I was offered a staff position as the photographer for Time Out Sydney magazine in 2007. It meant a wage, rather than worrying about freelance insecurity. It was a big pay cut from my job doing websites, but it meant a much more fulfilling work. It was work that didn’t feel like work.
It was then that I decided to make taking photos my life.
RTL: How competitive is the photography scene in Australia? You’re recognised internationally now, but do you think having a ‘patch’ that isn’t, say, New York or London helped you to get established?
DB: The photography scene is competitive everywhere, and it’s only getting more so. There’s more good young photographers itching to get work experience, and more established photographers losing work as the media industry slashes jobs and tries to work out how to do more with less.
Hard as it is sometimes, I try not to think about other photographers as competitors. They’re my colleagues. We’re all in this together. It’s just a path to cynicism and burnout if you’re always thinking negatively about your fellow comrades or comparing your work too much.
I’m sure I have benefited by being here in Sydney rather than in New York or London for example. But it also means i’ll only reach a certain point in my career. If I stay in Sydney there’s only so far I can go. But the lifestyle is good here. I’m coming to accept that I’ll live here, earn my way, and travel for kicks.
RTL: How exactly did you land the job as Chief Photographer at Time Out Sydney - did you work your way up?
DB: It was all too embarrassingly simple and impossible to replicate. I met this journalist out one night while I was taking pictures. We stayed in touch for a year or two, he followed my work on my website and he thought of me as this sort of ‘man about town’ with a camera. I guess he liked my work and my attitude. He became the founding editor of Time Out Sydney and while recruiting staff he tapped me and asked if I was interested in coming on board as their Chief Photographer. I met the publishers and the art director and we all got along. I didn’t even have a photography portfolio apart from my blog.
RTL: It seems anyone with an interest in taking photographs beyond just their phone camera is buying a DSLR these days. What do you think it takes to stand out now?
DB: That’s a tough question. Especially in the live music photography scene, we’re all shooting on pretty much the same gear, from the same angles, it is very hard to stand out. It’s partly why I’ve taken a step back from it. Unless I can get some sort of unique access, so I’m getting a different shot to the other dozen photographers in the pit, then I don’t find it as fulfilling as I used to.
I still struggle with it a lot. I only recently put together a portfolio and one of the reasons it took me so long to do is because I couldn’t get over my own thoughts of “Why does this stand out? Why couldn’t any other photographer have taken it?” In the end I just had to suck it up put it out there.
I’m a big believer in letting your work speak for itself, but a number of photographers have been able to stand out because they have a voice that people relate to. People like Zack Arias have a lot to share, and express themselves well. If you combine a relatable voice and good work it puts you on the right path to stand out.
RTL: What has been your most memorable shoot?
DB: This may sound like a cop out, but I have this weird memory issue with photography, in that once a shoot is done I forget it. If you asked me what I shot last week it would be really hard to remember. Last month? No idea. Last year? Forget it.
Lucky I have my Lightroom catalogues to help where my brain doesn’t.
RTL: Music photography has been a big part of your career. When it comes to live music, you must have shot hundreds and hundreds of gigs - how do you keep it interesting for yourself?
DB: I put shooting live music into two modes in my mind - am I doing it for me or for a client?
If it’s for a client I treat it like work, ask them if there’s any particular brief, look at the sort of pictures that they’ll want. Is it full body wide shots? Tight head shots? Crowd shots? You need all the band? Logos in the background?
But every now and then I still shoot shows for me. In that case I go into it with nothing in my head. Just me and the camera and whatever feels right at the time. It’s a nice zen state to be in when you’re only taking pictures for yourself.
RTL: What are the best and worst things about doing what you do?
- Taking photos for a living
- When work doesn’t feel like work.
- Meeting fascinating people
- Seeing your work published
- When a client says they love the pictures
- Crippling self doubt and fear of failure
- Worrying that the work might dry up
- Spending too long at the computer
- Chasing unpaid invoices
RTL: What’s your next goal for your photography?
DB: I’m always looking to improve. I believe I’m only as good as my last shoot.
My whole career has been unplanned, so I don’t have any particular goal apart from continuing to take excellent pictures and book more jobs.
I’d like to do more portrait and commercial work. Less events.
RTL: Your wife is also a successful Photographer, do you find that there’s friendly competition between you both, especially with you using Canon gear, and Cybele using Nikon?
DB: Yes, there’s friendly competition. I’m her biggest fan though. I’m constantly in awe of what she produces. And I think i’d be a much poorer photographer without her to keep me on my toes.
RTL: Which photographers do most admire who are working today?
DB: This is a hard one as there’s so many, and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. Every time I hop online to Tumblr, Pinterest or Flickr (yes, there’s still amazing photographers on Flickr!) I discover inspiring work. But here’s some that first come to mind:
Dan Winters - http://www.danwintersphoto.com/
But there’s so many more.
RTL: What’s your favourite bit of kit and why?
DB: My 50mm lens. I have the 1.2 now, but I worked my way up through three 1.8s (I broke two) then the 1.4 (which stopped autofocusing) then ultimately the 1.2. I love the simplicity of the single focal length. I love the squat humility of its size. I love the creamy shallow depth of field.
RTL: When you have 13 seconds to shoot a story for Time Out, as with Eugene Levy, what are key strategies for getting them to do weird or interesting things for you?
DB: It’s often about giving specific direction and visualising what you want. When I was less experienced and I was photographing someone high profile I felt insecure about giving direction, but now when I have my camera in my hand it’s like I become a different person. Move here, turn this way, change this, squeal like a pig!
I still get intimidated by some high profile people, but I generally find there’s no harm in asking them to do something. The worst they can do is say no.
RTL: In recent years you’ve gone about setting up a studio at festivals, and shooting your subjects with numerous props. Who has been the most fun to shoot, and what inspired this pop up studio?
DB: I love doing the festival studio thing. I’ve shot so many festivals in my time, it’s really refreshing to shoot it in a different way and get some face-to-face time with the artists.
The last portrait at Splendour In The Grass last year was with Devendra Banhart and he quite happily lay on the ground while I photographed him having Hundreds & Thousands poured all over his face.
I’ll be doing it again in a few weeks so will have to conjure up some more fun scenarios.
RTL: If you had a time machine and could shoot a portrait of anyone from human history, who would it be and why?
DB: Probably Jesus. I’m an atheist, but I do believe Jesus was a real person. So it’d pretty remarkable to meet and photograph a person who had such an impact. And I bet he looked nothing like the paintings we know him from today.
INTERVIEW: Todd Owyoung, top music photographer and creator of ishootshows.com
We were looking for a guy with really cool hair to interview for Ride The Lighting. We found this dude. Turns out he’s a sensational music photographer for Rolling Stone, Spin, Q and more. Plus, he’s an internet legend – in fact, one of the foremost purveyors of music photography tips and tricks in the world. Funny, we just liked his barnet. Ladies and gentleman, we give you the man behind the truly brilliant ishootshows.com – Todd Owyoung…
Questions by Fanny & Ass… damn this keyboard, sorry… Danny & Ash.
RTL: What was the first concert you photographed? On what gear? And how did it turn out?
Todd: The first show I shot was the Avett Brothers in February of 2006 at a small club with about a one-foot stage. I had a friend who was going to the show and invited me along. This was long before the Avett Brothers reached the acclaim they have now, and I had no idea who they were. I had been into photography for several years and on a whim decided to bring my Nikon D70 and my Nikon 50mm f/1.4. I figured that if I didn’t like the music, I could always amuse myself by shooting photos. As it turned out, the bands were fantastic and I loved shooting them. Looking at the images after the gig, I was just struck by the thought, “Maybe I can do something with this.” I just loved the experience and the challenge of nailing an image of a performer that captured the spirit of the show and their music.
While I had a Nikon D2x at the time, I brought the lowly D70 because I didn’t want the D2x to reek of cigarette smoke. Naturally this aversion to bringing expensive camera gear to smoky dives went out the window immediately. A week after that first gig, I had tickets to another show, Andrew Bird, and decided to contact his publicist about photographing the event. She set up credentials and the rest is history; after that first photo pass, I was hooked.
RTL: Are there two or three photographers you have drawn most inspiration from?
Todd: I think that more than anything, there are photographers whose careers are incredibly inspiring. All the legendary photographers like Jim Marshall, Annie Leibovitz, Mick Rock – but more generally, anyone else who has ever made an iconic rock image. Personally, I think that there’s a little slice of immortality when one is able to create something iconic. That’s what I’m chasing at every gig I shoot.
RTL: How close is your photography to the level you wish to reach? What are you currently most keen to improve?
Todd: Regarding technical skills, I’m always excited to continue honing my portrait and lighting skills. When you’re able to build an image through lighting, depth, styling and posing, it seems like the amount one can learn is infinite. In terms of career, I often feel like I’ve only achieved 5-10% of what I want to accomplish. I’ve only been shooting music for 6 years – this is just the start for me.
RTL: You photograph so many concerts, how do you avoid it becoming a formulaic process for you?
Todd: While I feel completely comfortable shooting pretty much anything live and loud, I think that photographing so many shows is exactly what keeps it fresh for me. There are always different genres, levels of production and types of venues, it never truly gets boring. When I do feel like I’m falling into a groove or getting too comfortable, I take it as a challenge to push harder and deliver more compelling images.
RTL: Do poor lighting set-ups ever make you want to storm out of the pit? And do you ever use flash?
Todd: There are times when I’ve been shooting an opening band that have made me laugh at the lack of lighting. But when it’s the main act that has bad lighting, it’s enough to make one want to cry. Bad stage lighting can be frustrating, but for live music, it’s right up there with death and taxes. Unless you’re shooting only arena gigs, it’s really inescapable.
I do use flash, but my goal is always to make it look like stage lighting. Personally, I love shooting with flash at shows, but that’s when I have the freedom to place multiple flashes on stage. It takes a level of trust from a band, but the results can be amazing. Flash often gets a bad rap with people who shoot live music, but it’s just a tool to be used, mastered, and applied appropriately.
RTL: Where do you stand on photo contracts for live shows? Ever refused to shoot a gig because of one?
Todd: I’ve definitely walked out on many gigs because of a photo contact sprung at the venue, or flat out refused assignments when severe contracts are sent ahead of time. Not all contracts are bad, but photographers must be mindful about exactly what they’re signing these days.
RTL: You have built a remarkable profile not just through your photography but through your blogging. Do you think blogging/social networking is a truly essential part of marketing yourself as a photographer in 2012 or just something you enjoy?
Todd: I do think that savvy social networking can make for very successful marketing, but it’s also something that I enjoy. I started my blog in mid-2007, I never dreamed that I’d have such dedicated readers around the world. I think that an online presence can be a huge asset for clients and colleagues alike. In a field like music photography, I love that I’ve been able to connect with people across the globe who have the same passion I do. In terms of business, my blog has been a huge asset as well – it shows not only a very organic presentation of my work, but it shows my character as well. I had one client for a corporate shoot say, after seeing how I replied to almost every comment on my blog and answered questions, “This is the guy.”
RTL: Your photo tips are used by thousands of people across the world – did you make a specific decision one day to share your knowledge? Ever wonder if you should have kept your secrets to yourself?
Todd: When I started www.ishootshows.com, one of the main goals was to share what I learned along the way as a music photographer. I’d been shooting concerts for about a year when I launched the site and certainly pretty new on my journey as a music photographer. There weren’t really many blogs about music photography at the time, so I decided to share as much as I could through the site.
There are moments when I regret sharing so much information, mostly due to the fact that there are people I’ve personally helped who have turned around and tried to compete for the assignments with me or established colleagues with whom I’m friends. At those times, I can’t help but think of one scene in the documentary Exit Through The Giftshop where Bansky, reflecting on the rise of Mr. Brainwash, deadpans, “I used to tell everyone I met to be an artist… I don’t do that any more.”
However, this feeling hasn’t stopped me from posting advice and tips, as the benefit from me doing this far outweighs the bad. When I started www.ishootshows.com, I always wanted to help the field of music photography and the people who want to pursue it, and this goal hasn’t changed. I love sharing knowledge and feel really honored that people all over the world are employing some of what I’ve shared. I’ll share tips and techniques as long as I can.
RTL: What’s your career highlight so far?
Todd: Shooting alongside Ride the Lighting’s own Danny North, of course! But in all seriousness, I’ll give you two….
One definite career highlight really has been the opportunity to work with some of the top music shooters in the world, including my brother Chris Owyoung, Danny North, Andrew Whitton, on editorial assignments and corporate shoots alike. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to do what you love, work with people who are the best in the game, and actually get paid to do what most people would (and do) do for free.
On the flip side, I think I’m most pleased about the small things. For example, I’m working with a very young and talented band in NYC right now. I was initially contacted by their label and management because of a referral from a music publicist. To me, it’s incredibly thrilling to be able do work based on word of mouth and personal recommendations from people in the music industry.
Anyone can eventually work to shoot huge arena gigs, but I think it’s a professional accomplishment to get to a level where people are starting to seeking me out for projects, big or small.
RTL: Do you ever get sick of being asked for photography/gear advice?
Todd: Just about any photographer loves to talk gear and photography, and I’m no exception. My only regret is that I can’t often respond to the individual requests I receive. I try to share as much as possible on my blog to benefit the greatest number of people. I do cringe a little when I can’t respond to individual emails – dozens and dozens every week – simply because of the time that would require. To try and assuage my sense of guilt, I try to write articles on the topics that I’m most asked about.
RTL: What are you most looking forward to shooting or accomplishing this year?
Todd: World domination. More realistically, I think I’m past due to head over to the UK for some proper fish and chips, as well as a festival or two!
POSTED BY ASH
GO SEE: Glen E. Friedman - punk, hip hop, skating, randomness, attitude, genius
Glen E Friedman was one of the first photographers whose work I fell in love with. I discovered his photography through my love of Fugazi, but before becoming one of the foremost photographers of the ’80s US hardcore punk scene (incl Minor Threat, Black Flag et al), he defined the way the then-burgeoning West Coast skate scene of the late ’70s was documented. He also shot many iconic hip hop photos for the Def Jam label (Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and so on). The first book of his I owned was The Idealist - bought for my birthday by the Kerrang! staff many moons ago. I love its randomness - it’s photography in a wide sense, not confined to genre. Shots of a raging Henry Rollins, or a hard-faced Ice T nestle with abstracts of shopping mall trolleys, snow, skies and so on, and to me it makes perfect sense. That book showed me you can shoot music without solely being a ‘music photographer’ and it remains a huge inspiration to me, as does his determination to use photography to communicate his passion, rather than just being a shooter for hire. His other books include one consisting just of his Fugazi shots (‘Keep Your Eyes Open’) and perhaps his definitive work, ‘Fuck You Heroes’. I love them all. No digital trickery, no obsession with gear, just an obsession with rebellion, adrenaline, alternative thought and how to capture it all on a roll of film.
POSTED BY ASH
INTERVIEW: Russ O’Connell - Picture Director at Q magazine
Hanging out with Lana Del Rey when she’s wearing a tiara and has blood dribbling down her face: we’ve all done it. But Russ O’Connell does other things too, including managing and commissioning the photographers at the UK’s most prestigious music magazine, Q. Previously, he had the same role at celeb-obsessed weekly Heat. Ever licensed a set of photos for 40 grand? He has. Read on, this is fascinating stuff…
Interview by Danny ‘I Don’t Get Out Of Bed For Less Than 39 Grand’ North*
Danny North: Let’s get our readers acquainted with you first. Tell us a bit about your background, what was your first picture editing job, and how did you get into it?
Russ O’Connell: I studied photography at Camberwell College Of Art, then went on to do a degree in photography down in Exeter. When I finished university, I started to go in the direction of wanting to become a photo illustrator, managed to get a few commissions, but it was like being stuck out in the middle of the sea without armbands, so I began to investigate getting work placements at various photo libraries and magazines. Heat magazine was one of the first to come back to me, four months unpaid work experience turned into a seven-year career there where I eventually made Picture Director at the pinnacle of the magazine’s popularity, I then made the move over to Q magazine where I have been the Picture Director for the past three years.
Danny: I suppose that would make a good argument for unpaid internships? How did you manage for four months of unpaid work?
Russ: I wouldn’t choose to be unpaid, but often that’s the only way to get your foot in the door, especially in the current climate, companies are tightening their belts, trying to get more for less. If you are going to go down the internship/work experience route then you have to make yourself indispensable and prove your worth, that way people take notice of you, of your commitment and passion. I had to sign on to the dole and was getting housing benefit to help me during that period, luckily my parents helped to fund me too. I think the key is to work out if you can afford to do it, if you are really really passionate about it, then you will find a way to make it happen. Most companies only offer a week or so work experience, I decided to stretch that out to four months as I knew that way I could make myself indispensable to them and also be in a great position to be there when an opportunity arose, which it did. Fate? Maybe, but also determination that paid off.
Danny: Picture Director at Heat must have been an intense job, that magazine is wall-to-wall images… and weekly! What’s your best memory form working there?
Russ: It was intense, but also really exciting, I was lucky enough to work there at the magazine’s peak, selling 600,000+ issues a week. I used to bid crazy money on paparazzi sets of images, £3K, £5K, £15K, even £40K – there was a hunger for those type of pictures, to be the first magazine to have them exclusively, it was a real buzz winning a bidding war, or getting a set of images first through your relationship with photographers and photo agencies. I think in terms of buzz, it was probably winning a bidding war on a set of Beckham images that rose up to £40,000!
Danny: Having dealt with pictures from agency photographers and then worked with editorial photographers, do you see them as completely different kinds of people?
Russ: Very much so, unfortunately now the majority of paparazzi photographers aren’t trained photographers at all. They have limited, if no, concept of photography or the understanding behind it, they are purely employed to serve as image-making machines to feed the hungry media disposable images of the current person/‘celebrity’ of the moment. The job of the paparazzi is simple, to try and capture that person before anyone else and get the pictures off to the agency or picture desks as quickly as possible. The role of the paparazzo used to be a skilled, almost covert role, staking out someone for hours or even days on end, using long lenses so not to intrude on that person directly in hope to capture someone doing something they shouldn’t be doing or something out of the ordinary that will genuinely make an interesting set of images. I think those days at large are fading, the Phil Rameys of this world and Frank Rosses are now shadowed by truck drivers and kids with no photographic training or understanding, being given a digital camera, putting it on A or P mode and literally jumping in the face of their subject in a scrum reminiscent of an England rugby match.
On the flip side, the editorial photographer’s job is more calculated and planned, a real understanding of composition, exposure and subject all plays a part in a good editorial photographer’s working method, the editorial photographer needs to develop a rapport with his or her subject, understand that person and what it is they are trying to say and develop that into an image worthy of standing up a feature or story.
Danny: Q is Britain’s most prestigious music magazine… in an age where the competition for photo work is fierce, what does it take to become a Q photographer?
Russ: A complete understanding of your subject, and a good understanding of composition and technical skill. You would be surprised by the number of photographers approaching me who have never shot a band or musician before claiming that they feel that they are suited to shoot for Q. I’ve even had pet photographers approach me for work. I understand it’s tough out there and people are more than ever looking for new ways to make money, but I’m not going to employ someone who has no concept or experience of what it is like to shoot a musician or band. To shoot for Q you really need to know your subject, be a skilled photographer and be different, offer something different that sets you apart from the rest of the pack.
Danny: What are the most common mistakes by up and coming photographers when showing you their portfolio?
Russ: Overuse of images, if you have two great shots of someone from a live gig or studio session or even just one, just show those, there’s no need to show the whole session to prove you can shoot a lot. I think self-editing is a really important skill that photographers need to take time to develop. Often it helps do have someone else edit your work as you can become blinded by your own work – it’s hard to become self-critical of work you are proud of, but you need to take into account who you are showing it to and if it’s the right thing to include in your folio, whether you think it’s great or not.
Danny: Do you strive to give Q a specific ‘look’ with its photography, and how specific are the briefs you give your photographers?
Russ: Quality control is very important to me on Q, I think it’s important to retain a visual identity to a magazine so the readership knows what quality they can expect to see. With that in mind, when I joined Q I very much pushed the photography in the magazine further, I was getting bored with seeing the same old style press shots and basic lighting used for the shoots, so along with the then Creative Director I made it my mission to revitalise the photography in the mag and create some sort of visual identity, upping the level of photographers and concepts.
Danny: One thing that springs to mind is a comment you made to me about noise in images. It seems like pixel-peeping photographers (aren’t we all?), and the industry at large are insanely paranoid about noise. You seem to understand the nature of it from screen to print more than most. Does this understanding come from working with film back when you first started? Explain the major differences between how we see it on our screens and the final results in print.
Russ: I think many people have started to realise that it’s about the image rather than the ‘noise’. Even if noise is present in an image on the screen it will look very different once it is printed. I believe it’s mainly down to viewing distance, you don’t look at a magazine page with your nose touching the page, so of course it will look very different viewing the whole image printed on a page as opposed to blown up 100% on your monitor. My thoughts are that if you like the image it shouldn’t matter about noise. With 35mm film, some of the best images have been taken with really grainy black-and-white film, 1600 or even 3200 ISO film, yet back then no-one complained that the images were too grainy, they simply accepted it as part of the image and character of 35mm film – it makes it what it is.
Danny: What’s your favourite Q shoot from your three years there?
Russ: Biffy Clyro on a roof in LA shot by Austin Hargrave. I briefed Austin that I wanted them playing their instruments, giving attitude to really show the energy of Biffy Clyro, needless to say he hit the nail on the head, the image has everything going for it, the energy of the band, the setting/location, lighting. It’s one of those truly great rock ‘n’ roll images.
Danny: Having started out as a photographer, do you recommend becoming a Picture Director as a career path to others?
Russ: Definitely. It’s a role that I wasn’t even aware existed when I was at university, we were led to believe that becoming a photographer or photographer’s assistant is the only option out there, but becoming a photo editor to me is the best of both worlds: you get to work with some of the world’s best photographers, look at amazing imagery everyday, meet some truly talented people and you can also get the chance to shoot stuff yourself if you are confident enough.
*N.B. That was a joke… he actually won’t get INTO bed for less than 39 grand.
POSTED BY DANNY
INTERVIEW: JAMES SANDOM – international supermanager for Kaiser Chiefs, The Vaccines and many more…
See that slick looking dude over there, hanging around behind a stage somewhere —>
He’s masterminded the career of bands including the Kaiser Chiefs, The Cribs, The Vaccines, Crystal Castles and White Lies. We asked him about his own career, the highs and lows of his job (although, he tells us, it’s not a ‘job’ really) and a bunch of stuff about photography, including: “three songs, no flash - for heaven’s sake, why?”.
Paxman North was chief interrogator. Photo by Peanut.
Danny North: Who was the first band you ever managed and how did you end up managing them in the first place?
James Sandom: The first artist I managed was a guy called Even Johansen, known as Magnet, signed to Ultimate Dilemma initially, and then Atlantic Records. As with many twists and turns in my career there was an element of fate involved. Even was previously frontman in a band that enjoyed brief success in the 90s called Libido. A couple of guys from his former band were my neighbours on Weavers Way in Camden Town where I lived briefly in 1997/98. One thing lead to another, I spent some time with them, and subsequently with Even, and offered to help him. Magnet was about to release a fantastic debut record called ‘Quiet & Still’ in Scandinavia, and that got me on the rails, as I was able to land both record and publishing deals in quick succession for Magnet off the strength of this self-financed debut release. My first success of any note was also largely coincidental, a couple of my wife’s teenage friends Jesper Mortensen and Jeppe Breum Laursen were making music in Denmark as Junior Senior, I heard ‘Move Your Feet’, got on a flight to Copenhagen and that chapter began.
Danny: You had proved yourself as an independent manager. What influenced your decision to join the SuperVision group and who were the first band that you managed after joining them?
James: I had already joined SuperVision during this time, actually. I had mutual connections there through Adam Driscoll who I’d crossed paths with three or four years earlier when I was in the band Mr Baker. We released a single on the Blue Dog label, through V2, which Adam ran. I was also friends with Be Rozzo who runs the Barfly clubs, also part of the same group of companies that would eventually become MAMA Group. I’d met Be around Camden in the ’90s, frequently at shows in his London venue. Adam gave me a shot, I was working alongside Paul Craig who was manager of The Webb Brothers at the time, and had worked with Michael Hutchence – and learned a lot of the fundamentals of the business, and in equal measure what to do alongside what not to do. They were defining years for me.
Danny: Let’s talk about promotional photographs - how important are great promos to an artist or band, and what makes a great promo shot in your opinion?
James: Vitally important. Opinions are formed on first impressions, and a great promo shot can draw you in. I’m a great believer in the iconic, aspirational quality of rock ’n’ roll, and believe an artist’s identity is in many ways as important as the music. It’s just another part of the package and a reason to believe in the artist. The greatest shots are generally those with character, and an air of mystery to them.
Danny: How do you go about choosing a photographer to shoot a band/artist’s promos?
James: It more often than not comes down to existing relationships these days, but at the heart of the decision is definitely the photographer’s work and our belief they can do the job to get the best from the artist in this situation.
Danny: Do artists/bands ever get trained in how to pose for the camera? Which of your artists would you say is the best at it, and which is your favourite promo shot?
James: We’ve never had an artist train as such, but ultimately those that enjoy real success are basically training all the time and over time you’d hope they’d get better and more confident in front of the camera. From our roster there’s a couple of artists especially good, Franz Ferdinand have taken some great cover shots, where they instantly have a ‘classic’ look ranking alongside artists like the Stones, Dylan or Bowie – rather than their modern day contemporaries. Alice Glass & Ethan Kath from Crystal Castles always capture that sense of mystery and intrigue and will go to extreme lengths to create striking images, as NME discovered when Alice sliced Ethan open in front of Tom Oxley and begun licking the blood off his chest!
Danny: There is an increase in the amount of bands asking photographers to sign copyright transfer contracts at gigs – what are your thoughts on them?
James: It’s the way of the world, in modern times with the internet enabling any photographer to post their work publicly and share it, I can appreciate the artists’ desire not to have any old work out there – with no quality control – so I guess this measure helps protect against that.
Danny: The ‘three songs, no flash’ rule can often make live photography a bunfight. Can you explain why this is usually in place?
James: An interesting point. For some artists it’s logistical, for instance from our roster there’s rarely a show where Ricky Wilson from Kaiser Chiefs, or Alice Glass from Crystal Castles don’t use the pit as part of the show, therefore there’s a safety element both for the photographers, the artists themselves and most importantly the crowd in having the pit clear. There’s an element of respecting the crowd with this too, the fans that have made it to the front few rows are invariably the most passionate – if their gig experience is starting at the back of a sea of photographers, it’s not ideal.
Danny: What’s the best thing about the work you do? And what’s the worst?
James: I can only speak personally, but it isn’t ‘work’. At 38 I still don’t feel as though I have a job. I’m surrounded by the culture I loved from the earliest age, and whilst I’m fiercely passionate for success for my artists (and as a result for myself too) and often 18-20 hour days are reality, I still never get up in the morning feeling as though it’s work. This is my lifestyle, and I wouldn’t change it for the world other than the time it means I don’t spend with my wife and son. That’s the worst aspect, there’s no divide. I don’t ‘leave the office and work is done’, work travels with me 24/7.
Danny: If any of our readers are considering becoming artist managers, what do you wish you had been told at the beginning?
James: The ability to deal with such a vast array of characters, each with their own idiosyncrasies is a skill I hadn’t envisaged to begin with. Over time you sink or swim to a degree. I’m drawn to very strong characters, which means managing some wilful people in the best sense as they have a true sense of their own aesthetic, and worst as you’re essentially responsible for any steering in the wrong direction! The skill of being appreciative of an artist’s desire, but strong enough to present the bigger picture and if necessary convince them of a more suitable solution from time to time is something to bear in mind from the start.
POSTED BY DANNY
GO SEE: James Morgan - stunning and intimate documentary photography
I discovered James Morgan’s work in a Sunday supplement early last year. It was these incredible photographs of a Malaysian nomadic marine community whose way of life is threatened by reckless, destructive mass fishing practices. These photographs still knock me out.
Two key things I love about James’ work. Firstly, he shoots from the heart - with compassion and true understanding of the stories he’s telling. Take a look around all his photo essays and you’ll see what I mean.
Secondly, he combines the creation of ‘beautiful’ images with the desire to tell the truth through photography. Neither aspect is compromised by the other. This is an incredible skill. He draws attention to important issues via his exceptional use of composition and colour. Photography that really matters.
Here’s the homepage: jamesmorganphotography.co.uk
POSTED BY ASH