We look deeper into the tales of gig photographers. First up, an insight into Craig Taylor Broad.
|1. Tell us about yourself?
I’m a thirty one year old photographer who lives in Cornwall, UK.
2. How/When did you get into gig photography?
It took me a long time to get into photography in general and for large periods of my life I refused to touch a camera and absolutely hated to be photographed. I think I picked up my first ever camera when I was around 23 or 24. I had been suffering with anorexia for a large portion of my life and would spend anything from 2 to 4 hours a day walking in order to burn off more weight. I knew it was ridiculous to go on all these hikes so I ended up getting a rubbish compact camera in order to document some of the beautiful scenery that I was witnessing. That eventually led to photographing abandoned buildings which in turn led to street photography and probably by the age of 27/28 I hit upon photographing gigs.
To be honest I don’t really recall being given any advice by anyone. Photography feels like such an insular thing, like most creative forms I guess. I’ve been lucky in a sense that I have a good friend who used to shoot bands and a partner who is very supportive, so I’ve had a network of people that push me to keep photographing and get better at it. I think the best quote I’ve ever read though is that of Robert Capa when he said ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.’ I’m a pretty strong believer in that.
That’s a pretty difficult question and to be honest I think that it’s something that is changing all the time. The internet has had such a profoundly positive effect upon everything but it’s fundamentally changed the landscape in terms of how people can make money. The move away from print to online publication has hit a lot of people hard and gig photographers have fallen into that with a lot of us working for the love of music rather than money exchanging hands. I do think that gig photography remains important though, maybe more important than ever. We’re part of a content driven industry here and bands have become more open to their fans and treated more like products than people. With that in mind they need to be constantly pushing their branding which is basically where gig photographers seem to be coming in.
Oh totally not. In the majority we’re treated like parasites. And I get why, because I’ve met a lot of photographers who think that because they have a camera they ultimately own the venue. I don’t think the paparazzi vibe of photographers has helped the cause at all, but as a general rule, the young photographers that I’m meeting aren’t like that and want to enjoy the show as much as the band and the fans.
I think it has its place. There are some shows where it’s at a massive venue, there are too many photographers and it’s a singer-songwriter. To be honest in those situations you can pretty much get a shot within the first song if they aren’t a visually interesting artist in their performance. What gets me is when you’re in a small venue or a dark dingy pub that isn’t sold out photographing an energetic punk band and people bring out the 3 song rule.
I think with intimate venues there’s an essence that anything can happen and I know in my experience that very rarely does that anything happen within the first 3 songs. In fact, if I looked at my favourite shots I can guarantee that less than ten percent were shot in the first three songs. I bet if you looked at a lot of the iconic music shots over the last say fifty years not that many of the truly great ones have been snapped within that three song rule. I mean, I always use it as an example but that shot of Kurt Cobain falling into the drum kit…in the first three songs? I don’t think so. I looked at that shot when I was ten and that was a bridge into something I hadn’t witnessed yet. Why are we disconnecting photographers from having the potential to create a time capsule of what scenes are like in this era?
I just find it a strange hold of power that the industry has over photographers, and it’s not just the 3 song rule but also various contracts that bigger bands management bring out for you to sign before you shoot. It’s kind of funny in a way because I’m meant to be a creative person but you’re asking me to create the best images I possibly can within 15 minutes. Imagine taking a canvas to a famous painter and say they have 15 minutes to create their best piece to date.
Then on top of that, imagine making them sign a contract to say that even if they do create an incredible piece of art that they then didn’t own it. That’s fundamentally what shooting big bands is today, here’s your fifteen minutes, oh and by the way, we own the photographs, not you.The industry is completely skewed with power and it needs to be discussed and addressed. No, don’t get rid of the 3 song rule. But be intelligent with how you use it, make people (including bands and fans) aware of why it exists. Just because something has become tradition, it doesn’t mean that it has to be a non-moveable benchmark.
Again, I’ve been very lucky in that I used to write a lot of music reviews so I had a lot of PR agents sending me details for gigs which I could then ask for passes for. A lot of people don’t have that luxury. Most of the gigs I’ve shot have come through this or through working with a music website. Alongside this being friendly with bands can also help.
Firstly I would say not to do it unless you truly love music, because you aren’t going to simply be walking into paid work (unless you’re super lucky). Secondly, if I haven’t scared you off yet then I’d say get down to some local gigs and just shoot. Small gigs are the literally the best, you can usually shoot for as long as you want and you can learn without the pressure of needing to capture a shot for a magazine or a band. Thirdly, when I started there were a lot of people who told me various things of what not to. This mainly consisted of not using flash. I don’t know what venues are like everywhere but I know at least the local ones that I’ve been to, I wouldn’t have had anything to work with if I hadn’t used flash. Sometimes you have to break the fundamental rules. I think you should always be prepared to use everything in your arsenal in order to get the shots you desire. Lastly I would say to just acknowledge that you’re going to need a thick skin. You’re going to probably get hit, you’re going to have photographs used without permission, you’re gonna have days where you don’t shoot as well as you think you could, you’re going to have magazines reject you solely on the basis that you don’t fit their ‘style’ and you’re going to have plenty of days where every time you contact someone about potentially working with them they are going to say those haunting two words…no budget. Get your head down, keep shooting, keep creating.
I’m not sure I have specific bits of kit that I would consider to be my favourite. I’m very open to experimenting whether that be with a Lensbaby, a prism, or just changing up shutter speeds so I don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea to get attached to using specific things. I’m not a gearhead at all either.
Oh there have been so many. When you catch a great band on a great day it’s just utterly great to be a part of that experience and to capture it. I can’t pick just one but lately I shot a gig for a local band I love called Tinnedfruit and it was just insane, there was a rare Cornish audience for the whole show, lots of crowd surfing and it was absolutely chaos to be a part of and photograph but it felt utterly special. On the flip side of that there was a show that We Never Learned To Live, Fall Of Minerva and Earth Moves played where literally there was an audience of maybe 3 or 4 people. They are all incredible bands anyway but to see each band just play 110% and really put a shift in when they didn’t really have to was a humbling experience for me.
Again, I’ve had various ones. It’s very hard to just pick one especially as sometimes gigs are bad because you’re excited about shooting them but they don’t go well from your perspective. One of the worst ones was shooting Elton John. I hadn’t been shooting gigs for long and he was probably the first massive, iconic person I had been down to photograph. Anyway, when I got there they handed up this form and basically said we could shoot the three songs but we had to do so from a position that made it pretty much impossible to get a shot because it was so far away. One guy caught wind that this was going to be happening before the show and he rented one of those lenses where it needs a tripod of its own. That proves how far away we were. There have been so many instances like this and worse but I’m at the point where I don’t feel like I can say anything. There’s definitely a limit on what you can say about certain acts, especially if they have a passionate fan base. I’ve called out people for being arseholes before and then had an inbox full of hate mail telling me I need to go and kill myself. The internet is a strange place.
I’m probably not the best person to be giving advice on this. I am notoriously rubbish at this. There are the obvious avenues like Facebook and Instagram. I believe that the best way is to somehow create an audience that cares about you and your photographs enough to share your work. Even with the internet I think word of mouth is a better tool than paying for advertising. But then, I haven’t found this audience yet so I might be completely wrong!
Well, if this cynical interview doesn’t completely ruin any chance of working further in gig photography then hopefully what’s next for me is continuing in the same vein and improving my art. In November I’ll be photographing Fall Of Minerva on a weekender that they are doing which I’m pretty excited about because seeing them play every night will be a dream. Alongside that I’m going to slowly be teaching myself about filming and trying to get into that.
The dream was always to be with bands, documenting tours. There’s something very special about the relationship dynamics within bands. To be welcomed as a part of that is so incredibly beautiful and I’d like it to be a part of my life so much more. If I could be away photographing tours up to 8 months of the year I’d probably be very happy (and also probably very tired). I think the ultimate goal for anyone in a creative field though is to get paid what they feel they are worth, whether that payment is a financial one or one of gained respect.