When looking at a photo of your favourite band it’s easy to forget that there’s someone behind the camera who’s captured that moment – letting us see each of the band members and who they really are. “I have never wanted to actually be a musician but I have always wanted to be involved in music in some way.” Graham Smith, Northern Irish music photographer, tells me, “My path into photography came from trying my hand at music journalism, something I neither particularly enjoyed or was very good at. One of the small magazines I was writing for asked me to take some pictures to go along with my live reviews and that is how it all began.” Looking at Graham’s work you wouldn’t think his skill at rock photography had just been discovered accidentally – it looks like the work of someone who has always known this was what they wanted to do. Someone, who from the day they could put two thoughts together, knew they wanted to capture the lives of our favourite musicians in images.
“I prefer to work it as a collaboration, but this is not absolutely essential.” Graham tells me, “Every single shoot is approached in a different way, but usually I like to keep it all relatively relaxed and spontaneous. I am not very keen on making definite plans and coming up with "witty" concepts before shoots. I find this produces very stale and forced results.” It’s true. We’ve all seen photos of bands where they all look bored, angry and just like someone has told them to stand in the same pose for ten different photos. From looking at even one or two of Graham’s photos you can tell that this type of photo is of no interest to him.
Graham Smith is a very well known photographer within Northern Ireland, but is this were all his work is based? “My work with NI musicians only makes up about 30 or 40% of my output. I am determined to stay based in Northern Ireland, mainly because of the undeniably huge pool of talent we currently have, but I am equally determined to not just be an NI photographer. So I currently spend a lot of time working with bands and musicians outside Northern Ireland and this is something which will be increasing even more during 2009 with trips already planned in America and Europe.”
“I don't want this ever to be a typical job so these days I am very selective about who I work with and the type of jobs I take on.” Graham tells me, “At times this can make life difficult and awkward, but overall I am much happier now and I feel it is a very fair way to work as a band knows that if I take them on for a shoot it will be because I like their music and will be passionate about working with them.” And that’s exactly the way it should be. While it makes sense to work as much as possible to make a decent living, in a job like photography if you lose your passion for it there’s not really any point in continuing.
For those of you who are hoping to do photography as job some day, Graham has some advice: “Firstly and most importantly, only shoot what you truly love and are passionate about. If it is music photography you want to do, don't pick it because you think it is "cool" or because of some (usually false) impressions of what the music world is like. A pure and almost child-like love of music must come first. My other piece of advice is to learn how to actually shoot photographs (this does not have to mean take a course or read a book) rather than learning how to fix photographs in Photoshop!” Basically, photography isn’t easy, but the subconscious complexity of Graham Smith’s photos makes it seem that way.
You can check out more of Graham's work at www.grahamsmithphotography.com
All photos by Graham Smith and used with permission.