Paul is one of the few music photographers whose live shots feel as intimate as his portraits. It’s a great example of when style and creativity connect with technical ability behind a lens. Scroll below to see more. Follow along here.
How did you get into photography?
Hmmm. My father always had a darkroom when I was a kid. I remember being interested in the chemical process. There was nothing like it. No matter what digital can accomplish the alchemy of film will always bring me back to it. Strange thing is that parents pushed other hobbies on me and I forgot about it.
I moved out to Los Angeles for the music industry just about the time Napster had started to bring the old model tumbling down. There weren’t many jobs in music management/production so I looked elsewhere. Soon I started assisting an art dealer and became very interested in fine art photography. Since I was 13 I spent all my extra time going to shows so shooting music just seemed logical. If I’d only stuck with it when I was an 8 year old kid on a farm who knows where I’d be.
Did you go to school for it?
Yes for a bit. There is a junior college in Santa Monica that has a great program. There I developed my love/hate relationship with large format photography.
Most of my experience has come from assisting in the fashion world. I feel school is meant to teach you some technique and how to complete projects on time. Real world experience is much more valuable for modern photographers. You learn how to deal with the many people involved including clients and talent. Dealing with people is the real job. The photographic process not so much.
What are your main influences?
As far as photographic influences I have always enjoyed the work of Keith Carter, Avedon, E. Weston, Mark Seliger (portraits are great but his fine art is fantastic) Anton Corbijn, and the lovely Ellen Von Unwerth. I am also obsessed with certain plant photographers. Karl Blossfeldt being my favorite.
How do you approach artists for your backstage shots?
Being with a good outlet makes it the easiest. The shots are usually scheduled. If I don’t have that then pure joy/eagerness always works. People always appreciate fans. As long as you can be somewhat professional getting a quick photo shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe tell them something specific about their work/performance that you enjoy.
I remember asking Win Butler for a quick photograph before saying anything else to him. He obliged but the photo sucked because he was annoyed. It’s rude to run up on anyone and quickly ask for a photo even if they are use to it. Had I talked about our Houston suburban upbringing it probably would’ve been a lot better.
How do you prepare mentally for a shoot?
It depends on the artist but researching them is key. You have to be able to talk about something other than the wonderful LA weather. I enjoy smiling/laughing shots. I’m not good at telling jokes but I’m honestly blunt which can sometimes be surprising and funny. That can usually break down the tension.
There are times especially at festivals where my mental state has drifted. As long as I’ve visualized the artist and the location beforehand then I’m usually good.
Do you have a routine for shooting a show? What is it?
A lot of my stuff can be organized accidents. I use tilt shift lenses, prisms, and diffraction film. Sometimes I get great shots, sometimes I get shit.
Luckily I’m tall so I usually stand on the outside and don’t have to get too much in the mix.
Also since we usually get 3 songs I like to sit back and watch one of them especially if it’s a favorite. You gotta have fun in there. It’s so funny to watch people shoot shows as if they’re going into battle. In LA you see a lot of paparazzi. Seeing that charade I have realized that fighting for a shot is the last thing I ever want to be doing.
Do you have any advice for someone just getting into music photography?
All the cliches are true.
Find a niche. NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK. Be nice to your peers.
If you were alive before cameras existed, what do you think you would be doing?
Building something. I get a lot of enjoyment in the physical creation/art direction of a photo. Sometimes more than the actual photo.
What do you want to be doing in 5 years?
Earnin and burnin. Snappin necks and cashin checks… Sorry love that quote.
It will be media but I it will have more to do with motion and audio rather than portraits/live music photography.
For more of Paul Carter’s work you can see his website here.