Featured photo of Margaret Hunter taken by Bailey Greenwood
I know you’ve gone to a lot of concerts and a lot of countries for a long time – were you already taking professional photos or did you end up photographing these adventures and realize how much you liked it?
The first time I remember taking photos was with a Samsung ‘point and shoot’ at Camp Bisco 7, The Disco Biscuits’ summer music festival in upstate New York in 2008. My friend mentioned off the cuff that I should “be a photographer” when she saw the photos I posted. They were weird light graffiti patterns from hoops and lasers. I laughed off the idea at the time, but when Christmas came that year and my parents asked what I wanted, it was between a mixer and a DSLR (I know, #firstworldproblems). I’d already been taking photos and didn’t know the first thing about music production, so I chose the DSLR.
Around that same time, I traveled to Guatemala for a 10-Day Vipassana Meditation “retreat”. I put that in quotes because it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I brought my camera with me and took some photos which ended up on a few of my dad’s John Wiley & Sons mathematics and statistics textbook covers. He just retired after 30 years as a publisher there.
I continued on my path in live music photography for several years, photographing the Together Music Festival and weekly’s like Music Ecology and Wobble Wednesdays in Boston. It was a great way to get to see music for free, but it was more importantly a way to build community around music. I’ve started doing an increasing amount of photojournalistic images in the past few years as a way to diversify.
Did you have any photographers that you really looked up to or mentors when you got started or did you mostly learn from experience?
My grandfather was a photographer — I still have his old Canon body and lenses in my closet at home in Marblehead [Massachusetts], and I have a print of Abbott Hall that he took from across Marblehead Harbor. He passed away when I was maybe 11, so I didn’t get a chance to learn verbally from him. I took one Intro to Photography class on film in high school. That’s the first and last photography class I’ve taken.
In general, I started out just doing my own thing and not paying attention to the photography and art worlds. In 2008, I met a photographer for Phish at Festival 8 in Indio, California. He had given me his card, so I called him up one night to talk about what it was like to freelance (i.e. what did he think about not having health insurance)? I can’t believe that was one of my biggest questions, but I was still living under my parents’ roof at the time and they were super concerned. They’re still concerned, even though I’m on my own. They should be — it’s never fun to see crowd-funding pages for family health emergencies.
When I was in Rome this past summer, I stumbled into David LaChapelle’s exhibit at Palazzo dell Esposizioni. I’d never heard of him and was completely floored by what I saw. A miniature power plant made out of recycled straws and cups shot in Joshua Tree at sunset? Sergei Polunin dancing in a sun-drenched rustic white barn to Hozier’s classic? Yes, please. I’ll follow you.
I think what’s influenced me more than photography is graffiti though. Artists like Doze Green, whose work I got to see in-person at Biennale in Venice this summer, Jet Martinez and Alynn & Mags, whose paint adorns buildings all around the Bay; their colors and styles are so distinguishable that it inspires me to continue carving out my own style, even though it’s a very different medium of expression.
What type of camera do you shoot with and what do you like about it?
I started with a Canon 30D. When that dropped from my lofted bed in San Francisco a few years back I was devastated. It was beyond repair. I created a GoFundMe because I simply couldn’t afford a new body. I showed the webpage to a good friend in Los Angeles who went to Brooks Institute, a world renowned photography school. I just wanted his advice on how I’d worded things and he ended up shipping me his Canon 5D I, no questions asked. I’m forever grateful for that. I recently bought myself the 5D III, so now I can experiment with video, too. The image quality is stunning on the III. It’s regarded as one of the best for its price by the professional photo world.
Do you have a favorite type of photography? I know that you do transpositions, portraits, travel, live music, video…
For me, it’s really not about the subject. It’s about the entire natural composition. People who were classically trained can walk into a studio and talk about technicalities all day, and I’m eager to learn more about that, but because I didn’t go to school for photography it’s always been easier for me to tell a story around moods and environments. It can be tricky to accommodate so many moving parts outside of a studio, but I rarely think about it like that. I see the photo I want, I take it, and I keep walking.
My first video was actually a friend’s memorial. Nicholas Alvarado, known as Pumpkin in the music world, passed away about a month ago. There was a memorial for him at the West Cliff Lighthouse in Santa Cruz, so I put myself and my camera on a 3 hour bus ride from San Francisco and ended up taking some video that day. I chopped it up, put it together, and it got hundreds of views. My intention going down to Santa Cruz was to heal, and it turns out that that was one thing, among being with friends, which helped me heal healthily.
Is there a certain mood you’d like to communicate through your photography or is it most important to you that the experience as you were having it comes across?
I carry my camera with me on almost every road trip or travel experience. Life is moods. They come and they go, and I capture them when I can. When I intentionally go to shoot a festival or get ready to do portraits, I look into my mind and visualize the color scheme. Is it metallic or matte? Burnt colors or vibrant? Then I shoot and whatever happens happens. I do some post-processing, too, but I don’t like to mess around with the natural coloring too much unless it’s one of my transpositions. Those can get a little wacky…
We’re from the same little Massachusetts peninsula but you’re based on the west coast now, as was I. Do you find yourself more or less inspired depending on where home is?
When I first visited San Francisco I was amazed, and still am, by the quality of the light here. In every alley, around every corner, there is this crystal glare from the windows when the sun hits in the right place. Even the buildings downtown in the Financial District are beautiful teal, orange, gold and silver hues when the sun rises and sets. I’m still not sure if it’s all on purpose, but it’s psychedelic and inspiring in and of itself. I was attracted to that immediately upon visiting the city in 2011, so I decided that I had to move here. The remainder, like getting a job and a home, fell into place, not without struggle though. Since then, I’ve photographed ESKMO, Nahko & Medicine for the People and a whole bunch of West Coast music festivals including Lucidity, Symbiosis, Cognitive Awakening – the creativity out here is addicting.
I think about returning to Boston, and it’s possible it will happen sooner rather than later. The culture there is extremely different, more conservative still, I think? I don’t know, maybe it’s changed. I wonder if I could successfully bring the style I’ve developed back to the East Coast and inspire others. That’s really the end goal.
Has your love for music started to bring you into contact with musicians who would like you to shoot for them? And since you also shoot video have you considered making music videos?
Without a doubt. When I started working with LostinSound.org, the on-line Gonzo music publication, I was one of the first to heavily flush out its photographic social media outlets with my personal work. More photographers began to see it as a hub for online media and asked to shoot events under our name. So we made some process around that and were able to grow the nationwide freelance volunteer media team to about 50 people by the time I moved on. We built our team and audience organically which got us recognized and able to gain press access to hundreds of live music events.
Some see photographers as outsiders looking in on life, and on occasion I feel like that, but I’ve always used it as a way to connect. I met an ex-boyfriend around the time that I was shooting photos of his electronic band; I met a good friend, Eitch, here in San Francisco at her show at the Convent one night and told her how inspiring her music was. When we connected on Facebook, she saw that I was a photographer, so we organized a photo shoot in the Presidio and shot a music video in a house in Oakland. Last week, I assisted on a set in San Francisco for a Citizens of Humanity shoot with Lars Ulrich from Metallica. I was never into Metallica, but I am now…
I really like your transpositions and portraits because there’s such a dreamy quality to them. Do you prefer bending images into a more fantastical representation or do you enjoy capturing things as they are just as much?
I enjoy both the same otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it, but the transpositions definitely come from a different part of me. Transpositions are my signature. Sometimes I have to consciously say to myself, “Okay, it’s time to make a transposition to build your audience” but I don’t like seeing my photography as a chore, so I try not to do that too much.
During one of my first nights in Marrakech [Morocco], I woke up in the middle of the night with very little light in the room and felt this sensation in my mind and eyes. I was swimming in a sea of Arabesque lines pulsing around me. I fell back asleep to the sound of the call to prayer and mostly put it out of my mind. I visited the Saadian Tombs that week and took some photos of the stone walls there. A few days later, I was taking a bath in my riad in Essaouira and got the sensation again, but this time it was white since the bathroom was bright and blue. I brought my camera to the tub and took some photos. I knew I’d be able to layer what I saw in my mind into the image, and I did:
What destination are you most looking forward to traveling to in the future?
Sri Lanka, Bali, more of Africa. I saw a shooting star over Alaska when I was flying to Thailand last summer, so I think I want to go there. I’d love to return to the places I visited last summer: Thailand, Singapore, Italy and Morocco, but I probably won’t do that until I’ve been to these other places… probably… maybe…
More light or more shadow?
I have these two sides to me — everyone does. I’m either portraying a very bright, dreamy part of myself, or the silver lining part of myself. I rarely do sad or gloomy… okay, on occasion I do. I’m in touch with it and I express it. I also express my dreamy state, and that tends to be what sells, not that I’m overly concerned with selling. I just want to create what people are inspired and soothed by.