Header photo copyright Ben Yacobi

Welcome to the birth of a semi-regular fresh-faced feature, all naive and packed full of vim and vigour, and yet to be blighted by the inevitable onslaught of age-related bitterness. Well I say that, but give the debut column a read and that's perhaps not all true. No offence Ben.

From hereon-in The 405 is to invite photographers/artists/Editors to guest produce a feature; and as guest Photo Editor they are to have free reign on what subject or imagery to curate. Up for inclusion will be a myriad of photo-related topics based on what others are already lined-up; from non-music related photo-books, art-based exhibitions and illustrations. Yup, it's going to be a broad affair bathed in a vibrant elective basin - not always even set in the realms of music.

The first one here is by Ben Yacobi, a music and event photographer whose work I look up to, and strived to emulate as I started out in the beast known as music photography. Here are his thoughts on this very world.

Ben Yacobi

“He’s a wanker…” Babybird sing-songed to the audience moments after shoving a microphone in my face and asking me why I was standing at the front of his gig.

I should have answered from my heart but in that situation it’s difficult to speak earnestly. I should have said “I’m here because I love music and I love photography and I love the buzz of photographing bands and I love the fact that I’ll never know where I’ll find myself next.”

I could also have answered factually. “I’m here because your PR people told my agency that Johnny Depp was going to play guitar on a song for you tonight and they think they’ll be able to sell a picture of it."

Instead I opted for “…erm, I’m taking pictures for newspapers.”

This, I freely admit, was by far the worst choice of the three. I’m pointedly not some sort of grizzled tabloid pap. I will never doorstep a barely out-of-school actress and verbally abused her just to get a reaction that might help sell a poorly composed technically uninteresting photo. I strive to do the thing I love well and maybe earn enough money to slightly offset the enormous expense of camera and computer equipment.

The fact is, the vast majority of the paparazzi wouldn’t go near a concert. It’s too challenging, and, more importantly, there’s not enough money in it. Although when Katy Perry performed at the Electric Ballroom in 2009, thirty pappers turned up having somehow convinced a deluged but oddly compliant press officer to part with an unusually high numbers of photo passes. Every one of the paps appeared to flaunt the specified no flash rule.

But usually, if you stand near the front of enough concerts, you’ll spot the same faces again and again.

These are the freelancers working for a picture agency who’ll roughly split any sales with them. One or two of them may be on an assignment from a specialist magazine. And then there’s the friend of the band with a camera; fans who’ve somehow blagged a photo pass and are using a point and shoot; an unidentified photographer who’s getting in everyone else’s way (including the audience); and, most rarest and prized of all, maybe one full-timer living off a yearly stipend from a magazine or agency.

There are few permanent jobs that allow you to do regular music photography. Perhaps the best way to do it is to do it as part of a junior marketing role or to be an online bod at a radio station, record company or recording studio. In the outside world most music photographers get by with alternative jobs, or juggle numerous photographic schemes. For a night’s work you’d normally be happy to sell one photo and you might get £120 for it if you’re lucky.

Increasingly management companies are asking photographers to sign contracts that gift the copyright of images to them and often require photographs to be approved prior to publication. The implications of this to the editorial integrity of magazines and newspapers is increasingly problematic and recent copyright grabs presented to photographers before Foo Fighters and Janet Jackson concerts too often put them and their agencies in a difficult position. Personally, I’d walk away from the worst of these contracts. Sadly, there are too many who won’t, and these contracts could be here to stay. If you’re a budding photographer (and there are many) then it’s difficult to wave goodbye to the chance to stand within touching distance of Dave Grohl and grab some amazing performance shots.

Die! Die! Die! @ Offset Festival

The backwards part about this whole music photography lark is that it gets technically much easier the bigger the concerts you get to do. There’s nothing more testing than a dingy cave-like venue where you stand amongst the audience trying not to annoy people at the front whilst trying to get a clean shot from a position you’re stuck fast into. Nasty, evil, sensor-busting LEDs flood intense hues of constantly changing light at oblique angles onto parts of the stage whilst other parts remain impenetrably dark.

And, having been dispatched to various large but annoying to reach London venues for occasions such as Westlife at the O2 Arena and the wondrous X Factor tour at Wembley Arena (where I was required to sit and watch from the photo pit for the whole damned night), I can report that it becomes technically rather easy on the big stages. You get escorted into a nice big photo pit separated from the elbows and beers of the crowds whilst dedicated spotlights illuminate the protagonists and backlights dramatically frame each performer without overpowering the camera. The occasional thrown beer might hit the back of your head, but that’s not much of a danger at a Westlife performance. That said, you’ll be held to the highest technical standards and there are no excuses for not getting a great set of shots.

And every now and then you’ll get a big gig with nightmarish lighting. Giving up you evening to photograph a Motorhead gig is an experience. But it’s one made most frustrating when there’s only light on Lemmy and it’s coming from above his head. And of course he’s wearing his trademark cowboy hat. The tip of his nose was well lit at least.

As a photographer you generally get only three songs to do your job – then out you file to leave those crunched up against the barriers at the front to enjoy the gig without the distraction of a bunch of silhouettes ruining their view of the singer’s feet.

If you want to get into this lark, the best way is just to build your portfolio and never stop learning. It won’t be easy at first; you’ll need the fastest lens you can lay your hands on and an almost superhuman sense to predict what’s going to happen next.

Is agency work the future for me? I hope not, although it’s great fun and the agencies are generally friendly people to work for. Like every other budding music photographer I yearn to be a tour photographer. I’ve done a little bit of it and it’s huge fun. How do I get to that position? Hmm, good question. As with so many appealing objectives in life, getting that favourable outcome is aided considerably by who you know. And I’ll bet no two established music photographers have walked the same path to success.

I stayed for the whole set without a sighting of Mr Depp. I got home at midnight, spent the next two hours processing the pictures, wrote a line for each one, uploaded them to my agency - who probably saw the lack of Captain Jack and didn’t even bother trying to sell them - and went to bed exhausted. I regret nothing.


Additional photos by Tim Boddy

Pulled Apart By Horses @ Offset