Mosh pit photography

14 October 2010

Written by: Meghan Lodwick

For almost two years, Laurence Barnes has been traversing the mosh pits of Melbourne, doing what he loves – photographing bands.

Starting out as an official Myspace photographer, and also working as the front end developer for Portable.TV, Barnes has had the opportunity to photograph the likes of Powderfinger, Bluejuice, and Cloud Control, as well as international acts Franz Ferdinand, Peaches, and indie sensations Two Door Cinema Club.  

His work, which has been published widely amongst Melbourne’s street press, can be seen in Beat magazine, Rave review, and Myspace. I recently had the chance to grill him about his work, rock and roll, and what he calls the ‘sport’ of concert photography.

How did you end up being a concert photographer?

I was quite horrible at arts and design at high-school…It wasn’t until I picked up a little point and shoot camera did I realise I have another outlet to be artistic. One day I took my camera to a gig and fell in love with the challenge of concert photography. It is like a sport, the fast pace of the gig, the lighting, and battling with the mosh pit to get that one shot. I soon bought my first basic SLR camera and practiced for ages before being asked to shoot for some publications. It wasn’t until 2008 that I was offered a job with Myspace Australia to be an official photographer for them.

So what was it like being the new guy on the scene?

It can be a bit daunting shooting your first major concert or festival with a small little camera kit when these professional photographers have gear worth $10,000 easy. One big difference is also that you need to come home with some great shots to impress your editor. It was very scary and a huge thrill all at the same time, [but] everyone was really welcoming and there was this great family vibe to being a photographer in Melbourne. I have made some amazing friends over the years. They were able to offer me advice from what to do, what not to do, what venues to avoid, and even what lens will save your life.

So when you’re out there doing your job, are there any rules you have to follow?

Rule number one – have fun and enjoy yourself. If you hate the gig chances are you will hate the end result. If you enjoy what you are doing, your night will go faster and you will be happy with your photos. Another important rule would be to accept that shit happens. Even the best photographers have bad nights. Stuff can and will go wrong, from gear dying to having no light whatsoever to work with. Also, respect the rules of the venue, and the band’s management. If they have set any restrictions make sure you follow them to the letter. Also make friends with other people at the gigs, [including] other photographers, punters, and staff. These venues will be your second home and having friends there makes your job a lot more enjoyable during the long nights. Lastly, one of my personal rules is to put the camera down and enjoy the gig. If you watch the whole gig through the lens, you will miss out on a lot of things. I also try to make sure I go to gigs without a camera now and again just to relax. If you spent all your time working at gigs, it can kind of kill your love of live music. You need to find a healthy balance.

In regards to different conditions, what would you rather – festivals or small gigs?

Both have their pros and cons. Festival are quite a joy to shoot, [as] they offer some amazing bands to see, interesting challenges, and a lot of fun to be a part of. At the same time, it can be very draining. With a festival you have to run around to a number of stages and try and cover as much as you can. You need to have your whole day planned out, including how long it takes to get between stages, when to have lunch etc. otherwise you may miss something. On the other hand, with smaller gigs you get to enjoy the whole show, and meet some amazing people. The whole experience is really intimate. While it can be also a nightmare when you are shooting a venue with little or no light at all, when you get a band that put on an awesome show, it can be extremely rewarding.

So what do you think of Australia’s rock scene compared to say the U.S. or the U.K? And have you ever gone backstage to meet the band?

 I do really love Australian’s local music scene, especially in Melbourne. We have some amazing local talent which makes us the music capital of Australia in my opinion. Sadly though, I haven’t had the opportunity to shoot overseas. Europe has the most amazing festivals – Reading and Glastonbury would be a dream come true to cover. Australian festivals are nothing compared to the magnitude of these, and I have spoken to a few photographers who have said the same thing. It is a lot easier for major bands to travel the US / Britain, so you have more amazing bands touring regularly and the venues are amazing.

As a photographer, I only had a VIP pass once and I was too shy to use it. Usually at festivals and concerts you don’t get the pleasure of going back stage and meeting the band; however at smaller gigs the bands usually come out at the end of the night, and I like to say hi and thank them for letting me come along. While it seems a bit groupie like, these bands travel quite a lot for little money and paying ones respects to them either as a photographer, or as a punter, can mean a lot. 

So then what has been your most memorable concert experience and who are you photographing next?

One really [good] experience was at Parklife 2009 shooting Metric, one of my favorite bands. I was able to stay in the photographer’s pit for the whole show and enjoy myself, as well as get some amazing shots. I’ve also had the pleasure of shooting Peaches DJ Set. I was allowed to get on stage and as close as possible to her. It was a hellish gig to shoot as the crowd was wild, and there wasn’t a photographer’s pit. I found a little safe haven by the side of the stage and the manager of the venue gave me permission to get on stage and shoot away. I was too shy to get really close to Peaches, but I did make the most of it. [Now] I am really hoping to get a pass to Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings. I have seen one of her recent Australian gigs on and I was amazed at her energy and the way she can work a crowd. It is hard to explain but Sharon Jones has this awesome energy that would be a dream to capture, and it would be really exciting to witness her live. I still get a huge thrill [from] seeing my favourite bands on stage, and being able to photograph them.

You can see more of Barnes’ photography here.

Radhika Chopra is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. This was originally published at her blog The Loudspeaker.