From The Pits To The Page
Down a crackly Skype phoneline, Sydney photographer DANIEL BOUD talks to Tony Mott about 25 years of iconic rock’n?roll photography.
You’re in Melbourne now, shooting stills on a film set. Do you still find the time to do much live music photography?
I do more sessions than live, though I still do a lot of live stuff. I did Coldplay this tour but no one would’ve noticed because I didn’t do the first night when all the press photographers were there. I find it easier if I do another night. You don’t get people getting upset that I’ve got the whole set or I’m on stage or whatever. For Coldplay, I did the second night in Melbourne and Sydney. So far this year I’ve probably shot about 50 bands live.
What sort of photography do you prefer to do?
I prefer the photography that goes well! Sound Relief was a joy: I had good access, it was a nice light show and it was relatively easy to photograph. But when I shot Leonard Cohen last year in Melbourne the light was really bad. I still got results, and that’s not really anyone’s fault. It’s the same with sessions. I just did a session with Coldplay and the record company was getting a bit scared about it because I kept going on about Coldplay being the worst photo session I ever did. Coldplay remembered me from the Big Day Out and I said, ?We did a session in Auckland and it was really fucking rubbish.? It was a combination – my fault and their fault.
It was a really bright day, it was backstage, I had 15 minutes, they didn’t really want to do it. It was just crap.
So what did you do this time round?
We did the cliched shots on top of the Park Hyatt. Plus I did some close-ups, and they’ve got their stage clothes, so we did some with that. A couple of solo ones, and some weird warped ones. It was a 20-minute photo session. It was a beautiful overcast day so it was a really nice even light.
You recently switched to digital didn’t you?
About a year ago. I hate digital. I still shoot film, but digital’s that much easier and cheaper. I’ve gotten used to it, but it’s not better, it’s easier.
So what digital camera are you using?
I got the Nikon D3 and it’s amazing. I was doing a night shoot on a film. Had it been film I’d have been on a tripod shooting at incredibly low speed, but on digital I was shooting at 4000 ASA and the photos looked great. On film it would’ve been a lot more cumbersome and difficult. I just shot The Living End for the cover of Rolling Stone. When the art director was watching me, he said I was going to a lot of trouble to make digital look like film. Which I suppose defeats the point, but I have got the white balance to look like film. And people boast about digital having no noise, but I like grain, particularly in black and white.
How on earth do you manage what must be such a massive archive of photos?
Funny you should mention it – badly! When I put the [website](http://www.tonymott.com) together with a friend it sorted a lot of the archival stuff. As the years go on, my library earns me more and more money. Agencies are more or less going under: I used to be represented by an agency in London and Japan and they’ve gone under. But now I get enquiries from magazines all over the world just from my website. I don’t need an agent anymore.
?I used to shoot at The Hordern Pavilion in black and white, then go home, process it, hang it up, dry it, print it and then deliver it to street press to try and get published. It probably cost me $60 to do and you were lucky if you got $20 back.?
Is all your library on the website?
The website’s got more than 4000 images but is far from finished. It was only after I put the website up that I started looking through the archive and thought, ?Shit, I haven’t put any of these up.? It then dawned on me that I have a way bigger library than I thought. There’s about 380 artists on there now and about to go up to over 500 and that’s not even half way through! I’m not sure I’ll ever catch up. My filing cabinets are just full of film.
Do you have plans to digitise it?
Only some of it is digitised. It gets digitised slowly all the time. For example, someone calls up and wants a shot of Billy Corgan with hair. So I scan them and then have the digital shots on file. So that’s the prompt. At some point I probably have to sit down and do it. But you’re talking months and months of work. One great advantage of digital is that I’ve been going back and scanning the black and white. Shots that I used to discard because they were under or overexposed have got a new life, because in the scan I can bring them back to correct exposure. In the old days, you’d print it and if it was overexposed it was gone, whereas with digital you’ve got more leeway. It dawned on me that now I’ve saved these there may be heaps more I’d discarded in the past but could now be used.
A lot of music photographers get irate about the contracts you’re forced to sign that take away your copyright. Is that an issue for you?
I ignore them. They’re illegal anyway. My only advice is don’t argue because then you don’t get your access. Just sign it, date it and time it. Almost instantaneously it becomes null and void. To have a contract you need to have consulted a lawyer. Plus, they never give you a copy. So, hypothetically, let’s say Iron Maiden are touring. They make you sign a contract, and I never read them anyway, but let’s say it says you can only use the shots for three months. And let’s say they decide to take action, my response would be, ?Contract? I haven’t got one. You made me sign it but I’ve got no copy.? Because I date and time it, which shows I signed at 7.30pm and the concert was at 8.30pm, a court would just ask when did Iron Maiden expect you to consult your legal firm? Firstly, you weren’t given a copy of it and then it’s signed under duress: it’s a restraint of trade. I’ve never known anyone to ever sue anybody. They’re just pieces of paper to legitimise someone’s existence.
So you never make a fuss?
I don’t understand the point of getting upset. Just sign it and walk away. Let’s say you’ve shot Coldplay, you might sell it to a couple of websites or magazines. Let’s say in six months time it turns up in Rolling Stone – I can’t see a band getting upset. And if they did, I’d just say, ?Well, do you want to send me a copy of this contract? I never got one.? If they want to argue then, there’s 20 other photographers who’d have the same story. Obviously you don’t want to make the record companies upset but ultimately those things are just silly. The only time a band would get upset is if it turns up on a poster or T-shirt. What are you going to do with a live photo that’s so appallingly bad?
When magazines keep going out of business and companies like Getty Images are monopolising the photo sales market, what career opportunities can you see for aspiring music photographers?
Getty are obviously quite evil in their strategy and do want to rule the world. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything too optimistic about that. When I first started my original way, it was in street press and the technical magazines. There are so many outlets. Not to make money, that wasn’t my motive, it was just to get published. In Sydney there used to be half a dozen street press and in those days I’d give my photos away just to get established. I used to shoot at The Hordern Pavilion in black and white, then go home, process it, hang it up, dry it, print it and then deliver it to street press to try and get published. It probably cost me $60 to do and you were lucky if you got $20 back.
Has digital changed that?
I think the digital age has made a huge difference because anyone can be a photographer. The first time I used my digital I went to Judas Priest, and they gave me the whole show just to experiment. I hardly got anything that didn’t turn out. Had I shot that on film I’d be happy with four great shots and 10 usable shots. Now there’s such a huge amount of good stuff you get back. The good news is that digital is easy to do, the bad news is that it’s harder to sell. Everyone’s doing it and loving it.
With such an impressive career behind you, what challenges remain?
Well, going digital was a big challenge! Some other photographers always seem to feel like they’re competing with other photographers, I think I’m competing with myself. I always want to be better than I am. I saw one of Kane Hibberd’s photos in Rolling Stone the other week and I thought it was wild. I looked at it with envy wondering how he did it. The beauty of photography is that you’re never the best you’ll ever be. You’ve always got new ideas. I just genuinely enjoy photography. I’ve never thought of it as a challenge. When you get the shot you’re really proud of it’s a great feeling. I still get a thrill if I see one of my photos on the cover of a street press. I still get a ?wow? from it.
Tony Mott is speaking and presenting a slideshow on 25 years of rock’n’roll photography at Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre on April 1.