Sunday, 3 February 2013

Don't You Point That Thing At Me Pal! #3: Ian Dunn talks music photography

Erica Knockalls, Wonderstuff, 2012
In the third of this blog's snappers stories, Ian Dunn talks about the ins and outs of kit, his love of music, moshpit etiquette, favourite venues and more.

Ian Dunn runs Principle Photography. He's one of maybe half a dozen local snappers you'll see regularly hoovering up images at venues around the Midlands and beyond. And like many of his peers, he has a passion for music and the scene that supports it, as you'll see if you read down the page.

But you may not see him at all. Ian works very unobtrusively. Gets in, gets the shots, gets out. He's a stickler for that definite and precise code of collaboration that he and others observe as they go about their business.

Even if you haven't seen him at work, you'll most likely have seen the results of his work. If you're at all interested in local music, his site is worth a visit.

We met up for this blog piece a few weeks back. And, as you'd expect from a rock snapper, we kicked off talking about... Opera.

Why music photography? 
I absolutely adore music! All genres from Opera onwards - Puccini’s my favourite. I like Verdi… When I was younger, I loved the Renaissance, and Impressionism. I was brought up that way. 
Opera’s rich rich rich in subject matter, isn’t it? Of course, Opera doesn’t come with a moshpit… but it does come with a ton of emotional situations, and sometimes the performer doesn’t just have to play vulnerable, he or she has to be vulnerable. Is there stuff that you’ve shot, where you show almost too much, where that might even let them down? 
Yes. I’m very selective in what I put out. Last year, at Moseley Folk Festival, Ian McCullough… he was smoking on stage. I was shooting in black and white. I wanted that vintage look, and the smoke added to it. I never published those in the end. But if an artist looked at my photographs and felt that it wasn’t right, I’d take it down. You can always find faults in an artist if you want, but, no, I wouldn’t. 
This is respect for your subject matter? 
Editors, Birmingham Institute 2012
 I can understand the mutual respect and support with local photographers. It parallels the local music scene. What kit do you work with? 
It’s old…a Canon 20D which is from 2006.
 Ancient! A relic! 
But that proves the point that it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer’s tool. I’d love to update it now, because I can see the signs of wear and tear.
 Do you go in with a bag full of lenses as well? 
No, no. Just one: it’s a 17-55 zoom, a fast lens for live work in venues in low-light situations. And for festivals, I’ll also use a 70-200 zoom. 
Dom, Poppy and The Jezebels, 2012
If the lens is wide open in low-light situations, how do you get around things like shake? 
I’ve got image stabilisation on my lens. But even with that, if, say the performer’s swinging the mic around, his face will likely be in focus, but the mic and cable will be blurred. Which is a beautiful shot if you can get it right. You have to balance the two. And you learn - my first shoot produced a blank roll of film. So every photographer who goes into the pit for the first time has an advantage over me! I take it with me as a reminder. 
Would you like to go back to the days of film and doing your enlargements in a darkroom? Or are you fully digital? 
I’m fully digital. I like the immediacy of it. People want your work tomorrow. And all I’ll do afterwards is sharpen a bit, and maybe enhance the principal colour in the shot. And if you’ve got a beautiful singer and she’s in full flow, and there’s a microphone in the corner of the shot – to me that stands out like a sore thumb, and I just have to get rid of it.
Davey Bennett, Pop Will Eat Itself, 2012
How far has your work travelled? How does the word about you get out…? 
I wasn’t aware that I had a reputation as a photographer until I met bands who knew about me. 
Leighton Hargreaves, Alternative Dubstep Orchestra, 2012
When was the first time someone said they’d heard of you? 
Mish Maybe from ADO.
Favourite venues? 
Gotta say the Hare and Hounds at the moment. Adam Regan and Carlo Solazzo have been wonderful. They give me free rein. There’s none of this ‘three songs, no flash’ – of course if that’s what the artist wants, I’ll do that, though. They let me do exactly what I want. I do love the Hare and Hounds… John Nash and Greg Coates, the sound guys, are really helpful. The lighting guys will say ‘what do you want?’ when I walk in. And I always make a point of thanking them when I finish up. I also like Nottingham Rock city very much. 
Elmo Sexwhistle, The Bull's Head Moseley, Birmingham, 2013
We were talking about how almost nobody in local bands is coming close to breaking even, and yet this hasn't slowed down the music sector one little bit. If anything it's even more vibrant because people are taking creative risks, and working much more collaboratively. How does all his work for you in business terms? 
It doesn’t, really. Some people now will work for nothing. And I’ve got no objection to anyone coming in to the area. But working for nothing when you start out is a good way to learn if you like the work, and to build up a portfolio along the way. If you love music, and you love the arts, and you love photography, it’s a great place to be. But there’s two sides to the story. There’s the guys with their compact cameras that they got for Christmas, who apply for a photo pass. Maybe there’s six issued for each artist, and generally you have the first three songs to get your shots, although John Fell at Moseley is very helpful And as you know generally they go out in this town to Birmingham Live and Gig Junkies, and the other regular guys. But once in a while, the guy with the compact camera might get that photo pass. I’ve seen somebody with an iPad in the photo pit. There’s an etiquette in the photo pit. You go in, you get your shot, and move out of the way. All the guys I know like Shakeypics, Steve Gerrard, Andy Watson.. we all know the etiquette. Get your shot, let someone else get their shot. 

Principle Photography

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