No brainer, “of course!”
To be frank, i’ve been a bit jaded about photographing festivals in the traditional reportage sense. I’ve shot a lot of festivals at home. 8 years of Big Day Outs, many Splendours, Laneways, Homebakes and everything in between. After a while i’ve become a bit bored by it, shooting the same sort of things without a great publishing output for it. There’s very few (any?) print publications that give festival photography much more than a cursory bit of page space and websites mainly run pictures in small sized galleries, gamed for pageviews where quantity is often valued over quality.
Because editorial music photography pays so poorly, if at all, a lot of photographers end up like me, burnt out and moving on to other things, leaving the coverage to young keen beans willing to shoot for peanuts. I’ve been lucky enough to shoot festival stuff in a more unique way with things like the Splendour Studio, but unless i get better access by shooting officially, or i get paid well, festival coverage doesn’t excite me a great deal.
But this commission was different, it was shooting officially with good access, a fair fee, publishing live throughout the day to a website where the pictures run BIG, with a tight edit, but most important of all, working with Danny, Andrew and Todd; world class music photographers who have very high standards and are always striving to get the best possible picture.
And so it was – shooting a festival which was in many ways similar to what i’m used to back home – but with the camaraderie of a killer team editing live on site to a website that showcased our work in a way we could be proud of.
Apart from the size of UK festivals, what often comes to mind is the dire British weather, and Leeds had that in droves. Arriving the day before the festival started, we roamed around the camp site shooting some atmosphere pictures on a warm sunny evening. After the sun set, the drizzle started, then the torrential rain and thunderstorms. By the first day everything was very damp. By day two it was rivers of brown sludge oozing everywhere. By day 3 the sun came back out turning the brown liquid to thick sticky mud that gave quite the workout trudging from one side of the festival to the other.
But thankfully I had good wellies, a number of plastic ponchos and dry hotel room to retire to each night – so the weather didn’t phase me.
On the performance front there were a few highlights. Shooting my teenage idols Nine Inch Nails; shooting the whole set with stage access for Haim; watching bits of headlining sets from Eminem and Green Day from the lighting tower and watching Johnny Marr bash out some Smiths anthems to a massive singalong crowd.
Despite coming all the way to the UK I couldn’t help but see some Australian acts and enjoyed watching The Living End play to a much smaller crowd than they would back home and Jagwar Ma play to a much bigger crowd than they would back home.
I didn’t see as many bands as I hoped I would. That’s largely due to the sheer number playing, plus the fact we had six photographers and the need to file pictures several times a day which takes you out of shooting action.
But not seeing all the bands I might have liked to didn’t bother me. The fondest memories i’ll take home are of slogging away in the mud alongside friends and colleagues I admire and who inspire me to do better.
You can see all our work in the Leeds Festival photo gallery.