by Silke Hartung

Samantha Davies: Thoughts From The Photographers’ Pit

by Silke Hartung

Samantha Davies: Thoughts From The Photographers’ Pit

As part of the music photography exhibition FromThePit 2022, Aucklander Samantha Davies started taking photos for various blogs like The Speakeasy shortly after her 18th birthday in 2019. She answers some questions about her experiences as a newcomer to the scene below.

From May 2, Aotearoa’s only annual exhibition of music photography, the fourth instalment of FromThePit will open online, and at selected locations around the country. This year’s exhibition contains stunning images of musicians across a range of genres and includes artists such as producer and DJ Lee Mvtthews, Kiwi pop legends Six60, L.A.B and Benee, Auckland punk natives Dick Move, crossover great Tami Neilson, and rock act Written by Wolves

Other than live music photography, what areas in the field do you also enjoy Samantha?

As I major in photo media, I practice many different aspects of photography, from landscape to self-portraiture. I really enjoy portraiture and street photography. Street photography in particular feels similar to live music photography as I have little to no control over what I’m photographing, I’m just capturing moments as they happen in front of me.

What attracted you to the subject of music photography?

Live music photography definitely can be difficult, and I think I really threw myself into the deep end as I had practically no experience with a camera before I started shooting live music. It was interesting as I became so used to photographing in low light conditions trying to capture fast-moving subjects, that when I tried my hand at landscape photography, for example, I felt like a complete amateur all over again. I think music photography is a very overlooked area, but I love to be a part of documenting these live shows, and the crazy atmosphere of flashing lights and a bunch of screaming fans just adds to the excitement of it all.

Do you have any special connection to the subject of music?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a huge lover of music. I think it truly is one of the most powerful things in this world and has always brought people together. I used to attend as many concerts as I could, and always wanted to get as close as I could to the stage so that I could try to capture these moments on my phone camera for me and others to look back on. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be doing something with my life that I thoroughly enjoyed. When I was 17, I chatted with the photographer of my then favourite band, and it was then that I knew this was what I wanted to do – I had no doubt about it and have only gotten increasingly passionate about the subject since then.

Who are some of your favourite local bands?

This is a hard one, we have so many talented acts locally. If I had to name a few, I would say Animalhead, Foley, Daffodils, and Crooked Royals!!

What do you think is the standing of a music photographer in the eyes of the public, ie. in terms of being a ‘respectable job choice’.

When I tell people that this is what I’d like to do as my job, I’m usually met with a bit of a scoff and a laugh. I think a lot of people overlook music photography as a job and see it more as a fun little side hobby. I also think many people underestimate the work, time, and effort that goes into being a music photographer.

Can you run us through your favourite standard gear you would take to a stadium gig, vs a show at a small venue?

For a stadium gig, I like to have two cameras on me, usually one with a 70-200mm lens and one with a 17-40mm lens. I find that this sets me up to get a good range of photos with different perspectives etc. without the hassle of flipping lenses. The 70-200mm lens is ideal for these larger shows as it gives the ability to get those nice crisp images even if I can’t get too close in that moment. It’s also essential when photographing drummers as 9 times out of 10 they’re tucked away in the back. The 17-40mm lens is great for getting those wide shots of the whole stage set up as well as those moments where the audience lights up the stadium with their phone lights!

For a smaller gig, I typically take one camera and a lens such as the 24-70mm. This gives me a decent range to shoot with and works well for these smaller gigs. Fighting through the audience for a spot to take photos from is much easier when you have less gear on you! And of course, for every show I shoot, I always take my earplugs!

What’s an area within the job that you struggle with, and how do you overcome that?

I think that one thing I struggled with a lot in the beginning, and still sometimes now, was just having confidence in myself and feeling like I belonged in the photo pit with all these super talented music photographers. Especially as I started shooting when I was 18, I felt young and incredibly inexperienced compared to the photographers I was working alongside. I found out pretty quickly that many of these photographers often felt the same way and I really was just being tough on myself. My confidence in myself as a photographer is still something I need to work on, but I have met so many amazing photographers that I look up to who continue to build me up.

What’s the importance of group exhibitions such as FromThePit for you as a music photographer?

Group exhibitions are a great way to connect with those who share this passion. It’s important to know the people you are working alongside, especially in the music photography industry as you’ll almost certainly be running into them in crowded photo pits. I think having people come together for group exhibitions is also an effective way to draw more attention to us and what we do, and it shows how many possibilities there are within music photography as we can all showcase our individual styles and strengths.

How has Covid affected live music photography for you personally, and how have you been able to cope?

Covid has for sure been a huge roadblock for us all. It was incredibly disappointing as I’d only just started doing what I loved and I had been feeling so driven and motivated, only for it to be put to a stop so suddenly. Knowing that there is a whole community of creatives just as frustrated as me was comforting. During this time I focused on becoming more comfortable in different areas of photography, and I think that this has actually helped me with my confidence as a photographer in general.

Got to ask – what was your favourite live photography gig so far? Not just the photos you got but also the whole vibe?

SIX60 at Eden Park last year was such an incredible experience for me. Being able to photograph this beloved NZ band making history was something I didn’t know I would have the opportunity to do so early in my career. I was super intimidated by this show and the 50,000 people attending, but altogether it was a night I’ll probably never stop talking about! I was also so grateful to be able to work with a super talented team of creatives whose work I’ve been following for years.

From your point of view, what could promoters and artists do to make photographers feel welcome and appreciated at their shows?

I think something as simple as acknowledging the photographers and what they’re doing really goes a long way. It’s not always possible, especially at larger shows, but I have a lot of respect for artists who will come and make an effort to say hi before or after the show. Also, credit the photographer when reposting their photos!

Can you name some local music photographers you look up to? Is there someone internationally whose work you especially love?

There are so many local music photographers who I admire not only for their work but also for how welcoming and helpful they’ve been towards me. Chontalle Musson and Chris Morgan were some of the first Auckland music photographers I met and since then they’ve been nothing but supportive, and their work and ambition are something I really look up to.

As a big fan of ’70s and ’80s music and music culture, I’ve fallen completely in love with the work of Neal Preston who is the creator of some iconic photographs of artists such as Queen, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and countless others. It’s a dream of mine to be able to capture images that will be recognisable so many years later.

What local act would you love to take photos of that you haven’t yet had the chance to?

I would love to photograph Benee! I’ve always been so impressed with her stage presence and the energy she puts into her performances, so I think it would be lots of fun to photograph it all!

As a relative newcomer, how are you finding the live photography scene?

In the beginning, I was really nervous about joining the live music photography scene and was worried people wouldn’t take me seriously; especially because I’ve heard how it can be a real dog-eat-dog world internationally. However, I can confidently say that I have only had positive experiences so far. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know has been so incredibly supportive and encouraging, and I’m forever grateful for how warmly I was welcomed into the scene.