The world of photography can in many ways be its own microcosm that lives and breathes solely for those who understand the efforts and mechanics behind the actual art. But, like every art form, the best and the brightest shine through at different points, catching the eyes of curious people outside of the microcosm, garnering some oohs and awes, and perhaps even inspiring outsiders to participate in the creation of their own works of art.
When we consider music photography today, it is hard to necessarily spout out popular artists’ names unless we pay close attention to the art itself. How many times do you read a review of a musician or a concert and actually look at the photo(s) and see who is behind them? There is so much music and music journalism today that we must ask ourselves to slow down, sometimes–to take a glimpse at the article’s photos, perhaps ponder what could have made the article better…what could have made the photos better?
One artist of this generation who has grown in his own work and the community around him is New York City’s Shervin Lainez. His portfolio is impressively multiplying on a weekly basis, showcasing musicians from different backgrounds and genres (Regina Spektor, Amanda Palmer, Conor Oberst, Tegan and Sara, and Chromeo, to name a few). Lainez is known for capturing musicians’ personalities through colors and angles, postures and spacing. His array of work has now reached the point where it has its own unique signature, striding across major magazine and album covers with identifying “Shervin” characteristics. Music fans around the world have probably glimpsed over Lainez’ photos at some point already without necessarily knowing so.
We spoke with Lainez about the New York City scene and how he developed to where he is today, artistically and socially.
THE BOMBER JACKET: I read about how you first became involved in photography in your interview with NYC Arts Scene…can you explain though, how, once you figured out that photography worked for you, you made the contacts that you did and ended up working with the people you have worked with?
Shervin Lainez: I guess the honest answer is I never had much of a plan…all I knew (and still know) is that I only want to photograph musicians..it became a bit of an obsession to narrow my work into something so specific. I wanted my identity to be that of a music photographer, and I think when you make such a clear decision it becomes easier for people to find you.
How did you go from turning random photo shoots into an all-out business? At what point did you realize, “I can do this full-time”?
I was 25 when I moved to New York and I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t have yet another office job that I hated…it just wasn’t an option.
Once I committed to that, I saw my life as having a distinct goal…it became less about “I like taking pictures” and more about “I have to take pictures,” and now it’s “I get to take pictures.”
Were you nervous when things started working out and you first started shooting bigger musicians? Did you feel any pressure?
The only time I feel nervous is when the band or singer I’m shooting is not present or open for whatever reason. It makes my job infinitely more difficult when I can’t connect to the subject. I start second-guessing myself and worrying. Otherwise I almost never feel pressure–I’ve come to find that pressure is mostly a self-imposed, imaginary feeling we choose to believe.
All of your shoots are VERY different from each other, yet there’s an aesthetic that has your invisible signature attached. Can you describe this?
You know what’s strange? I’ve heard this a few times before and for the life of me I can’t figure out what makes my photos have a “style.” I never went to art school or studied photography, so I’m terrible at examining my own work. Maybe you or someone reading this can tell me?
How do you go about determining the nature of the shoot? Is there a long discussion process between you and the artist or do you whip up ideas beforehand?
Generally I hear the music and look at previous photos of the band–I try to get a sense of what tone and texture they want the photos to have, then I edit accordingly. It’s a pretty simple process. My shoots are never that long and are mostly laid back. I don’t plan things out too much.
What shoot are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of the Regina Spektor photos…I was given a really rare opportunity to do the entire album cycle from start to finish–all the promo photos, website, album packaging, posters… It was a really amazing experience to work with such an unbelievably giving artist. I learned a lot from her about collaborating and how musicians think.
What shoot surprised you the most, because of how it evolved or its publicity or whatnot?
I think the most surprising shoot this year was the Amanda Palmer photos–they kind of took on a life of their own once her Kickstarter hit $1 million… All of a sudden my photos were in Forbes and Business Week--pretty trippy.
Your website is divided into two parts: color and black and white. Which do you enjoy shooting more?
I actually enjoy both equally–that’s why it is divided like that–they both require slightly different parts of my brain for reasons I’m not sure about.
I know I first heard of you when you were doing management work for Jukebox the Ghost. Have you done other music-based projects like that, that are also outside of photography?
I traveled with Jukebox the Ghost for most of 2009–it was a really interesting ride–they are some of my favorite people on earth. Other than them I pretty much stick to photography.
So you’re from D.C. and you now live in New York…how have the places you’ve lived in influenced your work?
I’ve only ever lived in D.C./Virginia and New York City. Moving to New York had an immeasurable impact on my work in every possible way I can explain. I cringe to think of how my photos would look if I never would have left D.C.
[Laughs] I read on AfterEllen this quote from you, “Actually, gay girls have served for much of my inspiration for the last few years.” Can you elaborate please?
I know a lot of lesbians…I really get along with them for some reason–the ones I have become close to are just such intelligent, talented, insightful people.
How do you feel about New York’s young arts scene at the moment? Are you a Brooklyn person?
I love living in Brooklyn, but with that there are a lot of uptight artists here who are quite competitive with each other. I guess that is not really a bad thing, though–I find myself feeling competitive at times–but it usually just means I need to step my game up. The year of 2013 will hopefully be the year of stepping my game up.
Do you think you will continue your photography work in New York for the next several years?
Are there other musician photographers whose work you really admire? Any particular shoots from other photographers that you really like?
I love Los Angeles-based Lindsey Byrnes. She has this great eye for documenting musicians at work–so natural and unforced. I admire that because it’s very hard for me to do that type of photography.
You’ve done some video work too. Is that something you’re planning on continuing? What does your role tend to be with the videos?
Yes! More of that soon, actually. I really like conceptualizing songs for videos…it’s a lot of work and there are people who do it WAY better than me but it’s fun to dip my toe into that pool.
Any near-future plans coming that you’re excited about and can share with us?
I want to make a book soon! Does that count?