Graham Smith

Writings by Graham Smith

by Graham Smith

Graham Smith is a highly acclaimed and award winning music photographer heralding from Northern Ireland but frequently found in all corners of the known world, and their coffee shops. Waitresses beware.

My Photography Equipment (A Rant)

Almost everyday for the past decade I have received an email or been asked in person about the photography equipment I use. That is (approximately) 3600 times I have been asked this same question. Phew!

Currently I use two cameras. No extra lenses, no flashguns, no lights, just two small cameras.

I shoot the majority of my photos with a Ricoh GRD III. This is a compact, pocketable and deceptively powerful camera. It has a fixed focal length wide angle 28 mm f1.9 lens. I have always favoured fixed focal length lenses, I like to move with the camera, zooms have never interested me.

The other camera I use is my iPhone 4. Yes, I shoot on a camera phone and I fucking love it. I use a very simple program called Hipstamatic which comes with many different options for “lenses” and “films” which give different results but I tend to stick to the most basic lens and film which produces a high contrast Lomo/cross-processed style look. Also, as of today since they just updated the program, a very nice black and white film option is now available.

I am fully aware this post will piss off some people, particularly when talking about the iPhone. A camera phone is not a REAL camera, right? Why not? Who says so? I see this as much as a REAL camera as your latest Canon 5D II or whatever the current model is.

The photography world is full of snobbery. I have witnessed this since I started. At first, for me, it was snobbery about not having studied photography and not knowing every technical term or every single past “master” of the art. Nowadays I feel the main snobbery is about equipment. I cannot count the amount of times I hear people say things such as “I will be a REAL photographer when I get such-and-such camera / lens / camera bag / lighting rig,…blah blah blah…”.

Since when did photography come to be so orientated towards equipment and the “perfect” (AKA soulless (in my humble option)) light? The race for more mega-pixels, spending hours editing each photo to remove any “imperfection”, forcing bands into daft poses and concepts etc, etc…

If that is what photography is about these days then I am very glad to not be called a REAL photographer!

I am very happy with my Ricoh. It has really good build quality, a nice sharp lens, produces good images, it feels right and most importantly to me is nice and compact meaning I can take it everywhere I go and I most certainly do. It also does not scream “LOOK AT ME, I AM A PHOTOGRAPHER, LOOOOOOK AT MEEEEE!” which for me is vital in getting people to relax for the type of photography I prefer.

I am also happy using my iPhone with the Hipstamatic app and love the results I am getting. Does the fact that everything is automatic make it not REAL photography? To some people maybe it does and that is fine, but I strongly disagree. Actually, whilst writing this, I have just realised that I treat the Hipstamatic app the same way I used to treat Polaroid photography. Is Polaroid photography more important than Hipstamatic? Why? Because it uses film?

This post is not meant to be a rant to annoy anyone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying the latest equipment and having loads of gear to carry around IF that is what you actually want to do. The problem I have is the new thought process that seems to suggest that you must do this in order to be a REAL photographer. Utter bullshit.

My entire camera gear, two small compact cameras, can go everywhere I go, take up very little space and do not cost a fortune. This is not meant to sound egotistical but I have won several awards (ED: most prominently, the Lex Van Rossen, European Young Music Photographer of the Year Award in 2009) and had my work exhibited around the world, using such equipment. I will continue to work this way and if this excludes me from certain parts of the photography world then so be it!

Photography does not have to complicate your life. It can very easily be a fantastic, fun and rewarding compliment to your life, if you let it.

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by Graham Smith

Graham Smith is a highly acclaimed and award winning music photographer heralding from Northern Ireland but frequently found in all corners of the known world, and their coffee shops. Waitresses beware.

Photography Is A Tool

Photography is a tool for me to document my life. I am a nostalgic reflective person. I like to have a trace of where I have been, the experiences I have had and the people I have met. Photography is my way of capturing fleeting moments of this that can then go onto to create a more complete memory in mind.

I also take a lot of satisfaction when somebody likes my work or buys a print to hang in their house. This is, obviously, an incredible feeling and something I do not take for granted but ultimately I shoot for myself.

It wasn’t always this way however.

For six years I worked as a full-time photographer in the music industry. A lot of this job was about to trying to make bands look cool. It was, for me anyway, about trying to please other people and rarely myself. It was fucking frustrating. I was never comfortable or stable in my direction, artistic or otherwise. And so I stopped press work and promo shoots and started being selfish and shooting for myself.

During the last decade of shooting pictures I have spent huge chunks of it feeling frustrated, bitter and uncomfortable which is something I feel I have put behind me now. Nowadays it is all so much more simple – I love photography. I love viewing other peoples photos, I love shooting my own photos, I love putting my own photos out into the general public. Recently I have even loved discussing the subject with other photographers, something I used to despise.

The majority of work features musicians or scenes from the music world for the very simple reason that music is a huge part of my life and my friends. I no longer go out of my way to shoot music related images, it just so happens that 99% of the time that is what is in front of me. I have no wish to go back to the world of commercial music photography, I am glad to have left that behind and no longer think about it.

Photography is an addiction, I do feel empty without my camera being in my presence but it now adds to my life rather than complicates it and as cheesy as it sounds I am eternally grateful I discovered and embraced it.

Stop thinking, stop trying to please others, stop worrying about what other people think – just shoot and enjoy it!

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by Graham Smith

Graham Smith is a highly acclaimed and award winning music photographer heralding from Northern Ireland but frequently found in all corners of the known world, and their coffee shops. Waitresses beware.

Touring Is Not Glamorous

I write this from a train station in Zurich. Because of a slight problem (aka, a fuck up) a bag, containing money and other items, was left behind at our hotel in Budapest. I am now getting an overnight train to said Budapest to retrieve the bag. And then a train to Vienna to meet up with my band (And So I Watch You From Afar). After the show we will sleep for approximately three hours before climbing back on board the band van and traveling to Milan.

Touring is not glamorous, but fucking hell it is interesting.

There is no natural rhythm. Everything is all messed up yet at the same time seems to follow a very familiar routine. This is not a natural way to live. Or at least not a natural way to live judging by the conventions of the western world in the 21st century. When we eat, when we sleep, when we have sex or masturbate is all determined by the following times:

Load-In
Soundcheck
Doors Open
Stage Time
Curfew
Bus Call

Family, friends and loved ones, although constantly in our thoughts, can so easily fall by the wayside when on tour. This is not intentional. It just happens and can be the bane of many a relationship. Finding someone who understands the life of a touring musician / crew member (or better still, who lives that life themselves) is a difficult thing. Some achieve it, many do not.

Touring is a bubble. The bubble can be both incredibly comforting or incredibly claustrophobic, sometimes simultaneously. Time alone is important. The simple act of disappearing for thirty minutes for a beer, coffee or walk can be incredibly comforting. I try, but often fail, to find a little time alone everyday, to go off somewhere and read a book or just go for a random walk. Often things do not work out this way so my way to get time ‘alone’ is to drive the van. Shades on, music on, coffee at my side, a look of “I am not in a bad mood, just not in the mood for conversation” soon ensures you get a little time to yourself.

My main escape on the road is photography. I document my life constantly with my camera. If my camera is not with me I feel strange, disconnected and naked. Having the camera raised to my eye, or even just in my bag beside me, is my security blanket, my way of knowing that these moments, however fleeting, will be documented forever.

In ten years time I might be the only person interested in seeing these images, but I am at ease with this now.

For a while I thought you had to be incredibly physically and mentally tough to both endure this lifestyle and to thrive and actually enjoy it. I am no longer certain this is the case. I think you just have to be a certain type of person. I know I am definitely this type of person.

I am looking forward to getting home for a two week break after this tour. To see my family and friends, to work on some photography projects, to follow up on fleeting moments with girls, to going to sleep alone. I love getting off tour almost as much as I love being on tour.

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by Graham Smith

Graham Smith is a highly acclaimed and award winning music photographer heralding from Northern Ireland but frequently found in all corners of the known world, and their coffee shops. Waitresses beware.

“I have no kids, my photographs are my children.”

Jim Marshall only took photos if he had complete access and complete trust. He refused to work under restrictions. His process for taking photos was very simple. Armed with a Leica slung over one shoulder he would mingle with the bands and fans, backstage, on a tour bus, in the recording studio or even at the musicians home. Then he would take a photograph. It was that simple.

Not treating musicians like just another job and not selling the copyright of your images, that was Jim Marshall. Basically having a little respect for yourself and the people you photograph. This is what he created within the world of music photography. His contribution cannot be overstated. At a time when photographing a musician meant a quick sterile posed shot, Jim Marshall stood alone. He spent time with the people he shot, got to know them, had arguments with them or became their friends. He was human with them, not just a robot pressing a button.

Jim had a huge effect on my work. I am not entirely sure I would still be taking photos without him. He did not get me started in photography but it was his photos and attitude which kept it alive for me and made me constantly question my own artistic and business decisions which eventually lead me to stop taking on commissions and doing things my own way. Not the Jim Marshall way, my own way.

His photographs are incredibly simple. Although I am a huge fan I must admit I find some of them lacking in contrast, but the one thing they are not lacking is personality. Simple, beautiful images. Jim was not one for studios, lights, a team of assistants and conceptual ideas. Jim was a documentarian of the real person, or as real a person as a musician will ever reveal.

His passing is a huge loss to both music and photography but he has left behind a huge body of work which is sure to get even more exposure in the years to come.

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