Backstage at every amazing festival ever with photographer Pooneh Ghana

14 August 2014

I’ve rarely spent as much time on an artist’s site as I did on Pooneh’s when first stumbling across it. Scrolling through her reams and reams of photographs is akin to waking up at a festival and trying to piece together flashbacks of the night before like some sort of stained, star-studded puzzle.

This is what music photojournalism should be about: trekking all over the world with a backpack full of camera film and running around dusty backstage areas with an AAA, befriending some of the world’s most coveted people in order to get a candid shot. What’s so great about Pooneh is that she isn’t just breezing around with an SLR, snapping backstage without a second thought – photography is her life, and I doubt she could do anything else with as much raw, unadulterated passion.

P.S She just posted on Instgram that she has 14 undeveloped rolls on her person at this moment, so look out for some serious updates soon. Here she is…

To start off, what camera do you like to use?

I love shooting on my medium format cameras, specifically my RB67 and Pentax 67. The Pentax is probably my all time favorite camera.I love my Canon 5DMKIII as well but the quality of the Pentax is on another level, just incomparable. Sometimes publications aren’t so strict on deadlines and will give me a few extra days to turn photos in, and that’s when I like to whip the Pentax out.

You’ve got a brilliant selection of Polaroids on your site ­ what is it that you love about that kind of film?

I feel polaroids capture a rawness and bring out a candid side of the subject that you can’t really get when you stick a giant DLSR in their face. I love the intimacy of it.

Do you look for anything in particular in a subject?

Just real emotion. I wait for the moment. I’ve overheard live music photographers say things like how they’ve just shot 30GB worth of photos during a three songs in the photo pit. In my head that just means you’re standing there with your finger pressed on the shutter without even thinking about what you’re shooting, which lacks any sort of passion. Sometimes I might get 50 or 100 photos during a three song set, but I’m standing there looking and waiting for the shot.


Pooneh Ghana: Jarvis Cocker

The guys you photograph are always so at ease. ­Are you friends with most of them before you start shooting?

I’ve shot a lot of bands repeatedly throughout the years, so some of them I have grown to be friends with. Other bands I meet I chat with a bit beforehand to make sure they’re comfortable. I also give minimum artistic direction. I want the photos to be as natural and true to the subject as possible, so I’m sure that helps as well.

Are there any other editorial photographers who have particularly influenced your work?

I love Neil Krug and Steve Glashier’s work. They create some of the most original-looking photography I’ve seen as of late. Also, my buddy Chad Wadsworth is brilliant, and Andy Whitton over in the UK. There are too many influences but these photographers have always stood out to me.


Pooneh Ghana: Debbie Harry

What do people often get wrong when photographing a band or musician?

That it’s all glamorous. That you just shoot the band then that’s it, the rest of the time is partying and debauchery. I’m not saying that doesn’t occasionally happen, but people don’t consider the preparations for the shoot, the running around all day and staying up until 7am editing (like during festivals). In some cases it could be a week of just post-processing. It’s can be a very physically and mentally exhausting job.

Do you ever get starstruck in front of bands that you love?

Sure I do, but I’ve learned to be professional about it. Think the last time I got starstruck was when I was doing portraits of Damon Albarn. The second he left my sight I started shaking and laughing, I was so ecstatic to meet one of my all time heroes. But during the shoot I was calm (or at least I think I was!)

A lot of your photographs are taken on festivals, or on tours. Do you lead quite an out­of­a­bag lifestyle?

In the past year, I definitely have been. But I’ve chosen to take on that lifestyle for myself and am having a blast so far. The only weird aspect of it is when you do get back home for a few weeks and don’t know what to do with yourself. You’re just anxiously waiting or preparing for the next thing.


Pooneh Ghana: King Khan and the BBQ Show

Can you give some advice to any budding journalistic photographers out there?

Always carry a camera with you. Take photos constantly, not just in a studio or at a gig. It’s huge in building your photographic eye and creativity. Also, I know it’s obvious, but separate your work from other photographers. Do something unique. Especially in this day and age where everyone’s a photographer.

I know it’s kind of an annoying question, but what do you think is your best or favourite photo?

Oh no, that’s a tough one! My Arctic Monkeys portrait from ACL is a huge one for me. Arctic Monkeys at Stubb’s (in Austin) was one of the first shows I took a camera to when I was like 16. I camped out all day to be front row centre and was just a huge huge fan. Fast forward to seven years later where I’m backstage taking portraits of them at their dressing room. I definitely had to step back and let that moment sink in.


Pooneh Ghana: Foxygen


Pooneh Ghana: Arctic Monkeys


Pooneh Ghana: Ryan Gosling


Pooneh Ghana: White Fence and Ty Segall


Pooneh Ghana: Paul Simonon


Pooneh Ghana: Haim


Pooneh Ghana: Dev Hynes


Pooneh Ghana: Karen O


Pooneh Ghana: Wayne Coyne


Pooneh Ghana: Alexa Chung

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About the Author

Liv Siddall

Liv joined It’s Nice That as an intern in 2011 and worked across online, print and events, and was latterly Features Editor before leaving in May 2015.

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