Part 1 of a deeper look behind Toronto’s Analogue Gallery on Queen West, courtesy of Confront Magazine writer, Lisa Fiorilli, guest writing for Addicted! Stay tuned for part 2 next week!
Analogue Gallery is Toronto’s premier rock and roll photography gallery, home to a constantly evolving collection ranging from the vintage (The Rolling Stones) to the contemporary (Florence and the Machine). Founded in 2009 by critically acclaimed photographer Lucia Graca, Analogue Gallery has become synonymous with documenting rock and roll’s storied moments over the past six decades.
More than just a photo gallery, Analogue’s Queen West location has become a cultural hub of sorts. From special exhibits to book readings to cultivating the local photography scene through Sound Image, the Gallery is a community space that brings together music and photography lovers alike for a wide range of arts programming.
I sat down with Analogue Gallery’s owner and Creative Director, Lucia Graca, to get her perspective on how she got involved with music photography, how she curates her extensive catalog and why music photography is about capturing moments.
How did you initially get involved with photography?
I went to performing arts school. I actually went for dance, but when I wasn’t dancing, I’d be taking photos. So, I’d immediately hop off stage and grab my camera – it was film in those days – and I loved to take pictures of people onstage who were performing. Back then, it was dance and theatre and music, and now that’s kind of translated into specifically music.
Did you initially jump into it thinking it would be a hobby or did you know that it was what you wanted to do?
No, I went to university for photography and I think I wanted to go into fashion photography. But, I had a very utopic notion of what the fashion industry would be like, and when I graduated I started to shoot for fashion and I just really didn’t like it. I kind of fell out of love with photography for a little while, and it was a funny time. It was a transition. When I went to university, there was no digital, so I graduated and started into the industry when it was this slow transition into digital. Digital camera quality wasn’t quite there yet, but that transition was happening. It was a funny time to be starting out in the industry and trying to figure out what your niche is going to be.
Do you think that people going to school for photography now have it a little bit easier? Do all these new digital tools sort of make it a little easier?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that photography as an art form is easier, but I do think that it’s cheaper. The same skillset goes into taking a good photo; you still need to have an eye for composition, you still need to know how your camera works, your settings and have a very basic understanding of the real practice of photography.
But, I do think it’s definitely cheaper. Back in the day, you would shoot a roll of film, you’d have to process it, you’d have to do contact sheets, you’d have to do several test prints, you’d have to buy the chemicals for the dark rooms, you’d have to buy the paper and the sheets. It was quite a process to shoot one roll of film. And also, you could do a huge shoot and not really know until afterwards if it had worked out, which is really scary when you have clients waiting for results. I think that the same skills are involved, but it’s a lot cheaper and a lot easier to throw away shots. You could shoot 100 frames and just delete them, never think about them again and it’s like it never happened.
Definitely. So, you fell out of love with fashion photography, but where did music come in? Did you come at it as a fan initially?
I was always a music fan. Even when I was doing fashion photography, even when I was in university, even when I was in high school: I was a massive dork for music. I was the kid at Lee’s Palace at the front of the stage, and I was at the Amphitheatre for everything. I think I followed certain bands around on tour for a couple of weeks at a time. I’d tell my mom I’d back later that night, and not come back for four days cause I was following Ani DiFranco around or something when I was sixteen. So yeah, the music love came well before me thinking I was going to be a photographer. And it never occurred to me that those two things could be together, and still, it’s always a funny dance between my love of music and love of photography. Sometimes I don’t want to shoot something because I just want to enjoy it, so that’s always a funny line that I walk.
Do you remember what the first show you shot was? I mean in terms of going there specifically to shoot pictures that weren’t just for you.
I was doing fashion, and I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wasn’t happy and I took some time off and went travelling. And, I think I had an epiphany: I should shoot music, this is totally what I should do, and how do I do that? For the first couple of months, I would just sneak my camera into shows and just get shots from the crowd, just to build confidence and build a portfolio and get a sense of what it was that I was doing. I think that you can read a million books – and this is before YouTube videos, now you can learn anything from YouTube – but I just had to go do it. I was used to shooting in studios, with models, and controlled lighting and controlled everything. Then, you go to a show and you don’t control anything. Everything’s unexpected, and it was super exhilarating. And the first 100 shots were terrible, I’m sure, out of focus and too dark. I think that people might mistakenly think that concert photography is easy, when it’s really difficult to be good at it.
The first big show that I shot as a real, paid music photographer, that I was there for press, was the Arctic Monkeys. They played at the Kool Haus – I couldn’t do the math on how long ago that was, but it was their first record. It was a really long time ago, they were very young, pre-Alexa Chung years of the Arctic Monkeys. That was probably the first big one, but there was a bunch of little ones. Like, I shot Snow Patrol before they were a big deal, I shot a lot of up and coming British bands. The great thing about the UK, and it’s the same thing in New York; you’ll see lots of awesome bands play tiny little bars, so I shot a lot of that sort of thing.
I feel like the one that stands out to me is always the Arctic Monkeys, because I remember being nervous. I remember being like, “Whoa, I better not mess this up.” I also remember sending the editor like 100 frames, and he was like, “You know, you only need to send like 10.”
You touched on this earlier, and I wanted to go back to it. It’s got to be a big difference when you start shooting in a live setting, because you don’t control anything happening in the environment. What’s the adjustment when you’re going from studios or controlled settings?
Yeah, I think you really need to know how your camera works because you’re often in the dark and you need to know how to change your settings without looking at them. It’s a lot of intuition and a lot of basic, intuitive camera skill and you need to be able to think really quickly. In a studio shoot, you can look, you can check, you can bracket, you can try this, try that, change this light and keep looking at your camera until it works out. Usually, for a show, you have a limit of about 15 minutes to get the shots, usually about 3 songs. The average band plays songs that are three minutes long, and some might play five-minute songs. On a good day, you might have 15 minutes, and sometimes you might only have one song. So, you need to know how your camera works and be able to look around and say, “Okay, I should be shooting at 1200 ISO in this room, or 400 ISO” or whatever it is just by looking at the room.
I think a lot of people make the mistake of continuous shooting without thinking, and you’d be surprised how often that just doesn’t work. You can end up with 500 frames and have gotten nothing. I think that you really need to make adjustments, move around a lot, and anticipate. If you know the song, that helps sometimes because you know when the chorus is going to be, or when they’re going to step away from microphones. You just need to be thoughtful.
When you’re working with a short, 15-minute limit, is it easier to shoot a band when you’ve seen them a couple of times and you know how they interact? Does it matter?
Yeah, definitely. I know when I shoot The Flaming Lips that he [Wayne Coyne] likes to come in on the gigantic ball, and it’s very visual and colourful. So, I know I would take a fish eye lens to shoot that because it’ll be amazing from a crowd interaction perspective. I know that certain bands don’t move or leave the microphone – like Phoenix are backlit, and don’t really move around that much, it’s a lot of smoke and a lot of strobe and you can’t see their faces. So those bands, I know how to prepare for that. Interpol is kind of the same way, they don’t really move, they don’t really leave the microphone, and they play in darkness. So, yeah, you can bring the right equipment. I know certain bands are really, really loud, so I know to bring my super heavy-duty earplugs so that I can hear afterwards.
So yeah, there are some bands that I know I would definitely bring a fisheye lens, but sometimes it has more to do with the venues and knowing what the venue setup is like. Like, I know what lenses to bring to which venues, and when in doubt, just bring everything and it’s heavy, but you’ll just deal with it.
So, what do you think the difference is between a good shot and a great shot, in your opinion? What do you look for?
For me, Sound Image is a good example, where I have to look through a million shots of people’s music stuff. The things that stand out to me are really when you catch a moment and that’s why you’ll see a lot of music photographers call their books ‘the moment’. You kind of picture yourself preying on an animal in the woods and waiting for your moment, and you know when you’ve caught that moment, that one little interaction. It’s like, “I’m done, I can go home now, I’ve caught that moment.” You know when you’ve got it, and you’re like “that’s the moment”.
Often, it’s like when the guitarist jumps off the drum set and he’s in the middle of the air, or with a big band where they’re standing really apart from each other during the show, it would be that moment when they come in together and you get them all in one frame. Sometimes, it’s that shot where the lead singer reaches into the crown and someone hands him a flower or a present or something, and you’ve caught that one moment.
I also like to be surprised. Some bands you see so much imagery of, and it can be so boring and redundant. If you can show something that I’ve seen a million times but in different light, that really stands out to me. I think composition has a lot to do with it. A lot of photographers make the mistake of standing right under the lead singer, but that means you’ve got the microphone in front of their face in every single photo. It’s kind of common sense to me that you would stand a little to the side so you wouldn’t have that happen, but a lot of people want that prime, centre position and want to be as close to the guy as possible, and they don’t really think about what the consequences of that are.
I like empty space in a photo and I don’t need a super cropped-in shot of someone. I know what their face looks like – everyone does, we all have the Internet now. The photo that’s more interesting to me is “What did it feel like to be there?” It shows the venues, it shows the fans, all the pedal boards on the ground, and all the guitars in the back. It shows the weather if it’s at a festival – the rain, the wind. That’s way more interesting to me because these days you can just go online and find 100 photos of someone’s face, and it’s not that exciting. The photo that’s way more interesting to me is the one that has context.
I was browsing Analogue’s website today, and something that struck me – and I guess those are just the kinds of pictures that I’m partial to – is that the ones I was most drawn to weren’t necessarily live photos. They were shots of the band hanging around, or whatever.
Oh yeah, definitely. In the Gallery, my favorite, favorite stuff is the behind the scenes stuff, and that’s what I mean by something surprising. I’ve seen 1,000 photos of Keith Richards, but I have a photo of him frying eggs in the morning at a farm, or on a horse with his girlfriend. Or shots of Bob Marley just kicking around a football in a parking lot. Those are so much more interesting to me than live shots, and I think that’s because we live in an over-saturated visual market where we see so many live shots. Obviously, those are really, really popular from the Gallery perspective, and they sell well because people love that epic rock shot with the guitar and the crowd. But definitely, my preference is the secret, private moment that no one else has access to.
What’s your favorite shot in here and can you pick just one?
Oh, every week is different and it really, really fluctuates. And then I get new stuff in, and then I have a new favorite shot. I really like Don Hunstein’s photography, I have a beautiful contact sheet of Bob Dylan [this photo] in 1963 where he looks like a little girl, so young and he’s got this delicate face and it’s so indicative of that time. Don also took this shot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane [this photo], it’s the most incredible and one of the most important jazz albums [Kind of Blue], and both guys weren’t really photographed all that much. Especially in that era, there wasn’t that much press photography – you could honestly love an artist for years and years without ever really knowing what they look like. It must have been nice for the artist to be able to go to the supermarket and not get mobbed. I love that shot, it like he hasn’t moved at all but he just changed the focal point, and it’s nice perspective.
There’s a Blondie triptych that I love that was on the wall for Women in Rock that’s super sexy, very raw, bright and feminine. I don’t know, it’s like punk and chic all at the same. That Jimmy Page is the ultimate rock shot – he’s got the hair, the guitar, the hand motion, that’s super iconic. There’s so many – I mentioned that one of Keith [Richards] frying eggs, I could just go on and on. It’s the toughest question to ask me – “Today, my favourite is that one of Kate Bush…”
[Laughs] Absolutely understandable.
Tune in next week for part two – find out more about Analogue’s background and roots!