Rad People Who Make Rad Art: Rebecca Reed
by Interviews

Your favorite band? Yeah, Rebecca Reed has shot them- twice. She's pulled the trigger on everyone from Masked Intruder to Rise Against to Gaslight Anthem to Nas to Green Day to Fucked Up to AFI to Slayer Kendrick Lamar to Rancid to Iron Chic to Tim Barry to Elvis Costello to Chuck Ragan to Alkaline Trio to The Melvins! And not only that, she's had her shots published in Alternative Press, Rock Sound, and pretty much every promo shot ever. Also, she once photographed a bottle of Coca-Cola.

Because Reed is the professor of punk photos, features editor John Gentile spoke to her about her shots, the portrayal of women in modern photography, and of course, Melviiiiiiiiiiiinsssssss!

Click read more for the conversation and a set of hella awesome pics.

How did you get interested in photography?
Honestly, I don’t know. I remember when I was probably five, my parents gave me a pink, 110- film that is no longer made- Barbie camera. I used to take photos of everything, except for people! I’ve always been shy so inanimate objects were less scary to me. If I did take a photo of a person, I’d never get the face in the photo. So, I guess my parents are to blame for me being a freelance photographer in Brooklyn, NY.

Did you ever have any formal schooling?
I did, after years of stumbling through majors I finally decided to take my passion into school. So, now I have a BA in Advertising Photography. I don’t know that if I had to do it over again, I would, though. I learned some stuff about in studio lighting and the business side. But, most of that you can learn by assisting and talking to other photographers. For most "arts" jobs you don’t really need a college degree. I also feel like those years in college really set me back. Those 10 years that I was just floating trying to do what other people thought I should, I could have been shooting and progressing my career.

What photographers inspired you?
You know, I don’t have a ton. I always just took photos for fun. I started taking my camera to shows because I went to a lot of shows and figured why not. I always looked at Rolling Stone, AP, AMP… but I’m old, the internet didn’t really become a "thing" until I was in high school and I didn’t like libraries so I didn’t really look up the names of the photographers whose photos I was seeing and admiring.

One, though, that I always knew of was Jim Marshall. Incredible music photographer and took most of the iconic images that you still see today such as Johnny Cash flipping off the camera. I got the opportunity to see him speak in LA in 2004 in a very small room. There were maybe 20 people there. He was showing his work on a slide projector and talked about how he was missing most of his septum because he did so much coke in the 70s. He died a few years back. I heard it on NPR while I was in my car. I had to pull over and cry.

These days, Jonathan Weiner is someone who’s page I’m always looking at. I shot with him in DC and lived with him in California and really formed my "style" while around him. Incredible photographer. Jon’s live music images are great but his lighting ability for still photos, either on location or in studio, is always impeccable. He is self taught and just amazing at what he does. His live stuff is always spot on. We have a sort of similar live style where we both like to try to capture moments, not your normal music shots. It’s not always about the singer at the front of the stage screaming. A lot of the time it’s what’s happening behind them that you don’t always notice.

As a photographer, do you feel it is your job to represent what actually is happening at the moment of the picture, or to convey your personal perspective of the subject?
Can I combine the two? Isn’t it about having your own perspective on what is happening at that moment? I feel like I need to be stoned to get really deep into this question. If you’re a good photographer, your photos are going to stand out. There are anywhere between three to 40photographers at any given show. It’s your job to capture that moment in a way that none of those other photographers are going to get it.

Last night I was shooting the Touché Amore show at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City. There were two other girls shooting next to me. I guarantee my shots look drastically different than theirs. That’s not saying that I’m better than them. Just that everyone has a different view, even if we’re seeing the same thing. I also decided to move because I didn’t want to be shooting the same view as two other people.

Similarly, how important is it for a band to have a "veto" of your shots? That is, are you delivering a portrait to the band that they want, or are you documenting a scene?
Well, overall, I’ve been lucky. So far there has only been one situation where a band has tried to veto my shots. In this case, it wasn’t my fault. I was sent on assignment to take a cover shot of a band for a publication. There was a clear outline of what the shot would be and the vision for the final product. After the band saw the final cover they thought they looked too "silly." Luckily the magazine and their label loved it and it happened.

A lot of times when I shoot still shots- so posed, lit, non-live photos, the band has a different vision of what they are than me as the photographer or their fans. I try to get them to act one way in front of the camera but they feel like they need to be portrayed in a different way. I have to, as the photographer, either figure out a way to get them to go along with me or just give in to their "vision." Best case scenario we do both and I let the client make the final decision. Most of the time though I can tell if the band really isn’t comfortable with the shots and we’ll make revisions as we go.

When taking pictures of bands, how important is it that you like the actual band?
I was just talking to a friend and he told me about BBGP "Bad Band, Good People." Most of the bands I meet are awesome people and that makes me happy to do the shoot even if I don’t necessarily care for their music. It does help me to really love the band though. It makes you want to work harder because you appreciate their music. Regardless though, I’m there to do a job. I can’t really geek out too much over taking photos of bands. They’re people, I’m working for a client, I’m there to do the job and take the best photos possible.

What do you do to prep your subjects? Do you make them laugh? Do you talk with them?
Every time I’m with a band, or a model, or a lawyer taking head shots I’m the first person to admit that I’m AWFUL at posing people or coming up with creative direction. I know my weaknesses. That is one of them. To compensate, I just try to talk to people. A lot of my favorite images I’ve shot during them having a conversation or me telling them a horrible cheesy joke. But telling people to just talk is usually the best way to get them to relax.

You are very good at getting "action shots," such as your Kendrick Lamar, Fucked Up, and Rancid shots. how do you convey energy in your pictures so well?
Years of doing this. Years and years of doing this. If you see enough shows you can kind of predict what people are going to do. Not all of them, but a lot. Some bands I’ve shot so much I have their sets memorized and I can tell you when they will jump during which songs. I can do that with Rancid, AFI, Rise Against, and others. It’s all about just paying attention. Plus, movement in an image just makes it that much better.

What was your favorite shoot so far?
For live shots, Switchfoot. Every show I shoot of theirs is incredible and they make for good photos every time. I’ve been photographing them for 15 years now and it never gets old. Still shoot, I would have to say the Christmas themed shoot I did with Masked Intruder this past year. Those guys were up for just having fun and making good photos. It was a fucking blast to hang out with those guys.

You once photographed a bottle of Coke. Was that really difficult or really easy?
Product shots, especially of glass are some of the hardest photos to take. I tip my hat to every person making a living doing it. There is so much work and production that goes into making a bottle of Coke look good. I used this gel that looks like condensation on the outside, there are black boards and white boards and mirrors and tables and 4 lights for one little tiny bottle. Insane!

There are many, many tales of men photographers taking advantage of models during shoots. Do you think subjects are more relaxed with you because you are a woman? Are the guys more uptight around you because you are a woman, and somehow, feel they are being evaluated?
I think it’s harder being a girl. The band world is still a guys' club. I don’t feel like I fit in like I could if I were a guy. There have been a few times where they’ve hit on me and I don’t care who you are or what band you’re in, I’m there to do a job. I’m not some chick who’s a fan and I’m not a high school kid just starting out. I’m getting paid to be there to take photos.

I feel like more and more "band photographer" is becoming a dirty word in the photography world. iPhones take great photos at shows, I love Vscocam and I do my fair share. Plus with every person having a blog or an online whatever the industry is saturated. Back when Jim Marshall was shooting there were a handful of skilled photographers, shooting film, making beautiful photos. Now it’s every kid with a digital camera wanting a photopass. Now when I go, as a woman, and as a music photographer I feel like it’s a double whammy. I have to work that much harder to stand out and be professional.

A recurring feature right now is for sites to show how much photoshopping goes on for fashion and glamour magazines. In your view, is this practice as harmful to people’s views of themselves as these sites make it seem?
I think it is and I think it’s dumb as a whole. Most of these women are beautiful to begin with. I don’t understand the need to make their arms and necks longer. Hell, I looked at Jezebel’s article on Lena Dunham’s cover shoot for Vogue magazine. Who hasn’t seen that girl naked on Girls? We know what the human body looks like-especially her's - so why alter it so much?

Although I gotta say, the most depressing thing about those images was seeing how much retouching was done to Annie Leibovitz's images. I’ve always loved her stuff but it kind of took the joy away from them. I was the ugly duckling in middle school and most of high school, so I understand the want or need to look different. That’s all I wanted, and I won’t say that I’m still 100 percent happy with my image. I need to get back to the gym after this winter, but staring at the "perfect" woman in the magazine really doesn’t help.

Similarly, is the effect on men of glamour magazines understated? That is, do you often have men say something like, "don’t use this picture, it makes me look fat?"
HA HA HA! I can honestly say that before 100 percent of my shoots with guys they will say, even if jokingly, "You’re going to photoshop out my double chin, right?" I never do. I’m not a huge fan of major retouching. I like to shoot it how I want it to turn out to minimize retouching.

You photographed the Melvins. Please describe the shoot. Was it the most awesome thing ever?
I PHOTOGRAPHED THE MELVINS! Does that explain it? Those images will probably never leave the "highlighted" images of my website. Buzz was so incredibly nice! There was a advertisement on the side of the bus stop outside of the venue that had a Chihuahua licking ice cream or something and he thought it was the funniest thing ever and the first thing he did when he met me was pull out his phone and show me the photo. Dale was great too…just yeah, it’s one of those shoots that I’ll never forget.

Have you ever had anyone use your work without your authorization?
NO! Knock on Wood. At least, not that I know of…the only problems I’ve had lately are social media-related. Dear everyone reading this, copying and pasting a photographer’s photo and posting it to your Tumblr, Instagram, or Facebook without credit, yeah, it’s not legal. Copying my image and cropping it, not legal. Copying my image and cutting out my watermark, NOT LEGAL!

Can you tell this bugs me? Anyway, if you like it, email me. My email is: rebeccarphoto@gmail.com I will probably send you the image with my watermark on it and you can post it! If you wanna get crazy, I sell prints of most of my work and it’s not expensive, then you can frame it and put it on your wall and send me a photo of it so I can get super stoked that someone loves my work enough to do that. But please ask me!

Bob Gruen totally rules, right?
Ok, well honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of his work.

[Interviewer begins to well up and struggles to hold back tears.]
Um…. Sorry? I think there were other photographers working in the same genres at his time that were getting more interesting shots of the bands. Take Janette Beckman for instance. I really love her shots with The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Her book, Made in the UK is full of great, iconic images from that era of music. She’s still working in NYC and still taking great photos. Great lady with seriously epic stories. Don’t get me wrong, Bob Gruen took some very memorable, still famous to this day, images. Just not where I go for inspiration.

What do you have in the works?
Wait, let me look at the Bandsintown app.

Visit Rebecca's site here.