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Interviews, Music

Interview: Analogue Gallery’s Lucia Graca on Getting “The Shot”

By: Olivia Goheen – 

Lucia Graca.

Lucia Graca.

We interviewed Analogue Gallery owner Lucia Graca about the evolution of the gallery, her memories of being in the pit capturing artists like Arcade Fire, Cage The Elephant, and The Flaming Lips, and more! Toronto’s Analogue Gallery (673 Queen St. W.) displays six decades of Rock ‘n’ roll’s most iconic photos.

How has the gallery evolved since first opening it?

I guess when we first opened we had quite limited collection and it was quite British centric. I had come from running a gallery in the U.K and had brought over 90 per cent of my archives from the U.K. It was definitely angled towards British music, a lot of Brit-pop, rock, punk and that whole thing. When I opened here there was definitely a demand for more Americanized artists and so I spent a lot of time picking up new photographers from the U.S and kind of broadening the archives to cover different genres that hadn’t been popular in the U.K. I definitely found that things were popular over there weren’t so popular here and things that were never asked for there were really in high demand here. A good example of that is The Jam. We use to sell lots of photos of The Jam in the U.K. and nobody has ever asked for anything like that here. Here I find jazz is really popular and that was never that big over here.

What are some of the most notable art pieces you have displayed at Analogue Gallery?

We represent 60 photographers’ entire archives. So we have a huge amount of work and at any given time on the wall it’s always kind of shifting and changing depending on what is new and I put things I like on the wall. You will see a lot of [David] Bowie and Blondie and that sort of thing. We definitely have some very famous photographers here like, Lynn Goldsmith and Ken Regen. They are the real showstopper pieces that you’ve probably seen in the press. They are kind of omnipotence in music history and recognizable.

In your opinion, what makes a great concert photo?

Today we see so much concert photography and when we go to a concert when we are standing far back there are often big screens, so there is a lot of concert imagery. So it is kind of hard to surprise the viewer and I am really looking for images that are surprising.

Name some of your favourite concert photos you have taken?

I like shows where the crowd gets involved or when The National get into the crowd or people bring people up from the crowd and I have definitely seen that. I think it was Iggy Pop who brought half the crowd on stage with him and those are always really exciting. Then there are small venues where there is no space and there is a real kind of intense show atmosphere that is really exciting. There are obviously artists I really like personally and I find really exciting live no matter how many times I’ve seen them and I will always want to go see them again. I love Florence and the Machine; I think she has an incredible stage presence. Then there are others bands where I love the music but maybe they don’t really do much on stage. I love Pixies, but they don’t really do much on stage.

Amy Winehouse at Glastonbury 2008. (Photo: Lucia Graca)

Amy Winehouse at Glastonbury 2008. (Photo: Lucia Graca)

Why do you think it’s important to capture an artist in the moment of them performing and why is important to tell their story through photography?

To be fair, I tend to prefer images that aren’t live. I prefer backstage, behind the scene shots of the artists because those are the unexpected shots of them. I have a photo here of Keith Richards frying eggs, shirtless at a farm and stuff like that just kills me. It is just an unexpected view of them. But I think it is important to shoot live shows because it really captures the sensation of what it is to be part of a music expression. It shows for me the most exciting part of my day and music is such a big part of my life. Going to a show is always so exciting and you can take some of that home with you at the end of it and that is a successful shoot in my mind.

What makes concert photography unique?

From a photographer’s standpoint it is a really fun way to be a fly on the wall and I think you hear a lot of that term “fly on the wall photography.” It is those rare cases where it is really, really true because the crowd is all focused on the music acts and the band is all focused on the crowd and you really get to run around in the darkness without really being the focus by anybody. It is real fly on the wall photography and that is kind of exciting. I don’t know many other situations other than sports where the photographers are the last thing anybody is noticing.

What is the best gear for a new concert photographer?  

I always say to photographers not to worry about having the newest, latest gear. I think that you can drive yourself nuts chasing the newest and latest technology, and I’m sure camera companies would love for you to buy the new updated gear every year because it very expensive. I think that if you get a good kind of sturdy digital camera body and then you invest in your lens. You need to have a really low F-stop lens. So F1.4, F1.8 and F2.8 is kind of the highest you really need to able to shoot at the lowest F-stop possible. You really just need to know how to use your equipment and definitely don’t be shooting with flash because it just ruins the atmosphere.

I saw the short film you produced about Cage the Elephant. How long did you tour with the group and where did you go throughout Europe?

I toured on and off with them for several months and I would do a certain leg of the tour and then go back home and then do another leg of the tour. As most bands can contest, tours are not a set thing where you will do a month and then be back in the studio for a bit and then two months and be back for something else. It is a bit disjointed. I think it was mostly around the U.K. like Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Cambridge, Oxford, Brighton, Bristol and London. I can’t even remember them all, parts of Scotland and many festivals too like Glastonbury and T in the Park. Festivals in the U.K. are huge and you can really spend months going to festival to festival.

What did you learn form making the film?

Touring isn’t as exciting and glamorous as you think, and as someone who loves to travel I thought I was going to get see a lot of new places and really you are just on the bus and then you are in the venue and then you are back on the bus and you rarely have any time to actually go and see any of the stuff. It is a lot more boring and monotonous then you think. I think a lot people have this Rolling Stones type of glamorous idea of what touring is like and that it is all crazy partying. There is that old sex, drugs and Rock ‘n’ roll adage but there is a lot of waiting around. There is also a lot of really bad food.

Do you have any up-coming plans to follow another band to create a short film? 

Not at the moment, the gallery in Toronto definitely keeps me busy and very grounded. At the moment I’m doing stuff based around the city. I won’t rule it out for sometime in the future.

We are living in the age of camera phones and the average fan routinely posts photos from the concerts they go to. As a concert photographer, does that make it more difficult to find paid work?

There is a shift in the industry and I think that goes not just to photography, it goes to just about anything. There is a real throw away culture about art and film and music. If you aren’t willing to do it for free there are about a hundred up and coming photographers who are. I think as a music photographer if you wanted to be taken seriously you have to stick to your guns and stay where the paid work is. There is definitely less of it and the pay is pretty small and I would say to people not to quit your day job. Have something that is a bit more concrete because I know a lot of concert photographers who also shoot weddings and product, who shoot for television or maybe they have other day jobs. I know a photographer who is a chiropractor. I think that you shoot concerts because you love it and you definitely don’t do it for the money. If you’re in it for the money you are in it for the wrong reasons.

The Ting Tings in Scotland (2007). (Photo: Lucia Graca)

The Ting Tings in Scotland (2007). (Photo: Lucia Graca)

If you could choose to shoot any artist living or dead, who would it be?

I mean there are so many and I can list ten. I definitely have a bucket list of bands that I haven’t gotten the chance to shoot yet. Two years ago The Rolling Stones were here and unfortunately my best friend got married on that day. They were pretty high on my bucket list. I think about the old soul singers like James Brown and Tina Turner and that kind of era of music. It is just the raw footage from those shows that I’ve seen. I don’t even know where to start, [David] Bowie, definitely Bowie. There are so many, that is a tough question. I love a band called The Libertines and they don’t play together very often and I have photographed every one of them in their own solo projects but never as a band. That is definitely on my hit list of things I would like to do.

Where did you come up with the idea for the Iconic Vinyl Exhibit?

Music photography as much as being put up on our walls, as fine art is great, we have to remember the history of music photography is around and used for album artwork. So a lot of the big photographers that I have here represented at the gallery got their fame from shooting really iconic album covers. Back in the day it was all about the album cover because most people wouldn’t even know what the band looked like unless they bought the album or the album artwork. When you went to a concert there wasn’t the big screens to be able to see their faces up close. If you weren’t up close to them you wouldn’t see them and there definitely wasn’t blogging or coverage on artists. You really wouldn’t know what they looked without these photographers. These photographers really shaped your idea of music and then the photos started music as a visual trend as well.

I was reading that the artists themselves signed the artwork. Where did you find all of this vinyl?

This was somebody that I met and the funny thing about doing what I do is that you meet incredible people who have done really interesting things in music throughout the world. One of those people I met has been compiling a collection ofnot only singed record covers, but also signed guitars and original artwork. He had the original artwork from Pink Floyd, like the actual sketch drawings that were done before the record cover was done. He really has just made a life of going around the world and picking up this super rare signed stuff and I think he wanted to do an exhibition with me because he never really has shown it to anyone. It was a fun experiment in putting his life-long collection on the walls of the gallery.

Is he trying to sell some of the artwork as well?

What we do have available for that exhibition on sale is just the tip of the iceberg of his collection. He isn’t parting with very much of his collection, he has gone through and chose the ones he is going to sell. I’ve visited with his archive and it is enormous and this isn’t even scratching the surface of his collection.

Looking at the collection displayed at your gallery, what era of music produced the best pictures to tell great Rock ‘n’ roll stories?

Obviously there is not a lot from the ‘50s and those really have an ethereal feel because of the quality of film at that time. Even up until the ‘60s they are very black and white and very grainy and it gives you a sense of nostalgia. I think the most exciting shots are from the ‘70s. I think the fashion and the cross-gender, playfulness of the ‘70s and definitely the hair, the flared pants, the crazy makeup and the acts that came out of that time was a real-time of self-expression. So if you don’t think about the music, but if you think of it in terms of the visual art is super exciting.

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