Caught on Camera

Graham Smith exhibits his music photography

Graham Smith admits ‘I soon realised I had no interest in photography at all. I have no photography books and I’ve never studied it.’ About to launch his own online photography exhibition, it’s an odd confession.

‘It’s the music that interests me’ he explains. ‘I enjoy gigs and I’ll always want to shoot them’.

Smith has been covering the NI music scene for the past three years and has amassed a large archive of images. As well as performances he also documents the travails of bands on the road and in their practice rooms.

‘Not many bands will want pictures of themselves in their practice room. What will happen is that they’ll approach me for a photo shoot and I’ll meet them for a coffee or a drink. I agree to do those pictures because every band needs photos like that but I’ll also ask to come to their practice room for something more natural.’

This approach produces a different type of picture. ‘I try to avoid stereotypical ‘band’ images. Bands tend to get moody and tired if they are posed too long. I prefer something more documentary – more interesting for music fans.’

On Smith’s website his portfolio pictures are accompanied by one of the subject’s lyrics. This can add a new layer of understanding to the image. ‘Often the lyric is the first one that comes into my head when I think of that band. They add a more personal note to the picture. There may be some hidden meaning there also.’

Beside his own picture on the site are lyrics from The Smashing Pumpkins that clearly refer to the relationship of the artist, their public, and the press.
Scissor Sisters - (c) Graham Smith
Hipsters unite
Come align for the big fight to rock for you
But beware
All those angels with their wings glued on
‘cause deep down
We are frightened and we’re scared
If you don’t stare
'Cherub Rock'

Documenting the life of NI bands in detail and over such a period of time reveals some interesting aspects of the reality of being part of the music scene. Some of the bands are no more while others have become new acts. A number of the bands are now tipped for great things in the near future.

Smith has been impressed by the quality and variety of music on offer.

‘There are a lot of bands out there worth going to see. Bands like Fighting With Wire, the Beat Poets, Oppenheimer are doing big things at the minute. They’re starting to get a lot of coverage both here and further afield.’

There is space now for a lot of new young bands. Teenagers are taking to the stage almost as often as their more seasoned contemporaries. ‘Derry might be a little more rocky than Belfast now. They have a lot of ‘all age’ gigs there which gives young bands somewhere to play. It’s brilliant to see.’

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of global acts visiting NI. This has provided the opportunity to shoot household names such as REM, Faithless, and Counting Crows.

Taking images of the stars benefits Smith for a number of reasons. Work published in the local and national music press raises his profile. It also increases the amount of traffic to his website where he sells individual prints of his pictures. ‘I don’t make a lot of money from the sales but it’s nice to think of my work hanging on somebody’s wall.’

Sales have been mostly to customers in the UK and the US. An exhibition at the end of 2006 will also launch Smith’s first photo book. ‘It’s not a great money-spinner either but hopefully it’ll lead to more work. I’ll do a small run of about 200 and see what happens from there.’

Smith now spends more time than ever in London and Dublin for his work. He has plans to travel to New York in the coming summer. Some of the world’s biggest acts are in his sights but he is also interested in what’s happening locally.

‘Everywhere I go I like to get involved in the smaller scene as well.’

Now widening his horizons, Smith considers this the perfect time to display something of the archive he has managed to build up over the last three years. Two hundred images will appear in slideshows accessible on his website from April 3 - 30. This is only a fraction of a collection surprisingly large for someone with no interest in photography.