Saturday, November 22, 2014


by Jamie Goodsell
All images © Chad Kamenshine
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I couldn't even dream up all of the experiences and opportunities that I've had so far taking pictures. Having a camera has really taken me on an amazing journey so far, and I've been fortunate enough to meet some truly wonderful human beings along the way. Seeing what a camera can do for anyone with drive and talent puts everything in perspective. I met Chad Kamenshine at Bonnaroo last year. We had a mutual friend in New York (that's also a music photographer), we started talking about our careers and what we were up to, what direction we felt like we were going in, and what we were excited about at the time. Everything was very natural with Chad and I think it's because he's such a genuine guy and really cares about the creative process. When I was talking to him for the first time, I could tell that he was a super dedicated individual without even knowing him. Recently, I saw a portrait he did of The Smoke Fairies,  and I remember thinking that it was a very different way to photograph them. When I saw that image, I felt like he was really coming into his own as a portrait photographer, and finding his own path to standing out amongst the thousands of photographers out there. I'm honored to have him be a part of my interview series. 


Where are you from? Where did you grow up? 
I'm a native New Yorker. I grew up in this area called Marine Park, which is pretty much on the opposite end of where everything's happening in Brooklyn. 

Did you grow up in a creative family? 
Kind of, my grandfather liked to draw and my mom liked to paint. My grandfather used to take photos of all of our family vacations and I used to get annoyed by it. I was like, "What are you doing, why are you always taking photos?" and now I understand why. 

What got you into photography? 
There were a few things that came together at the same time and that's when I started shooting. They did this battle of the bands thing during the summer at the park I grew up next to and a couple of the people I used to play hockey with were in a band. They invited me to come see them play and after that show we formed this connection and friendship. I just started going to their shows after that and began shooting them without knowing or thinking anything. We had this relationship for four or five years and I ended up doing all of their online web stuff, photography stuff, some video stuff, one of the guys married my sister…I just showed up to this thing and then it ended up bleeding into the photography thing, and that ended up creating this whole other life for me just from that one random encounter. That was the first phase of my photography.

So where did you learn the basics? (i.e. aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.) 
After that whole band thing, I decided to stop shooting for a couple of years. The second phase of my photography was when I was seeing this girl and she kept pushing me to start shooting again. She had another friend that was a photographer and she would get us to hang out with the intentions of him kind of being like, "Come on man, just bring your camera to Central Park" or whatever. I brought out my camera and that's when I started to get the itch again. I would always shoot manual because it allows you to do what you want to do. I felt like with manual you could get the photos the way you intended. I learned from that guy and mostly from trial and error. 

Who are some of your most influential New York photographers? 
People ask me about that and I feel bad because I never really looked at anyone else's stuff. Even to this day, I don't really look at anyone else's live music stuff. I kind of equate it to like when someone's recording an album and you're like, "Hey man, what have you been listening to lately?" and they say "I haven't been listening to anything because I don't wanna be influenced by anything else. I'm just focusing on what I'm doing."

Portraits are a completely different thing though. I do look at other people's portrait work for inspiration. I have a folder where I keep all of my photography inspiration for portraits. Whether it's cool lighting, the position of the person, the lay out of the band, all of that stuff. I'll go through other people's work just because portrait photography - that's a whole other art. I've only been doing it for like five months for real and it's been insane since I got a break where everyone has been asking me to do more portraits. If I come across a portrait of an artist or band that I really love, I'll look up the photographer and go through their entire body of work. That gives me a greater appreciation of that person's vision and it allows me to understand their style as a whole.

The funny thing that I've been experiencing lately, is doing portraits of a band and then having them be surprised when they find out I'm also shooting their show later that night. Is there this thing where a lot of band portrait photographers don't shoot live music? I find that funny because for me, the portrait and the live is like the grand vision right? This is how I see the band live and this is how I see the band as a portrait. To be able to do both of them is amazing. 


Do you ever check out any of the photo galleries in New York?
Yeah, my friend John came to visit (who's another photographer) and one of my closest friends. We went gallery hopping yesterday and went to the Morrison Hotel GalleryJohn Varvatos (which is the old CBGBs), there was a mini gallery alongside the walls that was a part of the Rock Paper Photo company. There was a photo of Eddie Vedder at MTV unplugged by Kevin Mazur where he had that writing on his arm and just seeing that photo was so amazing. It wasn't about the technical aspects of them, it was more about the icons being documented. I don't feel that things are captured that way anymore. It just felt like there was this personal connection with the photographer and these iconic artists, no matter how big they were. I feel like now everyone is so heavily guarded and that it's all about perfection (or what they think is perfection) but it's actually very generic and cold. 

Do you contact bands that you want to shoot or is all of your stuff assignment driven? 
I have The Artistree, which is me and my two other close friends. It's a micro publication that we started five or six years ago. That was what really got me back into photography again. Kat said to me one day, "Hey my friend Mike is moving to New York from L.A. and he's always wanted to start a music website, do you want to start shooting again?" So we had one of my friends design the website and before it was even live I just started emailing publicists asking them if I could shoot live shows. People were saying yes, so I kept contacting them over and over which gave The Artistree its starting point. 

I would say the past five months, I've been actually contacting the bands directly. I've been skipping the publicist. Sometimes publicists don't really care unless it's for a bigger publication. They'll say things like, "We're not doing any press at this time," so I'll just hit up the band and be like, "Hey are you down to do portraits next time you're in New York?" Pretty much every time, they're into it and say yes. Now I've been doing a lot of work for music labels, so instead of contacting publicists, they've been reaching out to me now to set up shoots for the bands or a magazine that the band is gonna be in. Now everything has turned to where they're contacting me for work. 

Let's talk about the process. Give us some insight into your location scouting, preparation, and direction with music photography. 

Location Scouting - It seems like every shoot I do on location, I'm told about only a day before. I did a shoot with this band Ume, and I got to where we were supposed to meet up an hour before hand to check out a few places in the surrounding area. I wanted to find something that was visually really cool. I opened up Google Maps or Yelp and I found this really amazing retro candy store and an arcade. I'll also go into different places and ask, "Would you mind if I do a shoot in here?" Most people would be surprised that just by asking, how many people actually say yes. Another good way to location scout is to use Google Earth. It gives you a fly over, so you can zoom in and zoom out (maybe you could see a cool alley way or something). I'll plot points and then go check out the place in person. 

Preparation - The first thing is an email. How can I tell this publicist, manager, or artist in a professional manner that I want to photograph them so they'll want to do it? The publicists are obviously the gate keepers of everything, so it's up to them whether or not it happens. When I email someone about doing a shoot, I have to pitch them an idea. I'll just send a quick two sentence thing saying, "Hey would so and so and you be interested in collaborating on this shoot next time you're in New York?" here's a link to my work. Hopefully I'll get a positive response and then we can start talking about when and where to meet. The only time an email thread can get crazy is when a budget is brought up and that could go anywhere. Once you get past the email, everything else is pretty easy. 

Direction - When I do a photo shoot, it's more like I'm going to hang out with a friend. I'm just a ridiculous human being that wants to have fun. The final product of the images are very important to me, I care a lot about it. The process of the shoot has to be fun and loose. So when I meet up with a band for the first time I'll talk to them as if I was out with you and I met your friends. Just talk to them about themselves and what they're up to. You have to build a friendly rapport between the two of you. 

So during the shoot, I'm studying their body movements and habits because everyone has these habits right? Some people slouch over, some people will tilt their head like they're The Exorcist or something…so I'm trying to pick up on all of that stuff. I just talk to them about the most random shit. It could be about other artists' music, their experience in New York, or their favorite places to eat because I also want to get to know who these people are. The whole portrait thing is about connecting with people beyond just a photograph. I could be making a life-long friend, you never know. So as we're talking about all this regular life stuff, they start to loosen up and they start to forget that they're getting photographed. They're not posing for the camera anymore, they're just having fun. 

Then once I see that they're comfortable enough to really take photos, that's when I'll start to direct them more specifically and build up from there. It's an interesting thing because I think most of the stuff with portrait photography is all psychology. It's all about getting this person comfortable enough to just let go and do whatever your vision is. If you can connect with them on a personal level in some sort of way, they'll do anything. I used to be very hesitant when it came to direction because I didn't want to seem bossy or pushy. Something that a lot of bands tell me is that they have no idea what they're doing, so telling them what to do is the best thing you can do. You have to let them know what your vision is because they don't know what you want them to do unless you let them know, right? If you then show them a photo from the process, they get even more excited about it. So I think the number one thing with shoots and with life in general is communication. 

Why did you choose this path for your life? 
The reason I decided I wanted to do this for my life, is because of the connections that go beyond the shoot. You can have a conversation with an artist in the studio and then when the shoot is over they could invite you out to eat or they could get your number to meet up later. You end up becoming friends with all of these people that you normally wouldn't meet. That's why I'm so comfortable doing this, because to me it's just one big hang out. It's one big social thing and the more that you do it, the more people you meet. When I shoot, I feel like a kid because I'm doing what I wanna do. As photographers, we're all on these solo missions. We know what we want, we're doing it and we're getting results from it. 

What do you think the most important aspect of a band photo should be? 
I think it should come across as natural as possible and it should translate what the band means to you and looks like through your eyes. You should put your stamp on it, but it should still convey who they are. 

Tell me about the Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp-Muhl shot. 
I showed up to the Bowery Ballroom and I found this little cove with a window next to it. It was in the summer and the sun was coming right through it. The two of them came up to the second level and they were so excited to do the shoot. They were super sweet and were complimenting how I dressed. So I placed them in the cove area and I sat across from them. I didn't have to say anything, as soon as I picked up my camera she was doing that pose and modifying it as we went along. They were both asking me questions about my camera and he was geeking out about it. The shoot was maybe ten minutes and it was probably one of the easiest shoots I've ever done because they were into it and they were happy to do it. She's a model, they're a couple and them being a couple obviously the chemistry was very natural. Her outfit is visually really cool, with those pants she was wearing…they look like they're running through the photo. I was really impressed with her too, because she asked me if I was going to be shooting with ambient light. As much as I love flash (and I've been using it a lot recently), for a lot of situations I just love natural light. 

What influenced you to start using more flash and gels in your work? 
It started with The Smoke Fairies shoot. I decided to try and shoot it as if it was a live show. When you shoot live shows there's amazing colors, (blues, purples, reds) and when they mix, it creates this gorgeous light. I used two speedlites, one with a red gel and one with a blue gel. When they went off, I just tried to make them merge where the two girls were. The mix of the colors with their white outfits really made those photos pretty awesome. When I was done with those portraits, I felt like I had gotten exactly what I wanted because I did portraits of them that they don't have. They were really sweet. I would love to work with them again.

Is there any money in music photography? 
This is something very interesting because when I talk to other photographers, the first thing I hear all of the time is, "There's no money to be made." As far as publications go (especially in the past year) a lot of them are cutting down on photography. Some publications used to throw a lot of money towards photography and now they don't. It's kind of fucked up because if you look online (especially with Instagram and Twitter), it's all about visual. When everything's about visual, how could you cut down on photo? The truth is that even though everything is photo-centric, the value has gone down it seems. So the publications have cut down except for the bigger publications like Billboard or Rolling Stone that have print. If you're looking through someones photo book, if something is of poor quality, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Because everything's online now, you can see that they just want the photos up there and they don't really care about the quality. 

So you're saying, don't try and rely on publications to put a roof over your head?
If you're relying on publications to be your number one source of income, that's a very hard thing to do. Unless you're shooting for six publications for real, you're not going to make a lot of money. For me personally, I love shooting for other publications but there has to be a good relationship with them. Like with SPIN for instance, I have an amazing relationship with the photo editors there. They appreciate my work and being able to work alongside them has been incredible. If you wanna make money, I think the best way to really do it is to build a relationship with a label or a PR company. That's where you could get a decent flow of income. If they like your work and you do a good shoot with them, they'll keep coming back to you because they don't wanna go look for another photographer, they wanna build a relationship with one or two photographers that they trust. Publications are the same way, they'll have two photographers that they trust and will want to use all of the time but they're cutting down on live coverage or they're not paying at all. You can't really rely on them, unless it's the big two. 

How did you get involved with SPIN?  
The Horrors were playing a secret show at Webster Hall, so I contacted them and got on the list to shoot it for The Artistree. After that show I felt like I really wanted to shoot for a bigger publication, so I emailed SPIN. About 15 minutes later, the photo editor emailed me back and asked me if they could use one of my photos in the next issue for the iPad. I didn't hear anything from them for months. One day I was sitting at home doing my day job and I was miserable, I was thinking to myself, "Man I would love to do photography as my main gig, I just hate sitting in front of a computer"…there's no interaction, there's no experiences being gained, it's just being a robot, like in The Terminator

I was really down that day and was getting ready to head into the city to go check out my friends band. When I go to hop on the train, I get a call from an unknown number (and I never pick up for unknown numbers), so I picked up and the person said, "Hey this is so and so from SPIN, we were wondering if you'd be interested in going on an assignment for us." I said, "Sure" and she said, "We'll fly you out and we'll put you in a hotel." I was thinking it was going to be a New York assignment, so I was like, "Where the hell am I going?" [laughs] . She said, "You're going to Alabama for Hang Out Fest." That was my first and best experience with SPIN. That was incredible. 

Tell me about your recent shoot with Deerhoof
Yeah, they're amazing people. We did a shoot in my studio and a couple of different locations. At the end of the day, we were all tired but next to my studio there's another room. It's a business that resells books for Amazon and I always wanted to do a shoot in there, so I decided to just put them in this room and see what would happen. I used one light and grabbed a ladder. I had Satomi reaching for a book. There was all of this random crap in the book section, like a basketball…which had no business of being there. I gave John the basketball and said, "Ok, come at me like you're kind of dunking on my face" and then Greg had these lemons with him…I don't know why the fuck he brought lemons but I told him to stare at them like he loved them. I think I was watching old school WWF matches on YouTube the day before, so I told Ed, "You're gonna pick up this chair like you're gonna give Greg a head shot!" So I had them all positioned like that and I took two photos, looked at the second one and knew I had it. No matter who it is, it could be a person with the strongest personality who isn't showing emotion…you have to treat everyone like a kid. Everyone wants to laugh and so you have to get there. That's how the Deerhoof shoot was. 

What's one of the most meaningful images that you've taken? 
The photo studio I got is in this old warehouse and the stairs leading up to the fourth floor are really gross. I was thinking, "How am I gonna have a famous person coming to this disgusting place?" The space itself is great, you can do some cool stuff in there. It was bad, I had it for about three months (this was last summer) and I was traveling in and out. I was doing Bonnaroo, Firefly, etc. I wasn't booking anything and no one was reaching out. I'm thinking this place is disgusting and I'm not getting anyone in here to shoot, even for free. 

The lease was running out at the end of October and I was ready to just give up. A week before the lease ran out, my parents asked to come see the space. I'm thinking, "Oh no, what are they going to think of this disgusting place, they're probably gonna walk in and then walk right back out." So we're walking up the stairs and I'm seeing all of the dust and grime everywhere wondering what they must be thinking. We get to the fourth floor and as soon as they walk in, they say "Oh my God, this is yours?" Their reaction was the complete opposite of what I thought it was going to be. I was kind of emotional about that because here I was picking it apart in my head and my parents had the complete opposite feeling about the space and were saying how much I could do with it. 

I decided to set up some lights and take their photograph. It was the first real photo shoot I did in that space. When I was setting up, I heard the two of them talking about how proud they were and that they couldn't believe it. I put them against a black seamless and said, "Just act like the two of you love each other." They were laughing and so excited about it, and we had this experience together. After that day, it just changed everything in regards to the studio. I decided to keep it and work through the bad times. That image has a significant meaning - both personally and professionally. They looked like two young kids connecting and I just never saw them in that light before, so that photo is definitely pretty amazing. 

What have you been listening to lately? 
I've fallen in love with Banks recently. I saw her live here in New York and thought she was incredible. I've also been listening to this band Deers, they put out a couple of singles and they're really good…and White Lung also - they're sick.

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