Last week we profiled photographer AboveGround and this week it’s the turn of Anthony Harrison. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to profile some of the talented photographers who participated and had their work shortlisted by our judges, including Rankin, Shygirl, Jill Furmanovsky, Moses Sumney, Sacha Lecca, Dana Scruggs and Simon Wheatley.
Photographer spotlight: Anthony Harrison
“Always be passionate, honest and sincere in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. If you’re not enjoying it – stop.” - Anthony Harrison
Our second article in this series shines a light on photographer Anthony Harrison, who was a finalist in the MPA category Live (category supported by Philips).
This category tasked photographers with capturing the image that defined live music in 2021. Locked down or not, the music played on. From the undeniable electricity of a small venue and the euphoria of a returning festival, to the intimate connection between artist and audience, these are the photographs that show us what live music means to the photographer.
Anthony Harrison is committed to seeing the change in something over time not overnight. For the last four years he’s worked with various artists such as Liam Gallagher, Foals and Johnny Marr as well as different record labels and artist management companies.
A person with an eye for detail and a commitment to the expression of passion, we decided to find out a little more about his journey through the industry as well as his approach to the camera.
How did you fall into photography, and music photography specifically?
I was always a frustrated creative. Had always been searching for my 'thing'. As a kid it was drawing, guitar as a teenager, but I could only ever recreate others work and not really create my own style.
Fast forward to my early/mid 20s and I used to love going to gigs and taking pictures on my (at the time rubbish!) camera phone. I would be fascinated after the gig looking at my shots and remembering completely the connection I had at the time that compelled me to take them.
I could never afford a proper camera to indulge this so just left it as a pipe dream. Then in 2017 I was made redundant from my job and with the redundancy money thought ‘it’s now or never’.
I’m a firm believer that in any crisis there is also an opportunity so that’s what I created by doing this. I bought a Canon 750d and a few lenses (still to this day the only camera and lenses I own).
I didn’t have a clue how to use it but I adored the creative freedom I now had – I could shoot what I wanted, how I wanted, and by not knowing ‘the rules of photography’ I had no boundaries.
I was always curious how those photographers in the pit would get their fancy looking passes and get so close to the stage. I’m one of those that would queue for an hour before the show to ensure I could get to the front of the barrier, then these photographers would show up 10 minutes before the show and end up IN FRONT of the barrier?? Sign me up! I got my hustle on and eventually found myself with my first official photo pass – Young Fathers (my favourite band) at Manchester Ritz on 23 March, 2018. The night that changed my life.
From the first shot I instantly I knew I’d finally found my thing. The band are simply outstanding live and it was a real baptism of fire shooting in manual learning about shutter speeds, low light situations and exposure, but I LOVED it. Everything clicked (pardon the pun).
And was there a particular image or body of work that was a major inspiration when starting out?
I believe I was very fortunate to discover music at a time when the internet wasn’t a thing, so everything was acquired physically. It was great buying an album and going through the inner sleeve, looking at all the artwork and images. Microdots record sleeves in the 90s were sublime. All the Oasis and The Verve record sleeves came beautifully packaged. Chris Floyd’s full band, black and white shot, of The Verve in the inner sleeve to Urban Hymns, still to this day, is one of my favourite music photographs.
My older brother also had a poster of Bob Marley in his bedroom (apologies but don’t know the photographer) that always fascinated me. He was so photogenic and from an early age it made me appreciate the power of a good portrait shot.
Jill Furmanovsky’s fly-on-the-wall work with Oasis always fascinated me too. You could tell there was a connection there and she was just allowed to blend into their surroundings as she captured so many natural and real moments. I love her fly-on-the-wall work with them.
What makes a good subject in music photography and what makes a good music photographer?
A good subject – someone with a good story. Who are they? What has brought them to where they are today? It's good to have an idea of something beforehand to help inform any decisions you may want to take the shoot.
A good photographer – someone who is respectful of their subject and environment and appreciates the potential they have to do something special each and every time they press their shutter. It doesn’t always happen but having that excitement within that the next shot could be ‘the one’ is a great energy.
What advice would you give to someone getting started?
My mantra to myself is always be passionate, honest and sincere in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. If you’re not enjoying it – stop. Don’t force it, let it happen naturally.
My biggest one is do your own thing, don’t compare your work to others. Even if someone is stood right next to you in the pit they will still never capture the same shot you take.
My camera and lenses, relatively, are quite cheap. Some photographers I see probably use lens wipes that cost more than my whole kit combined. It's easy to get intimidated and feel inferior but the camera is just the medium, you’re the one that sees the beauty, the interesting angle, the intrigue, not the camera. No amount of extra megapixels and expensive kit will make up for a good eye. My analogy of it is - I could give Nile Rodgers my very first cheap, left handed, falling apart acoustic guitar and he could give me his Fender ‘hit maker’ and I guarantee he will still make a better tune on my guitar than I would on his.
Also, if you don’t ask you don’t get! The worst thing someone can say to a request is no. The best thing that can happen is they say yes and you have the greatest experience of your life. I vouch for this completely because it's happened to me and my camera numerous times!
How does your approach differ when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?
It doesn’t really. I haven’t really done a lot of one on ones (definitely want to move into that world though) but of the ones I have everything boils down to how much time you’re given.
If I’m allowed to take just one shot, it will generally be a quick portrait capture. If I’m given half a day then let's just experiment. The process is the same regardless of up and coming versus established.
Do you think there’s a genre of music that naturally lends itself to powerful portrait photography?
I think it’s always down to the artist rather than the genre. Every song deals with the truths of life in varying ways. You can have some folk musician with a massive beard and cool shades who bares their soul through their music and can gift you a real and gritty portrait without even trying. But then you could also photograph some ultra pop star that just sings the songs they’re given but has a whole other story to tell.
I think treat everyone individually and try to capture their truth.
Do you have a preference of working on location/on tour vs in a studio? How easy is it to create “tour energy” in a studio? How easy is it to get “studio focus” on tour/on location?
I have to be honest – It’s always really cool being backstage/side of stage/hanging out with an artist. Generally I’m there to just be a fly on the wall so the pressure is off in a way as I’m reacting and just letting things be. There’s usually an excitement in the air that’s fun to capture and it's easier to say “oh just stand there for one sec” click.
In the studio it’s a different beast as you’re now creating rather than reacting. The focus is on you and your ideas. Once people start looking at their watch the vibe can start to drop rapidly.
Have your ideas beforehand, if you’re going to experiment show some examples and explain your approach.
How does the photographic process differ between working with introverts and extroverts?
Being an introvert myself I can totally appreciate the awkwardness that comes from having my photograph taken. So my approach is to try and not take up too much time, be respectful and responsive to how people react to your ideas. If they say no, onto the next idea. I’d rather leave a
shoot someone’s friend than enemy.
Working with extroverts can be great as they will usually have some of their own ideas or be happy to indulge in your own. It takes the pressure off slightly for sure.
Have you ever been star struck when photographing someone? How do you overcome that?
I’ve always had anxiety issues and can be very shy and I use my photography to help combat this actually. Because I know I’m ok at it I talk myself into situations where I know I will be tested and then see how I react and snap my way out of it.
I got to spend the day with Bill Ryder- Jones a few years ago photographing backstage, sound check, fly-on-the-wall and had asked beforehand if I could possibly have 10 minutes or so to do a one on one, which was approved. Cut to those 10 minutes and we went outside the venue and it was now night time, no natural light, my off-camera flash decided to just stop working and I was too star struck to explain ‘actually mate, let’s give this a miss, I’m struggling a bit here’. I felt like I was letting everyone down, so we tried some shots but it just wasn’t working. From that whole day the shots that worked were the ones that weren’t taken in those 10 minutes.
After the gig I decided to explain to Bill I was a bit overwhelmed and, because he’s the soundest guy in the world, he of course stopped and listened and most importantly understood and told me, rightly, not to worry about it at all. He’s a real talent and has been a massive supporter of my work. I learnt from all this it’s good to be honest with people and just talk.
How has social media shaped music photography, both as a craft more generally, as well as your personal work?
I decided when starting out in music photography I was going to do things under my own name, not work for magazines or online music pages, and try and work as directly with artists as possible. Not easy when you don’t have a body of work. Without social media I have to be honest I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today. The reach is literally global as soon as you hit ‘post’.
The opportunity to connect with artists direct has played a massive part in me making connections and, at times beautifully, friends with the people I’ve shot.
If you want to build an audience social media holds almost all of the keys today. The downside however is the ‘fast food’ mentality of it where people expect something great every time they log in. It does create a pressure to feel you have to be regular and consistent with your uploads but I’m past that. Sometimes I’ll post 3 shots a day, others none. My following is quite low so I just post what I want when I want.
Who is someone, alive or dead, you’d love to photograph?
Alive – Lee Mavers (The La’s). My favourite songwriter. Hes a literal genius with melody and his songs mean so much to me. He infamously also isn’t really involved in the music game anymore so I like the challenge of ‘how could I make this happen?’.
My ultimate though would have to be Young Fathers. The first band I shot live from the photo pit and my favourite band in general, it would be a beautiful way to close my photography loop by getting them in front of my camera and directing them what to do, as opposed to first starting out and just capturing what they did on stage.
Dead – David Bowie, obviously. Those different coloured eyes! From any angle he just had it didn’t he?
Jeff Buckley, too, was an incredibly photogenic person. I literally haven’t seen a bad photo of him. He and my favourite photographer, Steve Gullick, actively did a shoot where they went against type and got some purposefully ‘ugly’ and unflattering shots of him and they're still amazing.
In one word, how would you describe your photography?
How did it feel to be nominated in the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards 2022?
Genuinely one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me. It felt like an accumulation of goodwill and recognition. I’m quite hard on myself at times but to have Abbey Road Studios and the judging panel give me a nod of approval, that part of my brain just couldn’t argue. Just thinking of it again now makes my hairs stand on end. Beautiful.
Why do you think it is important to create a platform like the MPAs to showcase music photography?
I think most photographers, especially up and coming, would agree we get the short end of the stick most of the time and are under appreciated and under valued. Some bands let the music do all the talking but music photography can become iconic and, at times, synonymous with the artists.
The visuals most often lead campaigns. Before a few notes of music have been heard you may see teasers on social media or fly posters and the imagery leads that.
An image can have as much impact as a song. When the two come together it can create a perfect synergy and just elevate the whole thing.
Have there been any benefits to you since being nominated?
It's certainly benefited how my portfolio looks!
Really it did my confidence a world of good if I’m honest. I struggle with imposter syndrome and feel I don’t deserve some of the opportunities I get, but this felt like a kind of validation. I was invited to Abbey Road Studios on merit. That sentence alone makes me well up.
For doing my photography the way I do it, unaffiliated, I think definitely having the accolade of being a nominee for the very first MPAs will forever be a benefit.
What have you been doing since the awards? And what do you hope is next?
I’ve been shooting as many gigs as I can as standard but I’m really hoping to one day do my photography professionally full time. Currently it’s just a passion project but I hope more doors can open from this.
A few weeks after the MPAs I was back on a train to London as Michael Kiwanuka invited me personally to photograph the final show of his tour at Alexandra Palace after I’d taken a live image of him a few weeks earlier that he really liked. He’s one of my favourite ever artists so this was just an immense buzz to meet him and his live band afterwards.
Only a few weeks later I found myself photographing another of my favourite bands, The Music, who had reformed after over a decade away to play a one off reunion show. I was their official photographer for the day, looking down at my AAA pass blew my mind every time. That was
incredible. They have used my shots from that show as the artwork for their live album of this gig. Very proud of that.
I’ve become friends with Stephen Fretwell through my photography, another one of my favourite-ever songwriters, and spent an afternoon with him getting some shots before a recent gig on his Busy Guy tour.
Most recently I had the absolute honour to be Abbey Road Studios' Chief Creative Advisor Nile Rodgers and CHIC's photographer across their two dates at The Piece Hall in Halifax and then I was invited a week later to get some more shots of them at Lytham Festival. That was the most nerve racked I’ve ever been as I’m such a fan. He’s so cool but it was great to meet him and he even suggested I take his picture one-on-one (even though I was there as a fly-on-the-wall) so that was a real moment. Getting to be with Nile and the band backstage before the shows, then stand on the stage itself and take shots was just a dream. To be trusted to come back for another gig was another very proud moment.
So since the awards I’ve quite literally had the time of my life!