MPA Spotlight: An Interview With AboveGround

MPA Spotlight: An Interview With AboveGround

In 2022, Abbey Road Studios launched the inaugural Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards; the first ever awards to celebrate the art of music photography and the talent behind the lens.

MPA Spotlight: An Interview With AboveGround

In 2022, Abbey Road Studios launched the inaugural Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards; the first ever awards to celebrate the art of music photography and the talent behind the lens.

The competition ran across a series of distinct categories, with winners selected by a panel of photographers, music artists and creatives. The awards recognised 2021’s most unforgettable, unique and unsung music moments and the varied and talented photographers who captured them.

Shortlisted emerging & professional photographers were celebrated at an exclusive awards ceremony, hosted at Abbey Road Studios. The winners were unveiled and celebrated at an official MPAs ceremony, hosted at Abbey Road Studios.

Over the coming weeks, we will be profiling 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.

MPA Spotlight: AboveGround

Our first post in this series shines a light on photographer AboveGround, who was nominated for the following two categories:

‘Championing Scenes (supported by Hennessy)’
This award shone a spotlight on the importance of the grassroots movements by celebrating the photographers documenting subcultural music scenes around the world.

‘Artist At Work’
A category aimed at capturing a moment of creativity at work, the beating heart and truth of making music. – in the studio, on stage, behind-the-scenes.

AboveGround developed his style in London but fully bodied it in New York, becoming heavily involved in the city’s underground and hip-hop scenes. Embracing a docu-street aesthetic, the concept of which has evolved and become more versatile, has seen the artist working on music videos and live shows for 6lack, Burnaboy, DJ Premier, Method Man, Da$H and more.

We recently spoke to the talent behind the lens to find out a little more on his journey through the industry as well as his approach.

How did you fall into photography, and music photography specifically?

When I moved to the UK from my first home, Lithuania, at the age of 19, I was on a mission to find purpose. I was working a pretty joyless factory job in Norwich when I bought my first camera back in 2014, and the world stopped for a second -- it felt like I’d found a treasure map, I just had to figure out which direction I was going and where to dig.

A year or so later, I quit working at the factory and committed all my time to documenting things around me: the music scene, graffiti and some other "street-related activities". It’s been nonstop ever since.

I remember penning emails in broken English to music venues asking for photo passes, which led to shooting UK rap shows. It was around that time that I also got into directing music videos. I followed my instincts from Norwich to London, and started travelling to NYC on a regular basis. That’s when things really began to escalate. It was all about music and believing that with my camera I had the ability to give those sounds an image.
It became an obsession.

What makes a good subject in music photography and what makes a good music photographer?

Simply put: a good situation. Also not constantly stopping to look at the pictures while shooting. That applies for both sides of the camera.

How do you communicate musicality/musical identity through portraiture?

My goal is to preserve the moment, I don't think about communication that much. It’s up to the audience to decide what they want to take away from my photographs. I press the shutter and I let it go.

How does the process differ in music portraiture when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?

The only thing that separates the two is catering on set.

Do you think there’s a genre of music that naturally lends itself to powerful portrait photography?

80s Pop maybe? Most of the records from that era seem to have incredibly dramatic portraiture. I love the washed out colour tones, the diffused highlights, and their poses. I’m starting to see that aesthetic come back. I love it when it’s done well. I’m all here for it.

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 always been a guy on the move, so touring wins in this case. Studio shoots are my least favourite. They’re too comfortable and follow a step-by-step protocol too much. I don’t think tour energy can be replicated. Artists look different after living on a bus for a month straight. The pictures in most cases paint themselves.

How does the photographic process differ between working with introverts and extroverts?

It’s an exchange program. When the room goes quiet you make the noise & when the room is chaotic you take advantage of the situation.

Have you ever been starstruck on set? How do you overcome that?

Never experienced that. I haven’t photographed Phil Collins or Sade yet though so that's probably why.

How has social media shaped music photography, both as a craft more generally, as well as your personal work?

It’s hard for me to say because I might fall into the social media generation of photographers. I don’t really know how it worked before social media was a thing.

When I started, Instagram was already out there. I was very hesitant to use it for a long time, then I finally got on it and everything skyrocketed. It became almost like a global business card for creatives. As much as I hate it, I know for a fact that I would never be in this position if it wasn’t for the internet. It opened many doors and flew me a bunch of places. I think the scene is oversaturated, but that's not a complaint, just an opinion.

Who is someone, alive or dead, you’d still love to photograph?

Viktor Tsoi from Kino, Phil Collins, Gang Starr, MF DOOM, Ye, Dr Dre, Frank Sinatra, Radiohead, Bjork, Prodigy of Mobb Deep, Britney Spears and, of course, Sade.

In one word, how would you describe your photography?