Photographer spotlight: An Interview With Riccardo Piccirillo

Photographer spotlight: An Interview With Riccardo Piccirillo

The nature of the subjects must be understood and respected, never altered. - Riccardo Piccirillo

Shortlisted Photo

Riccardo Piccirillo MPAs


Photographer spotlight: Riccardo Piccirillo

Riccardo Piccirillo

The nature of the subjects must be understood and respected, never altered. - Riccardo Piccirillo

Italian photographer Riccardo Piccirillo has been taking photos for the past 12 years and finds it to be a good way of combining his two passions, music and photography. In 2011 Riccardo photographed Ruthie Foster and one of his images became the cover of an international magazine as well an EP. It was at this point Riccardo knew that all he wanted to do was take photos of musicians.

His photographs have been published in national and international newspapers, trade magazines, and can be found in four contemporary art catalogues and on many vinyls and CDs. He collaborates with Nikon as a moderator of the Nikon Club and was even a speaker at TEDx in Caserta. In 2021 he published il Silenzio che c’è fuori, a book about his first 10 years of work as a photographer.

We recently sat down with him to speak about what it was like to be shortlisted for the Zeitgeist Award at our inaugural Music Photography Awards, his experience within the industry so far and his approach to the lens.



How did you fall into music photography specifically?

My first love is music. Frankly, the right question should be: how did photography become a part of your music? As a former blues guitar player, I used to spend all of my money and time on collecting records, magazines and music books.

In the video below, I explain who I am and how I got into photography.


And was there a particular image or body of work that was a major inspiration when starting out?

Yes, of course. My first inspirations were album covers and music magazines. When I was a kid, I used to cut out photos of my favourite musicians from magazines which I would then collate into an album. There were photos by Art Kane, Gered Mankowitz, Guido Harari, Jim Marshall, Annie Leibovitz and many other legends of music photography.

These photos and my album of cutout images from popular magazines sparked my initial interest.


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

Any music lover can be a good subject, try to take a self portrait while you're listening to music and you will produce a good subject.

A good music photographer has to believe in the music and project they are shooting. They have to be a music expert and have a good cultural background. This is true for any genre of photography, in any photo you can see if the photographer has a good knowledge of the subjects.


What advice would you give to someone getting started?

Do not try to emulate or copy other photos or other photographers. Try to let your personality come out. Do not rush things and do not give into the fear that nobody will care, even if the photos are well made.

Listen to a lot of music and buy a lot of books by the greatest photographers. Before attending a photo session, I always skim through the best books I own which were written by great photographers. By doing this I refresh my eyes through stunning photos.



How does your approach differ when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?

I prefer to work with upcoming talent. I love to work with future stars and I try to capture what will become their first iconic image. My contribution is fundamental and I can also experiment with something new as it's a more creative and funnier process.

Established artists know exactly what they need and it is more difficult to persuade them to change something.


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

No, I believe that a portrait is always necessary and powerful, even if you are a nun singing gospel music instead of a glam rock star.

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 feel more comfortable in my studio where I can control the lights and I can concentrate more on the expressions and poses of my subjects. When I am in my studio, I know that if I manage to get an iconic shot, it will be on my own merit.

When I shoot a live concert, I am focused on capturing the performance which limits my creativity. In a live concert, if I capture an iconic shot, my own contribution will be only partial.

To create tour energy in a studio? Sometimes I ask my subjects to play something for me. I prefer to ask this only after we have become comfortable with each other. In these cases, I take a few shots and get something good out of it but my goal is not to simulate or recreate a stage set or a concert atmosphere. I simply let the picture tell the emotions of the musicians while they express themselves.

Trying to get “studio focus” on tour or on location? I do not think it is necessary, I believe we should portray exactly how the musicians behave in these settings. In any event, if it is really needed, I can change the ambiance and recreate a small studio setting of sorts with what I find there. In these instances, I like to improvise and use what I can find to tell a different tale.



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

The answer to this question may seem trivial but it is not. A good portrait photographer must always be knowledgable of who is standing before them and must try to capture their character or, even better, their music.

The meeting between the photographer and the subject is a tale in itself, it is an event, and if there are introverted subjects in front of the camera, the photographer can use their shyness as a fundamental aspect of their art. In short, the nature of the subjects must be understood and respected, never altered, one should never try to transform an introvert into an extrovert or vice versa.

Working with introvert subjects may be more stimulating and it certainly takes more energy to make them feel at ease. I make them more aware of what we are doing, I show them the pictures we take and I reassure them about the positive outcome of our work but I don't want them to change their personality, I only do this to improve the final result.

Extroverts are harder to control so I often end our shoot by letting them be free to do what they want. I let the extroverted subjects decide on the last shots.


Have you ever been starstruck when photographing someone? How do you overcome that?

It's never happened to me, even with the greatest or most self-centred subjects. I am stubborn and I must achieve my goals. After all, we are both there to get the best result, are we not?


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

It is a true revolution. Nowadays I always catch myself being mindful of social media formats and sizes when shooting, trying to think about what will be most suitable and attract the most engagement.

Social media is the best way for fans to keep up to date with their idols. Pictures and videos offer the best possible platform to get an insight into the lives of their idols. A photographer that works in the music industry cannot ignore the rules imposed by social media.

One of the artists I captured recently had to change the cover of his record because Facebook did not allow it to be sponsored. Social media has changed photography the same way Spotify has changed music. We must adapt in a smart way. I like to see how communication is evolving and I don't want to miss one single step of it.



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

It is a very long list but it certainly includes all of my music idols and there really is an awful lot of them. I would have loved to take a portrait shot of Robert Johnson, after all, there are only two known pictures of him.


In one word, how would you describe your photography?

Suspended.


How did it feel to be nominated in the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards 2022?

A strong emotion, an acknowledgment of my dedication and my passion for both photography and music.



Why do you think it is important to create a platform like the MPAs to showcase music photography?

I am really happy when the promoters of music photography come from the music industry rather than from photography. Platforms like these lend nobility and credit to a photographic genre that has not always gotten the space it deserves.


Have there been any benefits to you since being nominated?

Yes, I have received requests for photo shoots in the studio from a lot of previously undecided customers. For the first time, an artist that had never seen even one of my pictures called me to request a photo shoot. I did not accede to his request as he had chosen me only because of my nomination.


What have you been doing since the awards? And what do you hope is next?

I have had many new meetings and I have done photo shoots for three album covers. I would like to renovate my studio and organise a big exhibition with all of my work.