Music photographer James Marcus Haney chats career pathways, shooting live shows and his new book FANATICS
09.12.2020

Music photographer James Marcus Haney chats career pathways, shooting live shows and his new book FANATICS

Words by Will Brewster

James Marcus Haney isn't your average music photographer.

While in college, the LA-based cameraman would assume the guise of a press photographer in order to sneak into music festivals with his friends, which led to the creation of No Cameras Allowed: a  documentary that saw Haney capture his experiences sneaking into Bonnaroo and Coachella that subsequently took the internet by storm.

Shortly thereafter, Haney found himself on the road as the live photographer for Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ Railroad Revival Tour, kicking down the door for his career and making him one of the most in-demand live photographers in the country.

Ten years, 35 countries and hundreds of concerts later, Haney is now sharing a collection of his photography in the new book FANATICS: a collection of images that eschews the action onstage in favour of celebrating those who make it all possible in the first place – the fans.

Captured over the span of a decade touring alongside the likes of Elton John, Coldplay, Metallica, The Strokes, Maggie Rogers and more, FANATICS serves as a fascinating ode to the sheer ecstasy of a live music experience, and one that’s all too poignant in today’s age of live-streams and sit-down shows. It’s a celebration of the mud, sweat and tears that defines the experience of the festival as we know it today, as well as a lament to the sex, drugs and shenanigans we indulge in while exploring our own live music utopias – even if it is just for a weekend.

To find out more about FANATICS, as well as his own experiences with concert photography and the music industry at large, we lined up a chat with James Marcus Harvey to look through his lens and celebrate the inimitable experience of live music once again.

 

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Hey James!! Tell us about how you first got into concert photography, and how you got to where you are today. 

Well, I couldn’t afford to go to concerts or music festivals in college, so I would sneak in to them. After using “borrowed” cameras from film school to help me pretend I was supposed to be there filming, I started making some short documentaries about sneaking into music festivals.

I handed a DVD of one to a roadie of a band that I loved and somehow ended up with them on tour the same week I was supposed to be taking my last final exams of college. I never ended up getting my degree, but did get a ride of a lifetime the ten years after college, seeing the world many times over with some of the most incredible artists on earth.

You ended up throwing in the prospect of a college degree in order to pursue your passion as a music photographer and hit the road. In hindsight, is that something you’d recommend for other burgeoning creatives to consider? 

I can’t blanket recommend either ditching a degree or staying in school.  Everyone’s situation is different.  The important thing to remember is where you’re going… For some, a degree is crucial (I definitely want any doctors or lawyers of mine to have at least a few degrees). But for arts-driven folks, what you create is what is important, not a degree. Sometimes the journey of getting a degree shapes what you make in a good way. Sometimes not.

Can you tell us a bit about the equipment you’re shooting on – are you using digital or analogue? What are the pros and cons of each?

I shoot both, a lot. Pros and cons are deep on both ends… Film has a look that you can’t get with digital, but is expensive and slow, so you may miss more moments. Digital has its own look that is more malleable, but allows you to shoot inexpensively and fast.

I really don’t subscribe to the film vs. digital debate. They are both tools in the toolbox, use either when the setting calls for it. You’re not cooler because you shoot on film. You don’t win any points in my book.  It’s about what’s in front of your camera, regardless of format, and what your frame is saying to someone.

 

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Over the last ten years, you’ve had the pleasure of shooting everyone from Metallica and The Strokes through to Kendrick Lamar, Coldplay and beyond. Is there any artist in particular who you enjoyed shooting the most, and is there any single shot that you’re proud of more than any other?

Ooooh, that’s a hard one. Boring answer is no and no. I’ve been wildly lucky to work with some crazy talented people and each have their own thing.

I don’t think I have a single favourite shot, they’re all equally fucking brilliant. I’m kidding. I try not to dwell too much on past work.

Further to that, what do you think constitutes a great shot? When you’re shooting, what do you look for onstage or in the audience to capture? 

Beyond the technical aspects of a photo (exposure, framing, blah blah blah), I think what makes a great photo and what I look for onstage or in an audience is some version of the word, “transcendence”. That sounds lame, but it doesn’t when you see it and feel it in a photograph. I’m not sure I’ve ever properly captured it yet, but it’s what drives me to keep hunting.

In addition to featuring photos of major touring artists, FANATICS also places an emphasis on the experiences of crowds baring witness to live music. Why was it that you chose to spotlight this aspect of the live music experience for this book?

The book actually doesn’t have any photos of artists in it.  Well, it has maybe two artists in it, but they aren’t the focus of the shots – the fans are. Without fans, there isn’t live music. They are as important to live music as the musicians.  I wanted to try and capture that feeling and energy that is tangible at a live show in book form.

Across the past decade, you’ve traveled to 35 countries to shoot bands at a number of major festivals and concerts around the world. What kind of observations have you made in that time about how the fans respond to live music from country to country? Who goes the hardest out of anyone?

Italy and Brazil. And Mexico. And it makes sense. The fieriest, most passionate, most crazy lovers also make the best music fans.

Finally – what are you most looking forward to at the next festival you attend? 

Honestly, just being smashed in the middle of a sea of people. Touching elbows with strangers. Sharing an intimate moment and singing my heart out with 80,000 people I’ll never see again. Feeling that thing that I took for granted pre-pandemic. Togetherness.

 

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Preorder FANATICS via Stop and Fix today.