Angelo Rossi is an Des Moines-based photographer who is one of his local hardcore scene's biggest supporters. With places like LA, NYC, and Boston boasting a healthy amount of photographers capturing live shows, it's not always the case in other cities, so Angelo's work is important. You need people like him collecting these images for posterity.
Yes, I'm a fan of his, so that's why I invited Angelo to the site's Photographer Spotlight series.
Where were you born and raised, and were your parents into the arts?
I was born and raised in Des Moines, IA. My parents had their musical tastes growing up, and my dad dabbled in photography when he was younger, but by the time I was born they had both settled into their jobs. They were both supportive in their own way of anything my siblings or I wanted to do, but they weren't "into the arts" to the extent I am now.
What came first, your love for music, or your love for photography?
My love for music came first. I bought my first camera in 2010, but I had been a big fan of music and especially metal music for years before that.
What was your first musical love?
The first band I fell in love with that would set the course of my musical taste for the future was Avenged Sevenfold. I think it was during 2005 in middle school, a friend of mine gave me a burned copy of Waking the Fallen, and that album totally blew everything else I had listened to before that point, out of the water. I had just never heard anything that sounded like "Unholy Confessions" before. The intro riff, the leads, the double bass, the breakdown. To make a long story short, that was my introduction into metal music, and everything else came with time. My tastes have evolved far beyond that album, but I'll never forget that it was the springboard into heavy music.
Who were some of the photographers you looked up to during your formative years?
I never had any particular individuals that I looked up to when it comes to style, but I've always had a couple of close peers that have helped me develop ideas. My good friend Kipp is a photographer, and although he shoots different styles of photography than I do, his love for and philosophy regarding the field has always served as an inspiration for my own discipline. In addition to Kipp, my best friend Saul is an artist who has always been there for me when I needed constructive criticism. His eye and knowledge of aesthetics is invaluable.
What is your camera and post set up?
I shoot with a Nikon D750, and a variety of lenses depending on the setting or look I want. At any given show I'll bring along a 20mm 1.8, 50mm 1.8, and the NIKKOR 10.5mm fisheye (I've thought about the 16mm FX lens but I've read that it has twice the minimum focus distance so I'll need to try it out first - my 10.5mm does just fine for now). I also bring my SB-910 speedlight to just about every show. If I'm shooting at a larger show, I have a NIKKOR 24-70mm 2.8 that I bring. I edit my photos in Lightroom. Most of the time I shoot with the intent of having to do as little editing as possible, because I don't have a lot of time to worry about getting colors or contrast a particular way, but sometimes you need to put in a little more time to "save" an image. I think it's always good to shoot in RAW for concerts because you never know how drastically you may need to work with your photos to get the result you want.
In terms of your non-musical photo work, what kind of stuff do you do?
Especially in the colder months, concerts comprise the vast majority of what I shoot, just because concerts tend to be the reason I leave the house regularly to begin with. When the weather warms up and I can comfortably spend more time outside, I like to shoot whatever I come across in my daily life. Typically those sorts of photos fall under the style of street or still life photography, but really I just take photos of what I see. I don't do commercial work like portraits or weddings, unless a friend hits me up for work.
Who are some of your favorite bands to shoot?
I love bands that bring their own lights to place on the stage behind them. I've seen Problem of Pain do that when they played Des Moines, and I know Orthodox does it. That sort of stage setup blends well with the photos I like to take and makes for really dynamic photos that are also easy to shoot. Any band that moves around is good to shoot. If you're a metal or hardcore band, looking at your fret board the entire time you play doesn't tend to make for interesting photos.
If you could go back in time, who are some bands that you would have loved to shoot?
It'd be insane to shoot Slipknot back when they were still playing 200-300 cap venues, basically shows without barricades. There's a lot of bands that I would have loved to shoot at that size of crowd. Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge... I've always wanted to see the Locust, and I bet that would make for some good photos. I know I just said that standing still doesn't tend to make for good photos, but sometimes when a particular band is stationary, it can allow for greater creative exploration in photos.
What are the toughest aspects to shooting live shows?
For me, the toughest aspect is overcoming my own anxiety. I prefer a style of photography that is closer and more intimate (remember my primary lens is a 10.5mm fisheye), but that style is at odds with my fear of coming across as annoying, either to the bands or people watching the show. I'm afraid of sticking my neck out, so to speak. For a long time this was a prominent issue for me, and probably caused me to miss a few shots that would have been great. I've gotten better about this over the last year or so, because people know me, I know a lot of people at local shows, and everyone knows that I'm out here getting good photos for all of us to enjoy - which is what matters most at the end of the day.
Tell me about some newer bands that we should all be on the lookout for.
All from the Iowa area: My good friend Trevor Baker performs as Voiddweller, which I would say is about 65% noise and 35% rap. He's rather prolific and the quality of his music is very good for being so DIY. I helped film a music video for a song of his that may or may not be up by the time this article is published.
Keep an eye out for Snakes. Artorias is a band a little east from my area that plays very fast, furious, and heavy music that borrows influence from hardcore, powerviolence, and grindcore. Their debut EP, Rout, is on their Bandcamp now and it absolutely rips.
Blood Spell is from my city and plays a very heavy brand of doom metal. They have an EP which will likely be out by the time this is published. Traffic Death has been around the area for a minute but they are another band that just straight up rip. Their genre is hard to pin down but they explicitly make nods to old school thrash, grind, punk, and sometimes doom.
Last but most certainly not least, Closet Witch is probably the most important band that Iowa has right now. Their hype has only been building over the last two and a half years since I've found out about them, and it's been tremendous to watch them along the way. They play a very unique and personal style of grindcore and have tours coming up soon with Euth and Cloud Rat, in addition to their debut full length which is out June 12th.
Who are some modern-day photographers that you admire?
I really admire the work ethic and the creative output of Errick Easterday, who is probably the most stellar and most established photographer in certainly the Midwest hardcore scene, and hopefully soon the country. His style is unmistakable and always on point, he stays true to his vision and the bands he loves, and is a phenomenal videographer as well. Undeniably an individual who lives their craft and lives for the lens.
If you had to pick one of your photos that best encapsulates why you love shooting bands/artists, which one would it by and why?
Probably my photo of Closet Witch in this article. Those who have been following me have probably seen that particular image enough (it's the cover of the second volume of my photozine, What You May Have Missed) but to me it stands as a genuine testament to what it is I choose to do. When Closet Witch played 80/35, I had been following them for about a year and a half. I pulled hard for them to play what may have seemed like an out of the ordinary fest for them, but people believed in the vision, and them playing on that stage felt like a major moment in the groundswell of support this state has for them. I'm a photographer, but first and foremost, I am a fan of the music. And as a fan of the music and a friend to the band, nothing made me happier than seeing them get that break and being there for that moment.
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