Photo Spotlight

Photographer Spotlight: Chad Sengstock

Chad Sengstock is a staple of the Southern California music scene. In addition to singing and playing guitar in punk outfit Cross-Check, Chad is also a well-known photographer. During the day, he's the lead photographer for Hot Topic, Inc., shooting brand imagery for the website and for in-store promotions, as well as National campaigns.

Lately, Chad has also been working on a personal project called, The Faces of Music, a portrait series featuring individuals involved in the music scene, and you can pick up the book here.

It's my pleasure to welcome Chad to the Photographer Spotlight series.

Where were you born and raised, and were your parents into the arts?

I was born and raised in Fullerton, CA. My dad taught music in elementary schools for the Pomona Unified School District. He was most kids’ first introduction to music/playing music. I grew up going to a lot of musicals and symphonies. My dad was more into classical, jazz, and musicals, but my mom would also listen to the golden oldies on the radio, so some of my favorite music as a kid was early rock 'n' roll and Beethoven [laughs]. My first CD purchases were an acapella group and the Jurassic Park soundtrack. My dad was into photography and would always shoot our family vacations, but I credit my grandma (my dad’s mom) more for my interest in photography. She always had a camera in her hand, just capturing our family events/travels. Seemed like no matter what it was, she had her camera at the ready. It annoyed me at the time, but it is a memory that always stuck with me.

Title Fight at the Chain Reaction, Anaheim, CA, 2012. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

What came first, your love for music, or your love for photography?

Definitely my love of music. I started playing trumpet and piano in elementary school. I kept playing trumpet through my freshman year of high school. I would have kept playing, but I really disliked the band director, so I quit the school band, picked up a bass and started my first punk band. We were terrible, but it was my first taste of being in a band and I was hooked. I have been in bands ever since. I also took my first photo class my freshman year of high school (1995). I learned how to roll/develop/print my own photos. To fulfill some of my class assignments, I started taking a little point-n-shoot camera to whatever concert I was going to. I would snap a few photos, then stage dive and mosh. At the time, photos were secondary to enjoying the show. I would take my film back to the school’s darkroom and develop the photos and turn in my assignment.

Embodyment at the Showcase Theatre, Corona, CA, circa late '90s. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

I think it was the process of printing my own photos that really helped me fall in love with photography. To see your image appear on a blank piece of paper is a really amazing experience. I started going to more and more shows throughout high school and I always had my camera. Soon I was more excited to shoot photos than mosh and stage dive. I fell in love with capturing that single moment in time that captured the raw energy and passion of the music I loved.

How did you discover hardcore/punk?

I credit my grandma again. She mistakenly gave me my first hardcore CD (Unashamed, Silence) for Christmas instead of to my brother who had asked for it. So, naturally, being the kindhearted brother that I am, I kept the CD and started listening to it to it to make my brother mad. I didn’t care for it much at first, but it really started to grow on me. I was really being fed music by my brother who is two years older than me. He and his friends were really into all of the Tooth and Nail bands from the mid-'90s. So out of his library of music, I gravitated towards MxPx, Blenderhead, focused, Overcome, Unashamed, and the first band I ever moshed to, The Crucified.

Point of Recognition at the Showcase Theatre, Corona, CA, 1999. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

I would say that my first hardcore show was thanks to my brother too. It was The Crucified’s farewell show and focused and EDL opened for them. I stood in awe of the mosh pit and was totally scared. And then when The Crucified starting playing their song, “The Pit,” my brother, being the loving brother that he is, threw me into the mosh pit. I was hooked ever since then. I had never connected to music in such a way before. My friends at that time had also discovered Sex Pistols, Black Flag, 7 Seconds and Minor Threat. Out of all the bands that I was listening to, my first band wanted to be 7 Seconds and Minor Threat. I still wish I could sound like those bands.

XTRMST at The Roxy, Hollywood, CA, 2015. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

Who were some of the photographers you looked up to during your formative years? Were there any music-related photographers you followed?

To be honest, I didn’t really aspire to be like any photographer. I didn’t really look up to any photographers. I loved the photos of the bands I liked, but rarely looked at who took the photos. I feel like the interest in the photographers themselves came later on. Even then, I didn’t really want to be like any particular photographer. Now, I look back on the photos of Glen E. Friedman, Jim Marshall, Richard E. Aaron, and the like and really admire what they were able to capture. Truly iconic images.

H2O at The Roxy, Hollywood, CA, 2011. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

What is your camera and post set up?

These days, I always try and barrow gear from work. We have the Canon 5D MKIIIs and some decent lenses. I personally have the Canon 7D. My favorite lens is my Canon 15mm 2.8 fisheye. Love that lens. I am a PC guy. I don’t like Macs. I think they are a waste of money. I use Adobe Bridge to sort through my photos and then edit everything in Lightroom.

Wonder Woman for Hot Topic, 2017. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

Who are some of your favorite bands to shoot?

That’s a tough question. There have been many fun bands to shoot. I always love when a band’s energy matches their music. Foxy Shazam stands out to me. Their live show was incredible. H2O puts on a fun show. They have more energy than the crowd half the time. Tipper’s Gore, COP, and the rest of the Flat Black Records roster, and the OC hardcore scene in the mid-'00s was a blast to shoot. I have been blessed to shoot a lot of different kinds of bands, shows and genres at all different levels. I like different bands for different reasons. Some I like the people, some I like their energy, some I like their music and some I just think it’s cool I got to shoot them.

Foxy Shazam at the Slidebar, Fullerton, CA, 2012. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

Since you’ve also played in bands, has that helped inform what you do?

I think it does. I think it makes me respect a band’s space more. When I am playing, I certainly don’t want a camera up in my face, so I try and respect the band’s space. You need to let the band do their job too. They are more important than the photographer if you think about it. 

It’s weird. I kind of go in cycles. If I am in a band, I want to just focus on being in a band. I shoot a lot less when I am in a band and I don’t like bringing my camera to a show that I am playing. I just like to experience what it’s like to just be in a band. If I am not in a band, I tend to try and shoot more concerts. It comes down to the fact that I need to be involved in music in some way, but don’t have the time to do everything. I am married and have a son and being home with them is very important to me too.

Vitamin X, 2010. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

If you could go back in time, who are some bands that you would have loved to shoot?

The entire hardcore/punk/post-punk scene from the late '70s to early '90s. Both in DC and out here in Southern California. I guess, basically be Glen E. Friedman [laughs]. The early grunge scene would have been cool, or the early Sun Records roster. If I really had a time machine, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and the rest of the early composers. 

Trash Talk at Pomona Elks Lodge, Pomona, CA, 2008. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

What are the toughest aspects to shooting hardcore/punk shows?

Age. I’m getting too old for this crap [laughs]. Fighting crowds, terrible lighting, cellphone videographers/photographers, several other photographers, dodging stage divers and instruments, all of these things are hard and are annoying, but I think it is also what makes the experience. That brief moment when things align and you capture the image that captures the evening, none of those other things matter.

xDisciplex A.D. at the Showcase Theatre, Corona, CA, 2000. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

The toughest aspect of being a truly great punk/hardcore photographer is time. You really need to live and breathe the scene. The people that really, truly capture music scenes are the ones that are truly a part of that scene. There may be photographers that show up to random shows and get some good shots, but the photographers who are embedded in that scene are the ones who are going to get the iconic images that people will look back on.

Bad Reaction at Unity Church Basement, Long Beach, CA, 2009. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

Tell me about some newer bands that we should all be on the lookout for.

New bands? I still listen to what I listened to in high school and college… Facedown Records just put out albums by Deathbreaker and Nothing Left that I really like. Been listening to Attalus a lot and Kings Kaleidoscope. My band, Cross-Check, just released a full-length CD on Thumper Punk Records called, Drop the Gloves. I really like the last Touché Amoré record. Blood and Ink Records has been putting out a lot of good albums lately. Flatfoot 56 just released Odd Boat which I thought was really good. My wife doesn’t care for punk or hardcore very much, so we usually listen to the Lumineers or other indie music. If my son feels like dancing, we thrown on Raffi’s greatest hits.

7 Seconds at the Chain Reaction, Anaheim, CA, 2000. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

Who are some modern-day photographers that you admire?

I am thankful to know a lot of good photographers who are good people too. Lisa Johnson has been a huge for my Faces of Music series. Paul Hebert is a super-talented photographer. Chris Victorio, Timothy Norris, and Kevin Baldes are talented and are people I always like seeing in the pit. Nicole Lemberg, Allix Johnson, and Daniel Torres are some younger photographers that kill it. Megan Thompson, Furn Zavala, and Joseph Ipatzi are really good, too. A few killer tour photographers, Andy Barron, Jered Scott and Warwick Hughes. Dan Rawe and Rob Wallace really capture the scene well. These are just a few.

Andy Biersack for Hot Topic, 2014. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)

If you had to pick one of your photos that best encapsulates why you love shooting hardcore bands, which one would it by and why?

I don’t even know if I can answer that! There is one shot that I have had people comment on where a kid with his wrist in a cast is jumping over Davey from Tipper’s Gore into the crowd. I think it captures the hardcore spirit.  

Tipper's Gore at The Clinic, Santa Ana, CA, 2008. (Photo: Chad Sengstock)


Head to Chad's official website to see more of his work, and follow him on Instagram.

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