Photographer Spotlights

Photographer Spotlight: Jonathan Velazquez

Jonathan Velazquez is a Southern California-based photographer who can be found covering shows up and down the coast. Though I learned about his work through the hardcore scene, his passion for all kinds of musical styles is evident in his portfolio. Meet Jonathan in this new Photographer Spotlight.

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

I was born in Tustin, CA. Around the age of four, my parents decided to move inland. We relocated towards the very edge of Riverside, next to Corona, in a suburban neighborhood where there were many children around my age. It made for a very nice place to have lived my childhood.

I wouldn’t say they had an active interest in the arts, but there was enough exposure to have shaped my interests. My father did not have much impact in that field. His work schedule, along with his daily commute out west, kept him occupied and out of the house for most of the day. He was very encouraging in the many avenues of my life, but art was not his world. He stuck to Hispanic radio and whatever was on television, though I have strangely come to learn over the years about his vast knowledge of movies that he’s accumulated because of that. He has me beat there. We eventually were able to create an artistic bond over landscape design as I grew older and gained a formal education on the subject. We can talk for hours about trees and plants. It’s our window into the world that we can both look through and appreciate.

My mother had a much larger influence on my interests in music and artistic expression. She liked pop music, with interest in rock and R&B as well. She drove me and my twin sister to and from school everyday, and we’d listen to the radio in the van. She’d let me buy CDs at the store, and I’d save up my allowance to continue purchasing music when something caught my attention. She’d drive me to my first few concerts, and let me venture off all over Southern California on my own soon after. She gave me more freedom than I think many of my friends were granted, which really helped me branch out. She even let me go on my first road trip (on my own) at the age of 18. How I managed to convince her that was a great idea, I can’t recall. She’d later influence my interest in cooking as well. We can talk about a lot of things, and I’m able to share what I do with her. I don’t think I’d be where I am now without that.

Egrets on Ergot at Tenants of the Trees, Los Angeles, CA, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

What was your first musical love? 

There was a period of time as I neared my teenage years where I was very much into rap and hip-hop, but something changed around the time I turned 13. I bought two CDs at Walmart: Tipsy, by Jkwon, and Ocean Avenue, by Yellowcard. Though I had been listening to the likes of Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, and many others on the radio growing up, this was my first active venture into guitar music. I immediately loved the album for its energy and emotion. I must have caught wind of them through it's lead single playing in the van, but I grew to celebrate this style of music. They would be the first band I’d see in concert. They played The Wiltern (LG) in 2006 during the Lights and Sounds tour.

This world amazed me, and I would pay more attention to the radio because of it. I’d learn to love bands like My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, Sugarcult, and what many others might consider to be the tolerable/classic side of pop punk/emo. I don’t think I ever went that far down the rabbit hole. The radio, flyers at concerts, and talking to my friends at school and at home kept me updated until I was able to use the internet to keep myself informed. My dive into more aggressive music didn’t happen until my late teens, and I’ve discovered even more music ever since.

Dangers at Pok Pok, Los Angeles, CA, 2017. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

What is your camera and post set up?

My primary camera is my Nikon D850. I use a D500 as my backup, and my old D7000 as a third camera for larger video projects. I keep both zoom and prime lenses for both my crop and full frame bodies, and an external flash for when the occasion strikes. I also carry a Zoom H6 recorder for audio. I prefer to keep my gear down to the essentials at shows.

I mainly use Lightroom for editing, with occasional trips to Photoshop, and Premiere Pro for video. I keep things within the Adobe Suite.

Self Defense Family (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

Who are some of your favorite bands to shoot?

That’s tough for me! There are many! A good portion of them happen to be bands that I am fortunate enough to call friends or be friendly with, so let the shout outs begin!

Self Defense Family, Drug Church, Spiritual Cramp, Fearing, King Woman, Miserable, Pllush, Gouge Away, Super Unison, Daughters, Lingua Ignota, Glaare, Black Mare, Regional Justice Center, Oxbow, Dangers, Entry, Ceremony, Royal Headache, Boris.

Spiritual Cramp at Programme Skate & Sound, Fullerton, CA, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

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

I don’t want to get too nostalgic, because there are an enormity of bands that I’d choose, but some friends of mine from back home like to tease me about a period of time where I’d tag along to many shows with them and later forget I was at. I’ve seen bands like Have Heart and Killing the Dream, but have very little recollection of it because I had no idea what was going on. Music like that didn’t click for me until later on. I wish I had been more conscious at that time, and even more so, I wish I had brought a camera to those shows, even if it was just a point and shoot at the time.

King Woman at Eli's Mile High Club, Oakland, CA, 2017. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

What are the toughest aspects to shooting live shows?

There are two halves to this answer. I’ll address the first here:

One of the toughest aspects for myself is keeping track of personal progression and myself. Because of my rabid interest in working with many bands, and continuing to work with them whenever they return to the area, I need to take into consideration the amount of content I’m creating for them, and how each batch differs from prior coverage. I like to bring something new to the table every time I work with a band. I want to be sure the quality increases, in one way or another, photo or video. I am very critical of my work, and I am always trying to top myself. I want to be better at what I do every time a band comes back to town and I reach out to them.

American Nightmare at 924 Gilman, Berekely, CA, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

I also have a difficult time keeping up with myself because of this constant desire to work. I unfortunately have a bad habit of falling behind at times, mostly because of my odd work schedule, and the commuting I endure because of that and going to shows. A trip to Los Angeles from Riverside and back doesn't around like much, but when you shoot a show in San Diego and drive up towards Orange County for work right after, then immediately leave for San Francisco after that through the middle of the night into the morning, and catch whatever sleep you can in a car before shooting another show and driving back home soon after so I don't miss a work day, time becomes scarce. I neglect portions of my life doing this, so I tackle things as I am able to.

Pllush at the Belasco Theater, Los Angeles, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

Is it getting tougher to carve a space out at venues since there are so many people shooting these days? How do you feel about that?

This is the second half of my answer from before. I am extremely careful when talking about the issues on the amount of content creators at shows in Southern California, specifically hardcore shows, because of the nature of my entrance into this world.

Technology was not as advanced when I began attending concerts. I was armed with a point and shoot camera. Venue policies allowed for simple gadgets like those to be taken into the show. The ability to take photos of my favorite bands (as horrible as those photos were) fostered my interest in photography. During my senior year in high school, whenever I took photos at a show, I’d show my biology teacher that I assisted in class the next day. He grew up going to shows at Showcase, and saw every show many people my age would wish they were at. He’d comment on my work and I liked the excitement we shared about our mutual interest.

Krimewatch at Top Space, Los Angeles, CA, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

When I began attending smaller shows in tighter spaces, I still took that point and shoot with me, so again, my interest grew. It’s because of this ability to bring a camera into any show that allowed me to discover this interest and helped me decide to pursue an education in photography. That helped guide me to where I am with my career. With that in mind, it would be hypocritical of me to discourage anyone from bringing a camera into a show. Some people come and go, some do it for fun, and others eventually stay and carve a spot for themselves in their community, as I have.

That being said, I also understand the frustration coming from the audience, the bands, and other content creators on the amount of cameras at shows. As of late, I like to keep a thought in my head whenever I cover a show: Performance over documentation. The performance must always reign over documentation, because documentation becomes redundant if the experience we are there to document is diluted by those doing the documenting. We (content creators) ruin the fun by occupying too much space, or at the very least, failing to consider those around us while we are working.

Lingua Ignota at the Echo, Los Angeles, CA, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

Around the time this phenomenon came to my attention, I began making an effort to reach out to the bands I work with in regards to coverage. I was doing this well before the subject came to my attention, but in an interest to conduct myself in a professional manner. Now, it is so bands can understand one of those cameras in the room is not only working for them, but has their best interests mind. I defer to their decision making and if the ability to provide coverage becomes troublesome, we abandon a project. It also allows them to tally the amount of media persons who’ll be in the room. That is how things are done for bands in larger venues. We submit requests a point of contact or sometimes are given opportunities to cover shows for an artist, and thus, we are taken into account. This gives the venue and bands the ability to control the amount of cameras in the room, and representatives of the band are able to track down the content and distribute our work in an organized manner. Common policies such as song limitations and flash restrictions further help keep the media in line.

The nature of the scene and smaller venues disregards those policies, to the fortune of those that want to learn the craft, and that is important, but that also means cameras and content are harder to keep track of. You might see several cameras at a show, but if that content isn't sent in properly, those photos may never reach the band. At some point, on the road to furthering your work, you must learn to grow and make professional decisions, for the benefit of anyone that may involved. I do my best to consider everyone around me and follow my own standards.

PJ Harvey at Fox Performing Arts Center, Riverside, CA, 2017. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

I am also actively trying to step away from smaller venues to allow for new work to flourish. I’ve begun noticing a lot of new faces, but there is no room to accommodate them because of the amount of us still lurking the same venues. I say that as not to diminish the impact of my peers, but in effort to bring a conscious form of decision making when it comes to shooting shows. Those of us who have established relationships with bands should communicate with them about our interest in providing work, so we can be accounted for. Sometimes, we might not be needed. That’s just the truth. One band doesn’t need 13 cameras surrounding them for an eleven minute set. This is a problem I notice almost exclusively at hardcore/punk shows. A photo pit can get very crowded at larger concerts, but that area is designated for media personnel and has less of an impact on the audience.

Hopefully, an effort to become organized and accounted for by those of us who have our legs in the field will create a more suitable environment for working with bands on shooting/filming, and allow new artists to enter without feelings of hostility in the air because another camera has entered the room. I hope our consideration will provide a path for those who are new to follow, and tension can be reduced. Shows are supposed to be fun. I can go on and on about this, and never find a solution that will benefit everyone, but I think I’ll leave it at that for now.

Daughters at the Echo, Los Angeles, CA, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

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

My interests in newer bands at the moment deviate greatly from hardcore and punk music. I hope you purists out there will keep an open mind and check some of these names out. Forgive me if some of these are repeated from the list of favorites mentioned above:

Wilshire Corridor, Body / Negative, Lingua Ignota, Thee Visitors, Miserable, NGHTCRWLR, Spiritual Cramp, Spare Parts for Broken Hearts, Fearing, Firearm, Entry, Urban Sprawl, Pretty Matty, Fucked and Bound, Lovesick, Glaare, Anthony, Sheer, Regional Justice Center.

Super Unison at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records, Oakland, CA, 2019. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

Who are some modern-day photographers that you admire?

The first modern photographers to really inspire me and influence my work were Carly Hoskins and Angela Owens. They have very distinct styles that I became aware of during certain periods of my photographic career when I needed direction. Carly has a way of capturing an existing energy in the room, and Angela has a method of creating energy that compliments a band. I’d like to think my style is a hybrid between the two, but that may be giving myself too much credit. I remember seeing Angela’s amazing photo of Mindset for the first time. I think I threw my phone across the room in disbelief. 

Reid Haithcock is incredible. He distorts the energy in a room to create intense and remarkable images. I always look forward to seeing his work throughout the industry. Kiabad Meza has a wonderful way of looking at the world. Though you might know him more for his work in music, I enjoy his editorial work much more. His color palettes are so lovely, it’s as if you were seeing the world for the first time. Very true, and captivating. Becky DiGiglio is challenging the standard and producing stunning images from not too far away. We frequent similar shows, and I always look forward to seeing what she took away from the night.

Oxbow at Soda Bar, San Diego, CA, 2018. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

Leaving the spectrum of show photographers, but remaining adjacent, I really enjoy Benjamin Tate’s work. You might know him as Benny from Self Defense Family. He has these wonderful photographic intimacies with his subjects, and I really like how he views the world. Thomas Cantwell, or Tommy from Gouge Away, also shares that ability to become intimate with his subjects. He always has me on my toes about the idea of candid photography. I like that.

Dreamcar at Fingerprints Music, Long Beach, CA, 2017. (Photo: Jonathan Velazquez)

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

This image. There is a lot of story behind this photograph. Personal details that aren’t mine to discuss, but this was a bright moment in a dark period of time. It’s a triumph of human spirit, and a reciprocation of energy. An outstanding show of human performance. When everything somehow comes together, and someone is there at the right place and at the right time to capture it. I’m very proud of this one, and I’m very proud of my friends in Gouge Away.

Gouge Away at Black Water Bar, Portland, OR, 2018. (Photo: Jonthan Velazquez)

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See more of Jonathan's work on his website, and you can also find him on Instagram.

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