I first became aware of Michelle Olaya's photography work on Instagram. Her black and white images taken at hardcore shows in Germany grabbed my attention with their winning balance of drama and energy. As I began following her page on Instagram, I learned that Michelle is Ecuadorian, which won her bonus cool points with me since my mother is also from there.
Since I'm such a fan of her work, I asked Michelle if she would do me the honor of profiling her on the site, and luckily for me, she was down.
I know you were born in Ecuador, but where exactly?
I was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1983. I was raised there until I was 17-years-old, then my Mom immigrated to Europe, and I came to this continent.
Were your parents into the arts?
My parents were/are a little bit into arts. My Dad is so good at drawing, from him I got that passion for doodling and drawing stuff. My Mom loves to listen music and dance to typical Latin American folk music.
What came first, your love for music, or your love for photography?
My love for music was first, since I was a little girl I loved it hand to hand with dancing. My passion for photography started when I was around 15, when I started to go to punk shows. I used to take a compact camera with me almost always, and took photos of the local shows. But it has been in the last twelve years where my love for photography developed more, and in the last five years, it has become my profession.
How did you discover hardcore?
When I was a teenie, one of my neighbors was into grunge and punk music. One of his cousins had a hardcore/punk distro, and he used to come over his house to bring him casettes or CDs, so they told me about punk bands from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and some from Europe, but then I got a mixtape with songs from bands like Lagwagon, Pennywise, Madball, H2O, Gorilla Biscuits, etc. One year later, in 1998, I went to my first hardcore/punk show, and since then I've been in love with that musical style.
Who were some of the photographers you looked up to during your formative years?
Well, I guess my biggest inspiration/influence comes from Sebastiao Salgado and Dorothea Lange. You can feel communication and energy just through their photographs alone. When I started I didn’t know about much music photographers at all, but then I learned about my biggest influence: B.J. Papas. I have nothing but big love and respect for her photo work. I also love the work of Jenny Lens, Ken Salerno, and Glen E. Friedman, who is the wizard of music photography! Oh, I also I really dig the work of rock photographers like Ross Halfin.
What is your camera and post set up?
I use a simple set up: Canon 7D + two lenses, normally a 10-20mm 3.5 or 17-50mm 2.8 for shows at small venues, plus sometimes a 85mm 1.8 for big venues and festivals, and an off-camera-flash (when it’s allowed to use it or the room/venue’s lighting isn’t good). I shoot all in RAW, and I do not use filters, so I just convert to B&W (as most my photos are monochrome, but lately I let some photos on color) and I do a simple post-edition on Lightroom.
Who are some of your favorite bands to shoot?
There are several, but without doubt, I love to shoot No Turning Back, Risk It!, Sick of it All, Terror, Broken Teeth, Empowerment, and Spirit Crusher, to name a few bands. I love when bands play shows delivering full energy and kids are going insane in the pit, flying all over because they can’t stop stage-diving, and of course, without barriers!
If you could go back in time, who are some bands that you would have loved to shoot?
Without a doubt, Warzone! I love that band so much, and Raybeez is a big inspiration, both musically and lyrically for me. Also bands like The Icemen, Brotherhood, SSD, Turning Point, Straight Ahead, Slugfest, Farside, Integrity (early era), and some bands from Europe like True Blue and Doughnuts.
What are the toughest aspects to shooting hardcore shows?
Well, there’re are couple:
- Getting hurt or having photo gear broken because some kids go psycho and don’t watch out for you. Even when I’ve been in a kinda “safe space” (as I always try to not disturb the space of bands and crowd), I have still been kicked or punched a couple of times by idiots who act like cavemen.
- The abuse of trust and lack of respect, are the toughest aspects of shooting those kinds of shows. Some bands/people who do not respect a photographer’s work, the use of photos without permission for making profit, or if they ask you for photos, they do not care to show any gratitude. All these 10 years of taking photos as XMDMXHCX PHOTOS, I've been cooperating with hardcore and punk bands, handing out photos without expecting any reward, because I still believe in D.I.Y. and HC FOR HC, but then, somehow, that brought me headaches/problems as I have seen how some bands and merch companies are selling stuff with my photos without notifying me about about it. It’s sad to see how some people/bands take for granted the work that we photographers do. The same way they pay a sound engineer, a recording studio, a music store for buying their music gear/backline, why do they not have the same consideration to pay a photographer?
Tell me about some bands that we should all be on the lookout for.
Stolen Mind, a young band from Nuremberg (Germany), is bringing the ruckus. Risk It! is a band I guess (and hope) some of you already know, but if you don’t, go to their Bandcamp, because they are legit, and they’ll be playing at This Is Hardcore Fest this year. Minority of One from Spain is a very cool and passionate young band playing melodic hardcore in the vein of bands like Lifetime. Ansïa, Empowerment, Spirit Crusher, Higher Power, Broken Teeth, The Flex, Slander, Last Hope, Lawgiver, and United and Strong are some other bands from Europe you should check out. From my beloved South America, I love Punto De Encaje, Cuestion De Actitud (all female band) and Custodia from my country, Ecuador, Grito from Colombia, Forsaken from Chile, and Conflicto Urbano and Tomar Control (all female), both from Peru.
Who are some modern-day photographers that you admire?
Martina Wörz, her work is fantastic and she’s a good friend. Todd Pollock, he keeps the spirit alive through all these years taking photos, mainly on the East Coast scene. I can't forget the "Adam" guys (Degross and Elmakias). There are also a couple of photographers that aren't active shooting hardcore shows anymore, but that I've always admired, like Greg Straightedge, Danielle Dombrowski, and Bri Hurley.
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?
This is very hard to answer because I have several photos I love that mean what hardcore really means for me. But I’m going for this one of Risk It! that I just shot a couple of months ago. In my opinion, it shows everything a good hardcore should have: an awesome band, a great frontman, energy, passion, sing-alongs. No matter your gender, hit the pit and have fun! Girls to the front!
Head to this link to see more of Michelle's music-related photography.