Spencer Chamberlain is a New York-based photographer who has been traveling a ton the last few years capturing some of the most exciting bands in hardcore today. I first saw his work while digging around for a shot of a band last year and I've been a fan ever since.
See some of his work, and get to know Spencer, in this new installment of the Photographer Spotlight series.
Where were you born and raised, and were your parents into the arts?
I grew up outside of Rochester, NY in a suburb called Spencerport. Neither of my parents are artists, but I have very vivid recollections of my dad frequently drawing things at my request as a little kid — characters/things that I loved, mostly X-Men, or Ninja Turtles. My grandparents on my mom’s side were very much into the visual arts, and are probably most responsible for cultivating that interest in me. My grandmother was an absolutely phenomenal painter, and my grandpa was a career chemical engineer/hobbyist photographer/photography enthusiast who always had a camera with him. Even when I was probably too young to properly grasp the technical aspects of photography, he was always teaching me how to use an SLR, or ‘assigning’ me fun things to do with a camera to keep me engaged, and develop the interest.
What came first, your love for music, or your love for photography?
I think the photography aspect came first, maybe by a few years, although at that point the idea of the two interests having any sort of intersectionality would have been completely foreign to me. It wasn’t until I was maybe 16 that I started to develop a genuine interest in music, prior to that my interest in music was mostly shaped by what friends/family listened to, and what I had access to on radio. The Internet and social media in particular weren’t as prominent until about that age, so it was around that point that I really started being exposed to new music from places online, and some friends that I met through various places online as well.
What was your first musical love?
I’ve always gravitated toward Youth Crew bands, and I love a lot of the classics like Wide Awake, Turning Point, Insted, etc., but the first modern band in that style that comes to mind for me is The First Step. What We Know had come out a little after I really started following hardcore bands obsessively, and I just latched onto that record. Same thing with a lot of the old Lockin’ Out bands from that era, Have Heart, etc. It was all so much fun, and for someone who was taking much of it in for the first time, it felt like how this type of music should make the listener/audience feel.
Who were some of the photographers you looked up to during your formative years?
In terms of music, Zac Wolf, without question. He has such a keen eye, and an incredible knack for creating beautiful imagery out of sweaty people in spaces that aren’t necessarily the most conducive to getting quality images. He’s the first music photographer whose work I can recall seeing that made me want to go out and shoot music. I used to absolutely love his work with bands, but since he’s moved on weddings/couples photography, he’s only gotten that much better as a photographer, and he remains one of my personal favorites.
What is your camera and post set up?
I typically shoot a Canon 5D Mark III, with three Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites set up throughout the shooting location, including one mounted on-camera. For post-production I use Adobe Lightroom CC, then Photoshop CC, and then back to Lightroom to finish up.
In terms of your non-musical photo work, what kind of stuff do you do?
My niece and nephew are my favorite photo subjects, but I work as a photo assistant in commercial/ad photography, and those shoots tend to be anything from environmental portraits, corporate headshots, food, to furniture. When it comes to personal work, I’m particularly fond of travel/landscape photography, but I’ve been doing a lot of model/glamour photography lately, which is particularly challenging and fun because it’s so different from shooting music in that rather than waiting for specific moments, or quickly reacting to something happening in front of me, usually in a confined space, I’m working with one other person in a collaborative setting, and I have much more control, and far fewer moving parts, so to speak. That allows me to think more about how I want to shape images before I shoot, and unlike shooting a band, in this type of setting I can specify to the other person where or how I want them to position themselves, which always makes things easier.
I shot a few weddings last year that turned out quite well, which are stressful in entirely different ways, but that’s just part of photography as a whole I guess. It’s all fun, but every type of photography has a distinctly unique set of headaches that it presents.
Who are some of your favorite bands to shoot?
Abuse of Power and Fury are the first active bands to come to mind. Two of my absolute favorite current bands. Each has such an incredible presence, and every show I’ve seen has been better than the last. Mindset was another band I loved shooting, and for the same reasons. Wild no matter the location, and that always makes for cool photos. Ev is one of my favorite frontmen, and watching Chris and Austin throw themselves along with their instruments into the crowd was always insane. Any time you can see the musicians completely overtaken by the moment, and just reacting in such a raw, instinctive way is really special, and being able to photograph those moments is exciting. Also, I have to mention Rory (Soul Control, Achilles, How We Are) as the best frontman to photograph. He’s naturally very photogenic, but he always manages to contort, jump, or twist himself into the most bizarre positions when performing, and they always manage to somehow result in some really great images. Listen to his current band, Coming Down, and buy his coffee from Ugly Duck if you’re ever in Rochester.
If you could go back in time, who are some bands that you would have loved to shoot?
Inside Out or Turning Point. Part of what I think makes older bands so intriguing is the relative scarcity of live photos/video footage. When Sunny posts old video that he’s digitized from bands like Quicksand, or Inside Out, or anyone really for that matter, on hate5six, every single person in attendance seems like they’re on the verge of exploding from their body, and I’d love to go back and document that as a photographer.
What are the toughest aspects to shooting live shows?
Access. Probably an odd response, but for me, the actual act of shooting is the least stressful part, even though that typically means being wedged into an oddly confined space with a bunch of other people and objects. Being able to actually shoot is a source of major anxiety for me, especially out of town where I’m not shooting friends. It’s really easy to feel ostracized when you don’t know anyone, and there are already so many people who want to shoot music, for better or worse, that a lot of times I allow that to overwhelm me and I miss out on shooting altogether.
Tell me about some newer bands that we should all be on the lookout for.
Secondsight, Substance, Abuse of Power, Faze, Up In Blue, Edge Control, Restraining Order, Media Limits, Druse, Clear Focus, Selective Aggression, Coming Down.
Who are some modern-day photographers that you admire?
George Probst and Pete Souza. George Probst is this guy who shoots White Sharks at Isla Guadalupe off the coast of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico. That location in particular is pretty famous for its shark population, and his photos there are incredible. Doing that kind of photography is a dream of mine, and I’m pretty envious of folks like him. Pete Souza was the Official White House Photographer during the Obama presidency, so he had access to a lot of really interesting, behind the curtain moments that he documented in a really incredible, intimate way.
As far as music photographers, Errick Easterday, along with Reid Hathcock and Angela Owens are my personal favorites. Errick is such a genuinely sweet person, and he’s incredibly creative. He’s always touring, and creating consistently great photos and videos in the process. Reid and Angela both shoot primarily in black and white, which I’ve always liked, but they each do so in distinctly unique ways, which is really neat.
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?
There’s a picture from Mindset’s final show where a pile of people are forming directly in front of/on Evan, and he just looks very serene and calm in the midst of this very chaotic moment. It’s not my personal favorite Mindset photo, but it’s easily one of my favorites in terms of illustrating what makes shooting this type of subject matter so compelling. You place yourself in these situations where people react with such impulse and reckless abandon - like each individual is a small explosion sending shrapnel in every direction, but there’s also a sense of familiarity and calmness to these scenes that prevent you from feeling like things are really going off the rails, and I think that’s what makes hardcore so unique and fun.
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