1. What got you interested in photography and when did you start in the dance music industry? Give us a little overview of how and when you started to where you are now…
Growing up, my dad was always the parent with a camera taking photos of every event his kids were at, and this was back before digital cameras were even a thing. I remember always asking him if I could use his camera, and playing around with it at times. My parents bought me my first camera when I was in 7th grade – my school had a darkroom and was offering a photo class to the 7th grade, and that’s really when I first started taking photos.
I kept taking photos all through high school, not really of anything in particular, but kept my interest up in the subject. By the time senior year came around I was debating going to college for photography, but ended up going to Pitt for Political Science / Economics.
It was in college that I started working for the school newspaper, The Pitt News, my freshman year. The paper was fully self-funded, and put out 10-15,000 print copies a day. Working for the paper gave me access to their photo gear, so I was able to use equipment I could have never afforded (and still can’t afford) all through college and build my portfolio.
But it wasn’t until the very end of my senior year of college that I ended up taking photos at an EDM show. My senior year I was the photo editor of the school paper, and when concerts came through town, promoters would hit up our paper and ask if they could get coverage. It was an Avicii show, back in 2012, and we got an email from either the promoter or his management asking if we would cover it.
I offered the gig to the 10-15 photographers on the staff that worked for me, and no one wanted to do it. Since we needed coverage for the paper, and with no one else to do it, I ended up going. I had been photographing for 10 years or so at this point, and figured why wouldn’t I want to take a camera into a concert venue where there is nothing but crazy amounts of emotions and energy flying around.
Got to the venue, met Avicii’s tour manager, and he told me he wanted me in the DJ booth taking photos for the first 20 minutes of his set, then in the crowd for the next 20, and then back in the DJ booth for the last 20. I left that show on cloud 9 – I mean, I wasn’t a groupie chick taking selfies in the DJ booth or anything (I don’t even think selfies were a thing then…?), but the fact that I was right there with the artist capturing all of the energy of his performance, that was pretty fucking awesome.
At that point, I really didn’t know what EDM was, I couldn’t pronounce Avicii, and if you asked me to read “Deadmau5”, I would probably have made the noob mistake of saying “deadmau five”.
After shooting that Avicii show, the same promoter emailed me asking if I would cover two more shows later in the year, one was Laidback Luke, the other was Rusko. I photographed both of those, and ended up meeting a photographer at the shows who would end up becoming one of my best friends. He was the in-house photographer for the promotion company throwing the shows. He and I chatted it up, and he told me he was actually from Philadelphia, and when I told him I was born and raised in Philly, and that I was moving back to Philadelphia in a few months once I graduated, he told me to hit him up when I moved back and he could help me find some stuff to shoot.
I graduated, moved back to Philly, hit up my friend AJ, who goes by “Atothe Photography” on Facebook, and he helped me get access to shows that were being thrown by the promotion company he worked for, Steez Promo. I also started working for a local blog at this point, Independent Philly, shooting concerts and writing reviews for the site.
At this point, photography was really just a hobby. I had a well paying tech-industry job right out of college, and I wasn’t getting paid to photograph any of the concerts I was attending. Really, taking photos at a concert was just a great way for me to spend my Friday or Saturday nights – I would get into the show for free, I would get to hangout with friends at the show, and I got to take pictures. It was much better then what other people I knew were doing, which was pre gaming at some house, then walking around the city to a bunch of over crowded bars, where you spend way too much money and end up going home alone with a large pizza as a date.
As time went on, I just kept taking photos for the blog/promo company I mentioned earlier. Eventually, people started hitting me up once I had made a name for myself seeing if I could photograph something for them, and it was kind of weird when people started offering me money, as it was just a hobby at first.
Fast forward a year or so, and I had been taking photos at a concert venue in Philadelphia called Soundgarden Hall for awhile – all unpaid work, done for either the promo company or the blog I worked for. But I guess it was just right place, right time, because the venue hired a new marketing manager, and he decided that he wanted a photographer and videographer at every show they did. I had just photographed Showtek at the venue, and I guess the marketing manager liked my work, because he called me and asked if I was available to shoot the show they had the next weekend, which was GTA (with What So Not as support…), and get paid. I said yes, shot the show, sent him the photos, and he called me back and asked if I could also shoot the show the following weekend. Same deal, and he asked if I could shoot the next show. After that, he called me and just said, how would you like to photograph every show we have?
That was about a year ago. I’ve been the house photographer at Soundgarden Hall, as well as their sister nightclub venue, Rumor Nightclub, for about a year, and have made a ton of great connections through that. Artists that play there will hit me up asking me to photograph other gigs that they have, management companies see my photos and ask if I can shoot other artists they manage.
And then I somehow got linked up with Live Nation at some point in this whole process, I think it was Summer 2013, just before the 2nd year of Made in America. I photographed Made in America for Live Nation, and they loved the photos I guess, because after that I would start to get emails every once in awhile when they had a big show that they needed a photographer for, and ask me if I could shoot it.
And then somehow along all of this, local college students started getting my information, and they hit me up asking me if I would photograph their parties. And I’m not talking a keg of natty light in a basement with $5/red solo cup type parties. These college kids throw some absolutely ridiculous parties. They had a show with Madeon in a castle back at Halloween, they booked Afrojack for a private show just a few weeks ago. So now I’m getting hit up left and right to photograph all of these crazy college parties, and I’m probably being invited to more college parties now then I did when I was actually in college.
So fast-forward to today. I quit my tech-industry job exactly a year ago, and put all my efforts into trying to make photography my career. I earn a whole lot less then I did, I don’t have a 401K or health insurance through work (but thanks to Obamacare, I’m covered), and I never know when money will be coming in. But I also don’t have to sit at a desk all day, deal with other peoples crap, or work some job that my parents got me, which is what a ton of people my age are doing. My argument is that when I’m 30, I can go back to sitting at a desk. But when I’m 30, I can’t decide to just try and become a concert photographer who gets to go to crazy college parties and photograph the drunken debauchery that ensues.
2. What inspires and motivates you to continue pushing the limits in photography and life?
My motivation to continue pushing the limits of photography would probably be that if I stop taking photos I need to go back to sitting at a desk and dealing with other peoples bullshit. Some people tell me my job is awesome but really, my job is just like any other job, it’s a job. I love what I do, but I do it also to make money, pay my rent, bills, car insurance, and all of that fancy adult stuff.
Being a photographer is pretty similar to being a musician. You are given a camera, just the way someone might be given a guitar. When you have that camera or guitar in your hand, you know that there are a million other people in the world who have the same exact thing that you have in your hand. But somehow, you are expected to make something completely unique and different then everyone else, but you are all coming from the same starting point, and it’s a matter of figuring out a way to set yourself apart from every other person with the camera or guitar.
I don’t have any advantages over any photographers; I have the same gear that everyone else has access to, and honestly, with today’s technology, taking a photo is easier then ever. But you have to do more then just press a button, you need to press a button differently then everyone else, otherwise you just look like everyone else’s work, and why would anyone want to work with you if that was the case?
3. Describe your favorite festival/event shooting experience? How hectic, exciting, stressful, does it get. Any stories to share…
Well, I have never been to a festival that wasn’t exciting, but also hectic and stressful in some way. Whether it is security at a festival saying you don’t have the right credentials to photograph at a certain stage, when the DJ paying you to photograph is performing on that stage at that very moment, or just navigating through a crowd of 60,000 people, it is by no means a stress-free job.
I’d say the craziest event/shooting experience I had, though, was getting to photograph for Dillon Francis for his 3-night run in New York City at Terminal 5. Seeing that it was New York City, Dillon went all out, and brought out different surprise guests every night. The first night, he brought Major Lazer on stage with him, and there I am in the DJ Booth with Dillon Francis, Diplo, and Jillionaire, and Diplo leans over to Dillon and whispers something to him. I couldn’t hear it exactly, but Dillon looked back at Diplo with a puzzled look, and Diplo just said, “trust me”. Next thing I know, Dillon Francis is taking off his pants and is standing on top of the DJ booth swinging them around his head. I went home that night on cloud9, and when I woke up in the morning, I went online and say Entertainment Weekly post an article/review about the Dillon Francis show, and the headline read something like “Dillon Francis took off his pants and threw New York a sweaty dance party” (http://www.ew.com/article/2015/01/17/dillon-francis-new-york-dance-party). But what was even crazier to me, was that Entertainment Weekly didn’t even have a photograph from the event. I was the only photographer allowed at the show, and I was the only person in the world who got to capture that moment.
And then to think it couldn’t get any better, or weirder I might say, I show up to Terminal 5 for night 2, and I’m sitting in the greenroom, there are famous DJs everywhere, and I never fan-girl DJs, never ask them for photos/selfies or any of that crap, I try to act very professional around them, but I look up, and in walks none other then the Instagram Celebrity The Fat Jewish. And Dillon's Management walks up to me with The Fat Jewish, and are like, Steve, meet The Fat Jewish, and of course I start acting like a nervous little high school girl that just met Justin Bieber, because I mean, I fucking love the Fat Jewish.
And so there I am, talking to The Fat Jewish, and he is exactly like you would imagine he would be, he’s the nicest guy ever, he’s hilarious, and he’s a character, for sure. And so after a 5-10 minute chat with him, where he’s telling me about getting brunch with Kanye West and not talking the entire brunch, just listening to Kanye yell, I asked him why he was at the show. And he just nonchalantly said, “oh, I’m going to dress up like a raver who just took a bunch of molly and run out on stage during Dillon’s performance”.
And there I am on stage, and I look to my right, and there is the Fat Jewish, wearing furry EDM boots, a silver-metallic man thong, and holding an air cannon that is filled with glow bracelets. And he runs out on stage, does a little dance, shoots the air cannon into the crowd, and turns around, and there I am taking a photo, and that photo might be one of my, if not the, favorite photo I’ve ever taken.
I sent that photo to his management company, and a few days later I open up Instagram, and it’s just like, you have 2,000 likes and 800 new followers, and I was just like, what the fuck is going on? And then my cousin texts me, “is your Instagram blowing up?”, and I responded like, “yes why what the hell is going on how did you know”?, and he just sent me a screenshot of the Fat Jewish Instagram account, where he had just posted my photo and tagged me in it. That was pretty cool. And then a few months later, the Fat Jewish got interviewed by Katie Couric, and in the interview, my photo flashes across the screen, and that was just crazy to think, wow, Katie Couric just used my photo of The Fat Jewish in a man thong dressed as a raver on Molly in an interview.
4. Tell us a little about a photograph you took that gives you chills every time you look at it? Describe the feeling and did you know it when you took the photo?
I’m not sure if chills would be the right word, but when I look at my Fat Jewish photo, I just laugh. I knew the second I took it that it was going to be a great photo. There is perfect symmetry in the photo, he is dead center on stage, the lighting was just perfect, and I walked off the stage right after taking it and his manager say me looking through my camera with the biggest grin on my face, and he just said, I’d ask if you got a good photo but from the look on your face I’d say that’s a given. Another photo I took that gives me chills would probably be the photo I took of Flosstradamus at Terminal 5 in NYC back in 2012/2013 during their IRL Tour. Floss invited me up to NYC to photograph their show, and it was my first time ever photographing for an artist, and shooting outside of Philly for an artist. I remember I was so nervous packing, afraid that I would forget something, that I brought literally every piece of camera equipment I owned with me. So much stuff I had never even used before. But anyways, it’s the end of the show, and Floss plays one of my favorite songs of theirs, “Lana’s Theme”, and everyone in the crowd takes out their phone, and I’m right behind Floss in the DJ booth and snap a photo of Curt DJing and Josh squatting on top of the DJ booth.
I sent them the photo later in the week, and the following weekend, I went down to D.C. to photograph for them again at the 9:30 club. I walked into the green room, and immediately, the guys from Floss, who btw are some of the most down to earth, chill guys ever, got up from where they were sitting and ended the conversations they were having, came up to me, and just started giving me praise for the photo. It was kind of like how after a show fans tell DJs how much they love them, but here I am, listening to one of my favorite DJ groups out there, telling ME how much they like my work. And then a few minutes later, I’m standing next to their Tour Manager, who opens his phone to twitter or Facebook, and I look down and I’m like, “Hey, that’s my photo!”, pointing to the cover photo of the page he was on. And he looked up at me, and was like, “yeah, the guys loved that photo man”, and then I said, “wait, whose Facebook/twitter page is that?”, and the TM just responded, “it’s Floss’ page…” And that was the very first time an artist had ever used one of my photos as their Facebook and twitter cover photos. And it was an awesome, awesome feeling. I scrolled through the comments on the page, and people were saying stuff like, “this is the coolest fucking photo ever!”, and it had thousands and thousands of likes.
Every time I look at that Floss photo, it all comes back full-circle to me.
5. What makes a great live music/festival photo?
Music is all about the energy. I’d say any photo that gives people FOMO, fear of missing out, is a great photo. If your photo doesn’t have energy, if it doesn’t make people go, “oh shit that looks fucking awesome I wish I went to that!”, then it’s not a great photo.
6. What does electronic dance culture and music mean to you? Give us your insight into the industry and the fans you shoot on a daily basis.
I’m not a spiritual person and I’m certainly not looking for a deeper meaning in life through electronic dance music. However, with that being said, I’ve certainly seen first hand the positive effects that electronic dance culture has had on people, whether it be someone down on their luck or depressed, who gets the chance to be a promoter, and works their ass off, and turns that opportunity into something awesome.
I’ve also seen way too many people at EDM shows that fulfill every stereotype imaginable, and those are the people who will look back in a few years, and shake their head and just be like, what the hell was I thinking, that was a waste of time.
I feel the electronic dance music scene, as a whole, is what you make of it. The music can be just something you listen to when you want to let loose, pregame with friends, or listen to at the gym. Or, as you see with artists like Bassnectar or Kaskade, fans take these artists music to an almost spiritual level, placing the artists on almost godlike pedestals, and using them to help them get through the hard times in life.
To follow Steve Garfinkel and scroll through more of his pictures, please visit....
Instagram - @garfinkel_
Snapchat - GARFINKELPHOTO