Tahlia Isabel Palmer has been capturing her favourite musicians since she was a teenager in Western Australia. Following stints with a number of Australian bands both upcoming and well, massive, over the years, Speaker TV got the chance to interview the now Melbourne-based photographer about her upcoming projects and her recent graduation into videography with Peter Bibby’s film clip for his latest single ‘She Hates My Boozin’.
Tahlia explained the honest aspects behind music photography as a career, as well as how to truly make it as an artist. She tells us about her favorite photographers and who she would choose for a dream shoot, too. Having documented the likes of psychedelic super squad and fellow natives of Western Australia Tame Impala in the past, there truly is no stopping the friendly, petit, yet highly-driven artist.
What has been one of the most interesting projects to work on in your career so far?
Earlier this year I lived in a small town called Southern Cross in regional Western Australia for about a month. While I was there I explored and documented a few surrounding ghost towns, got to know a couple of locals, and learnt a little bit about the politics/economy/culture of the area. I was super keen to figure out why it is people in agricultural areas vote for conservative politicians. My plan is to travel through other Australian regional centres, attempting to learn more about that side of Australia, because this country is so vast, with so many varied environments and cultures – I’m so fascinated by it. I would love to be able to reflect this nation back to itself through documentation… Ideally I’d like to make a book out of these adventures.
I see most of your photos are edited to black and white, is this for any particular reason?
I generally prefer taking photos in black and white because I find the play of light and dark to be more satisfying to look at, especially in music photography. I like pushing the darkness, filling up negative space with it. I like the drama of black and white, it means I can create a heavier meaning to the image, a creepiness or unease; claustrophobic feels.
What is some advice for budding photographers within the music industry?
Be lovely to everyone. Repay favours and return kindness with kindness. Be a supportive friend. Don’t be a pest. Don’t fill your Instagram posts with a thousand fucking hashtags in an attempt to acquire more followers. Don’t be an asshole. Be nice to other photographers at gigs, but don’t engage in conversations with them about equipment. Don’t expect to make any money. Love the music and respect the people who make it.
What was the first type of camera you bought?
The first camera I bought is the only camera I have bought: a Canon 50D. I got it in 2009, just after I moved to Melbourne. It has done me very well. I love it, it is like my child that I occasionally spill beer on and knock around. Last year I discovered how to unlock its video capabilities, so I did that, and now I love it even more.
Most of your shots seem like cinematography shots with a whole lot of creative thinking. What was the coolest thing you’ve ever captured?
This is a really hard question to answer. There’s no definite thing, but there is a certain kind of situation that is always my favourite: when I’m photographing a band I know pretty well, like, the members of the band are my mates, and I understand their vibe, and know the movements of the music. I get in to the flow of the set, can predict what’s coming visually, so can spend some time positioning myself and the camera around the available light and dark, ready to capture that perfect shot of each player. This is the most satisfying, especially if there’s some badass audience reaction in there too.
What was the creative process behind the recent video for ‘She Hates My Boozin’ by Peter Bibby?
Pete and I came up with the idea together – originally we wanted to shoot a fake wedding at a real-life wedding expo, but the logistics were too hard, so over a few weeks we worked out the concept you can see in the video, did a lot of giggling and high fiving. There was a little while before we were told we kind of had to make it ASAP, so we quickly organised our cast and crew, made a plan for the shooting schedule, wrote out a vague shot list but didn’t draw up a storyboard – instead I just let ideas for shots stew around in my head right up until I shot it. The idea of drawing up a storyboard felt too restrictive.
It was shot over two days in Pete’s backyard for the ceremony scenes, and then our friend Finn’s backyard for the night time reception scenes. We figured out lighting and things based on what we had easily available at the time. Pete’s sister, Bek, did a bunch of running around and decorative things and she was an amazing, totally essential part of the whole production. A bunch of our good friends came over and helped us out by being beautiful and tipsy and willing to dance and act. I did most of the editing with Pete sitting next to me giving suggestions, and we ended up being a really good team. We also ended up drinking a lot of wine. He was really good to work with, and he’s pretty great at making me laugh. I reckon we’ll do more film stuff together in the future.
What is your opinion on studying photography?
I haven’t gone to school for photography because I didn’t want to risk killing my love for it. I’ve tried studying many things over the years and I have dropped out of everything in the first year. I guess I don’t like being told what to do. I learn by watching and doing for myself – working under people, working with people, reading books and magazines, watching documentaries. I have to do my learning at my own pace, in a comfortable way, otherwise I can’t take anything in.
I think studying creative stuff works for people who believe in that whole “learn the rules before you break them” thing, and for people who are able to learn technical things… but I don’t really vibe on that. I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. I don’t like thinking about rules, and I don’t care much for thinking about technicalities in photography, I just do whatever I feel like, whatever works for the situation or the shot, just learn things as I go, as I need to learn them.
Not having studied photography may have hindered my “success” throughout my career in some ways – it’s certainly meant that it’s harder to make money, but it’s also allowed me complete freedom of thought, which has been critical in developing my ideas. I reckon I’ve probably messed up a few jobs from a lack of technical knowledge that I would have gained from studying [photography] properly, but generally I think it’s been worth it.
Who is a photography idol of yours and why are they so special?
Cindy Sherman has always been the big one for me. I think the moments in my work that look so cinematic come from how much time I spent looking at her photographs when I was in high school. I even went through a phase of naming photos of friends and situations that weren’t live music “Untitled Film Stills” in reference to her. She creates this beautiful feeling of unease in her photographs that I get the biggest kick out of. Her stuff comes across as ultimate voyeurism, but it is all self-portraiture. It’s ridiculous how good she is, I wish I had that kind of brain.
The photograph I’ve attached was blu-tacked to my bedroom wall for years.
What’s one of your favorites from Cindy?
Cindy Sherman – Self Portrait
If you could follow an artist for a day, who would it be and where would you take them?
I would go back in time, grab Syd Barret, teleport from England and take him to any pretty river in Australia for the whole day and we could drink sangria and talk about the power of re-connecting your understanding of self with the natural world and I would maybe try to prove to him that he doesn’t have to take THAT much acid, and like, teach him how to meditate or something.
What has been the best thing about being a music photographer, and if it weren’t for photography, what do you think you would have ended up doing?
The best thing is easily the fact that I have had a pretty interesting and varied life. I’ve been through some shitty stuff, sure, and I’ve gone hungry many times because of my dedication to the love of doing it instead of doing things I know I’ll get paid for… but mostly, I just have a great time. I’ve done all kinds of fun things because of my attachment to my camera – have had all kinds of adventures and explorations, have met a whole bunch of amazing people and have seen a bajillion awesome gigs all over the country.
I have no idea what I would have done if I’d never pursued photography as a thing to do with my time. I can’t imagine life without it. It satisfies so many requirements within me, I really can’t think of anything that would healthily replace it. Which probably means I’d be terribly unhappy – possibly dead – without it.
…and finally, what are your top 5 favorite(of your own) photos?
Blues and Roots Festival – Fremantle 2014
Dave Collins on Set – Swan Valley 2014
Lucas And Cosi On Floor During WASP – The Bank, Preston 2014
Peter Bibby On Drums – WASP The Bank, Preston 2014
Robbie On A Saltlake -Blazing Swan Festival 2014
View more of Tahlia’s work here.