Melbourne-based photographer Ian Laidlaw hails from the New South Wales city of Wollongong. Since moving down the coast, he’s studied photography; and as a result has borne witness to many of his favourite bands from behind the lens of a camera – both at gigs and up close.
We recently spoke to Laidlaw about some of his more memorable photography feats – between the biggest stage jump he’s ever caught, working with Queens Of The Stone Age, and the concepts behind some of the portraiture he does.
Oh, and Iggy Pop too.
Your portrait shots are very interesting and seem to involve a lot of props and creative thinking. What was the coolest thing you’ve ever captured?
Props have never been a conscious decision for me. It’s more I have the idea of how a shot will look with the artists involved, and if any props get used it’s usually unplanned.
I don’t have anything specific I would prefer to use, I’d say none to be honest, but sometimes different items work wetland change the dynamic.
What was the first ever camera that you bought?
The first camera I bought apart from a disposable was an Olympus 35mm. I don’t remember the model but it was early 2000s.
I didn’t know some musicians could jump so high, as your photos of Eddie Vedder and the Bloody Beetroots would suggest. Out of all the off-amp air jumps you’ve shot, which has been the winner?
I would have to say that Davey Havok of AFI is up there with the best.. Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist is worth a mention. Also Alex Kapranos can jump pretty damn high too.
If you could live a day in the life of any artist, who would it be and where would you take them?
I’ve no idea…
This question could take years! Nothing directly springs to mind and I consider so many variables.
But for the sake of giving you an answer, I would say Iggy Pop. Destination would probably just walking around town, going nowhere in particular shooting the shit and taking candid shots.
Did Mike Patton really eat that whole microphone at the Tomahawk show?
No, Mike Patton was just irritated at the camera man at Soundwave a few years back and decided he would get up in his face, I guess instead of dropping his mic he would just chew on it for a while.
Aside from the gigs you have to shoot, what is your own personal music taste?
My personal music taste is all over the shop. It started off with 90s grunge / punk rock and just went backwards. I do love a lot of music and depending on the mood I can listen to anything (almost).
Though I will always have time for traditional rock’n’roll, soul, big band and blues.
I do like a good pop song too, old or new.
It’s a case of I like what I like, no matter the age/genre of the song. My tastes for sure prefer the older material all being said
What are some difficulties faced when starting in Music Photography?
The difficulties in being a music photographer vary. Things like the right contact points in the beginning, the (semi) seasonal amount of work that goes from manageable to no sleep took getting used to.
Also the label of purely being a “live music photographer”, breaking that mould can be a difficult after a while. Ultimately though I have been very fortunate to know the people I do and the places they have helped get me. I owe a lot of people.
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?
Without photography, I’d be probably building. I completed my trade around 10 years ago.. I always liked the creative side of carpentry.
Short answer, living in Hollywood creating sets on films (haha).
What is the best advice you would give to a budding photographer?
Best advice would be patience.
When I say patience, I mean it in every sense of process.
Far too often these days it’s easy to get disillusioned with music photography and believe it’s not going anywhere. Patience with your expectations and where you want to go would be something to keep in mind.
Tumbleweed seem to be pretty reoccurring in your portrait work. Did you have a close relationship with those guys?
Coming from the same town means we have that in common. I went to school and am good friends with the youngest Curley brother. I guess when they made a come back in 2009 they needed someone to start documenting and doing press shots for them, I must have just been in the right place at the right time.
So the relationship developed from that point and they are all great guys.
R.I.P Jay Curley.
What is your opinion on studying photography?
I never studied photography, but was taught how to develop and use a darkroom years and years ago. I don’t think for what I was aiming for with my photography, studying was necessary but I would never discourage or dismiss it.
It’s there for a reason, so if it can help then why not go for it.
…And finally what are your top 5 (own) personal favourite shots?
This question is the hardest because it always varies so I’ll just have to really rip into this,
1- Liam Gallagher, Beady Eye
I always loved Oasis, so to capture Liam seconds before they hit the stage was great.
I thought he was going to be like the media portrays him but he was the total opposite. Lovely man (despite the fuck you photo).
2- Slipknot, Soundwave
Every second of their set is brilliant to photograph. After two songs I knew I had what I wanted so I stepped over to the far side of the pit and just watched, as I did he looked over to my direction and flipped off the crowd. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time
3- Iggy & The Stooges, Hordern Pavillion
I had seen one of the first reformed Stooges shows in Dublin in 2004 and knew that day if I could one day photograph Iggy, my photographic journey would feel somewhat complete. I managed to shoot him a few times over the years but this show was the last stop on their last tour, apparently they won’t be back.
For that reason alone this image is special to me. I can also feel it in his expression.
The last time…
4-Arcade Fire, Big Day Out
Another case of being in the right place at the right time. As Win came down the stairs to get up close and personal to the audience I happen to be on his right and he took it upon himself to grab my camera and sing into my lens. I originally thought he was trying to take it from me so I resisted an pulled back, which may be why it looks like he is angry with me.
Getting that one on one interaction in such a chaotic scenario always feels great.
5- Nick Oliveri, Queens of the Stone Age
He had been around town a little while playing with various friends of mine and after a few casual meetings I ended up doing a few shots of Nick. I didn’t really know how to direct anyone back then, but he just started to pose this way and light overhead seemed very fitting.
The other reason this stands out for me is that around six or so months later he was involved in that big police siege in Los Angeles and so once again the image felt like a preview of perhaps future forgiveness.
Check out more of Ian Laidlaw’s work here.