Interview with L.A photographer Renee Silverman, vibrant and energetic images with an artistic appeal

"I’m always hopeful when I see young artists inspired by classic rock and blues, because I know there will be a musical evolution one day."

Renee Silverman: Shooting Stars

The arts have always been a big part of her life. While studying theater at the University of California at Irvine, extracurricularly, she spent time writing and composing songs on the piano, which ultimately lead to singing and performing in bands all over L.A. It was a whirlwind adventure of music, spandex, lace and lots and lots and lots of hairspray, and it was hard work and dedication with no guarantee of success. As the years went on her time performing with bands dwindled. She started writing band and club reviews for publications like Music Connection Magazine and although found the work appealing, a hyper-critical side she didn’t like emerged. Eventually, she put this aside in pursuit of something more meaningful.

Having studied a little bit of fine art in school, Renee considered herself a “doodler” of the human face and form; entertained the idea that she could merge the two, which lead her to portrait photography. She was thrilled to find out that not only enjoyed the one-on-one connection with her subjects but found the creative process appealing to her artistic side as well, and with her own background in performance found it easy to connect with her artistic clients.

While attending a series of concerts one summer at the Greek Theater she became fascinated with concert photographers. Without much information to go on, made arrangements with some of music contacts to shoot the bands Grand Funk Railroad and America. From there began shooting local bands on the Sunset strip, bars, and nightclubs. Almost immediately, her work received accolades from bands, managers, and fans. In 2013, began working with AXS.TV shooting “The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands” series hosted by Katie Daryl at The Roxy Theater. As far as her life beyond concert photography and portraits, she always take a camera with herself. She continue to write music and sing and currently have plans to perform again, but it’s behind the camera lens you’ll find me most comfortable, capturing and creating. 

Interview by Michael Limnios  Photos © by Renee Silverman

Renee, when was your first desire to become involved in the art of photography and Rock n’ Roll culture?

I’ve always admired the works of Henry Diltz, Jim Marshall, Bob Gruen and other rock photographers, and although I originally didn’t know their names, I certainly knew their work. I started out as a singer and musician playing in original and cover bands in the 80s-90s and that was my dream.
It just seemed like a natural progression for me to become a concert photographer. I knew the culture, and knew what it took to get up on a stage and perform. Everything else was second nature.

What does “IMAGE” offered you? What do you learn about yourself from the photography and Rock n’ Roll?

You know, I have always been fascinated by photography and dabbled in it throughout my life, but it wasn’t until the digital camera revolution where I honed my skills and mastered the technical aspects of photography. I consider myself an artistic person, not so much technically oriented, but I learned how to take a very technical piece of equipment and use it as my paint brush. Once I found my niche, photographing bands and musicians, I knew I had come full-circle.

"I see blues artists out there, playing almost every night of the week, because this is what they have to do. This is what feeds their soul."  Photo © by Renee Silverman

What characterize Renee Silverman work & progress, how do you describe your philosophy about the IMAGE?

When I first picked up a camera with a desire to learn the craft of photography, I didn’t have a goal in mind.
All artists start out this way, you know, practicing, whether it be music or painting. Initially I found myself photographing nature and lots and lots of flowers. I’d walk for hours observing and shooting the fine details of plants, flowers, leaves, whatever interested me, but I’ve always been fascinated with the human form. And so I made a transition to shooting people - headshot and portraiture work - which I currently do in addition to my live work.

My philosophy about IMAGE has changed through the years. When I was beginner it was to get the best exposure, sharpest image I could.  Once I understood the rules then I could break them, especially when it came to live concerts, where lighting and movement are constantly changing. In my post processing work I’m not afraid to experiment with the image, changing to black and white or making adjustments to color or detail. A good percentage of my work is post processing but you have to know when to stop because you can go too far. I always say to myself, is this how you remember seeing it with your eye?  If it isn’t, then you’ve gone too far.

How important was the music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

As I said, I started out as a musician. As a teen I performed in musicals in my high school and at home I would compose pop songs on the piano. Later on, I pursued a musical career, performing in bands around the Los Angeles area during the 80s-90s in both original and cover bands. I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a integral part of my life. When I shoot bands, I’m affected by the music in that it helps me to capture the intensity and mood of the artist I’m shooting. If I don’t come away from the shoot feeling like I’ve been on stage performing along with the artist, then I didn’t do my job.

"I consider myself an artistic person, not so much technically oriented, but I learned how to take a very technical piece of equipment and use it as my paint brush." (Photos: Renee at self-portrait and with her husband Mike Cochrane when had a band together)

What are some of the most memorable shoots and how does the music come out of your lens?

I feel like I am still at the beginning of my journey with my best shoots ahead of me. For me, to date, my most memorable shoots have been shooting the tribute band series. And since this series is televised, the performers’ energy levels are through the roof. One of the tribute bands, Kenny Metcalf, who portrays Elton John: The Early Years, is a compelling performer and I wanted to capture his excitement and energy. I don’t really know how I do it, but when I shoot performers I feel like I am on the stage with them anticipating their moves and capturing their most intimate moments.

Who from the musicians you have shoot, had the most passion for the image and camera lens?

Recently I’ve been shooting for AXS.TV “The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands” series hosted by Katie Daryl.
Prior to shooting these bands, I had very little knowledge of the tribute band scene. This will be my third season, and I will say, these bands have both passion and talent, and it’s easy to capture that intensity with my lens. Just last night, the beginning of season 3, Purple Reign, a Prince tribute band out of Las Vegas, performed at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in West Hollywood and it was like you were watching Prince from 1984. 

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from your shootings in gigs and festivals?

My most vivid memory is the first gig I shot. Prior to that I had never considered concert photography or even thought about it. While attending a concert at The Greek Theater here in Los Angeles I noticed some photographers at the foot of the stage. I remember saying out loud, I want to do that. Just like that, I had made my mind up, that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how to go about doing it or where to start but a light went off in my head. I will always remember that. Through a personal contact I was able to secure a photo pass for a local artist performing at The Troubadour. I remember when the band started playing and I brought the lens to my eye, I felt like I had been doing this my whole life. When I look at those images today I see how far I’ve come, and even though they’re very rudimentary, to me, they represent an awakening.

"When I first picked up a camera with a desire to learn the craft of photography, I didn’t have a goal in mind. All artists start out this way, you know, practicing, whether it be music or painting." Photo © by Renee Silverman

How would you describe your contact with the musicians, when you are “on the project”?

For the most part the musicians let me do what I do. Before they hire me to shoot their concert or band portraits, they’ve seen samples of my work and they know my style and what I can achieve. If I’m unfamiliar with the band or artist, I like to listen to their music or see a video of them. I don’t spent a lot of time analyzing them or anything, but just get a sense of their musical style and showmanship. I like to show up at the gig fresh and ready to create. For band shots, I like to sit down with the artists to a come up with a concept for their shoot - whether its promotional shots or album covers, it needs to convey the artist and their music. This can be achieved with settings, props, lightings, whatever.

Is there any shooting made by mistake, but know you’re proud of? Which memory makes you smile?

Shooting LIVE concerts is a situation where you’re not in control of anything - the lights, the performers, the equipment, the gear, the movement and you have to be aware of the audience around you, after all they’ve paid money to see the band, so you don’t want to get in their way. There are many things going on at one time. My only constant is my camera, my lenses and my eye. So, yes, in the course of shooting concerts, there are “mistakes” or “happy accidents” as we like to call them... For example, over-exposure can add a dreamy effect to an image or blur can simulate movement. From these mistakes, I have learned to recreate the ones that worked, and so if I want the performer’s face to be tack sharp but his hands  blurry while he’s playing the bongos, I will adjust my exposures so I can create that effect.

"I always say to myself, is this how you remember seeing it with your eye?  If it isn’t, then you’ve gone too far." Photo © by Renee Silverman

What do you miss most nowadays from the old days of music? What are your hopes and fears for the future?

I think in the “old days” and I mean 60s, 70s, although I was very young, but I’ve seen pictures and videos, and there was a raw intensity to the music and performances. Things weren’t perfect and bands, in those days, felt comfortable experimenting on stage. Today, everything is choreographed, like a Broadway production and sometimes maybe a little too predictable. And I’m talking about the major artists playing stadiums and larger venues. I’m always hopeful for the future when it comes to music. I’m always hopeful when I see young artists inspired by classic rock and blues, because I know there will be a musical evolution one day. I mean, this can’t be it musically.  I think we’ve been stagnating for a long time. For myself, I’m always on the look out for inspiring original bands to shoot because most of my work is shooting smaller venues and clubs in the Los Angeles area, and I’m open to all types of music and styles.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

What touches me emotionally from the music circuit is what inspired me to go into the arts and that is the desire to create and perform. I see young bands giving it their all and making sacrifices to pursue something that’s unexplainable. I remember as a young musician the sacrifices I made, the hours of rehearsal, unpaid gigs, and day jobs I endured. I understand what they’re going through. I know what it’s like to wake up in the morning and think this has to work out because I just don’t have any other options. I see blues artists out there, playing almost every night of the week, because this is what they have to do. This is what feeds their soul.    

  

"Shooting LIVE concerts is a situation where you’re not in control of anything - the lights, the performers, the equipment, the gear, the movement and you have to be aware of the audience around you, after all they’ve paid money to see the band, so you don’t want to get in their way." Photo © by Renee Silverman

In your opinion what were the reasons that made California to be the center of the music and artistic searching?

Is Los Angeles still the center for music? I think Seattle, Nashville and New York have their share of great musical artists. I think Los Angeles has a rich musical history, when musicians would and probably still made their way here to pursue their musical dreams. Venues like The Whisky, The Roxy, and the Troubadour, still around, were where bands like The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, and others made their mark. The recording studios are all here so A&R execs would frequent clubs and sign artists. Today, you can promote yourself without signing to a major label. It’s different today. 

As a photographer which incident of rock n’ roll history you‘d like to be captured and shoot with your camera?

Looking back at the masters, like I said before great photographers like Henry Diltz and Bob Gruen, I’ve seen a lot of images I would have liked to capture. It would have been great to have been at Woodstock to capture the historical moments both off and on-stage. I would have liked to been in London during the late 70s punk movement or Hamburg, Germany in the 60s with the Beatles. And so many iconic artists and musicians throughout the years like The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, and David Bowie, to name a few would have been wonderful to capture.

Renee Silverman - official website

Photos © by Renee Silverman

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