Benjamin Lieber is a Brooklyn-based photographer. Rooted in music, he loves to be on the road with bands, documenting the on- and off-stage adventures in his own, very unique psychedelic aesthetic on film. For this festival summer, we've equipped Benjamin with some Lomography Color Negative 400 and 800 film which he took on tour with Trophy Eyes. With this stunning series, he is taking us backstage, underwater and into the crowds. Most importantly, however, he is proving that music photography does not necessarily take place on stage only.
Welcome to the Lomography magazine, Benjamin. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
I’m a visual art photographer in Brooklyn specializing in psychedelic and futurist art. I find myself at the crossroads between graphic design and photography. I work in music and fashion, but music definitely has dominance in my life. I am a musician as well, playing various instruments in touring bands as my other career, and I pour the energy and heart of music into every project I do, related or not.
How did you get into music photography?
I started touring as a musician at a very young age of 16, I hadn’t even graduated high school, and it got very real, very quickly. I graduated high school a year early and hit the road; pretty much on tour full time for the next 3-4 years. I traveled every inch of the USA many times, and made a lot of amazing connections that became the bed on which my career was built. I was gifted my first SLR, a Pentax K1000, from my dear aunt somewhere in 2015. I brought it on tour and just became obsessed. When you’re traveling like that, there’s ample time during each day where your mind can wander. But having a camera kept me busy, and having a brand new environment to document and explore every day, every hour, was like Christmas. The camera also gave me a lot of confidence, and a reason to go explore and stick my nose in things I normally wouldn’t have. I rocked that camera for the next 2 years just taking avant-garde, street art photos, mainly for myself. I picked up an AE-1 in 2016 with a 35-70mm macro, which was my first time having a zoom lens and it changed my world. I remember that tour, with that camera, being a game changer for me. I captured some of my first photos where I was like, wow, maybe I’m actually good at this.
At the end of 2017, touring slowed down for me for a bit. I was residing in Buffalo, and felt I needed a change. I didn’t know if touring/playing music was going to continue to be my career path, or what else there was in store for me, but I think I just needed a different environment to help me figure it out. I moved to New York City in August of 2018. Once I got here, it was like two big french doors opened up in front of me and said here’s a giant playground, go have fun. I took some of my favorite street photos I’ve ever taken.
I really felt like I fell into a style of my own, and found what I wanted to see in my photography.
More and more, I was shooting all the time, working a few service jobs to get by. Eventually, I got so tired of working those jobs and spending my time not doing what I wanted to be doing, which was creating art. I think those tough jobs drove me to the brink where I just put blinders on and was like ok, photography is going to be my career now! Figure it out. I invested, got a ton of gear, and set myself up. When I started thinking of what type of work I was going to do, I realized I had a long list of amazing musician friends that I’ve made over my years of touring at my fingertips, just waiting to be tapped into. So I started hitting them up. And for some reason they all trusted me, and I think that every project I did, got me deeper and deeper into a style of my own, and I found myself more through each work. I can’t thank each of my friends who took a chance on working with me, I truly owe them the world.
Being on tour with one band for a while, shooting live shows, there's always the risk of coming back with too many similar photos. How do you go about ensuring variety? Or in other words: How do you keep things interesting for yourself and in your work?
I’ve never been interested in the typical “tour photographer” style/role. It bores me. I have no desire to take 50+ photos of your set, edit them all the same way, pump it out in an hour and move on to the next city. I like making art. Quality over quantity. Of course I shoot the live set, but that’s not everything. In fact, the live set makes up like 2% of the time you’re on a tour. So to limit your work to just that is asinine. Candid and conceptual has always been favorable for me, I like finding those special moments that the fans don’t get to see. After all, there’s a reason you have all access right? As a photographer, it’s your job to highlight those small intricacies, little slivers of moments.
Especially with live shows and the fast-paced life on tour, shooting on film can make things harder for photographers. Why do you choose to stay analog?
Well I’m not gonna lie, I do digital too. A lot of the crazy, psychedelic futurist / conceptual stuff I do is using digital photos because I can manipulate it more. But I use film for everything else. Any sort of touring documentation / candid / even most of the live stuff is on film. I’d say I bring my digital out for 1-2 songs during the set just to have, and the rest of the time i’m on various film cameras. I stick with film because it’s real. It’s tangible. And I think it tells stories better than any digital photo could. It captures genuine moments better than a digital photo could. Plus, I just have such a physical attraction to film cameras. I so much prefer carrying them around with me all the time. Those cameras of mine feel so good in my hand/on my shoulder, like they are a part of me. The digital doesn’t as much. I don’t really know how to explain it, the whole process of film is just real and very connected to you as a creative person.
Tell us a little bit about these shows you documented for Trophy Eyes. Any fun stories to share?
I went out with the band Trophy Eyes from Newcastle Australia on their summer US festival tour. The festival was called Disrupt sponsored by Rockstar Energy Drink, and featured bands like Circa Survive, Atreyu, The Used, and more. This was my first time touring a summer festival, and it was very different from a normal club tour. Being out in the sun all day, in these parking lots and big fields way outside major cities was strange, I'm not gonna lie. But it was really refreshing! Everyone gets super close really quickly because it’s like a big summer camp, a self contained world in a way. We went up to Toronto for one of the shows and stayed in Burlington, Ontario the day after, which was the 4th of July. We crossed over the border and watched fireworks over Niagara Falls (which is where I grew up coincidentally) and it was really really special.
Do you have a favorite shot from this series? If so, we'd love to hear why or the story behind it.
I love the pieces I did with John in the pool. Specifically above water, with the flowers floating around him. That was at the house in Burlington I mentioned, I was just sitting in the pool enjoying the day off, and the sun was so perfect, there was this amazing flower bush by the poolside and I just saw it in my head to have these pretty petals floating around him. I shot that on the 800 film with my SLR and it just came out so crisp and vivid and contrasted. Proud of it, haha.
How did you like shooting the Lomography CN400 and 800 and do you have a favorite?
They’re both amazing! I think the Lomography Color Negative 400 was perfect for my point and shoot and bodes well for flash photography. The Lomography Color Negative 800 will always be my favorite, though. I’ve always been so fond of shooting 800 speed film in situations that are meant for like, 100 speed film. I love how vivid it is, almost technicolor and just blown out. I also was really amazed at how receptive the blacks are on the Lomo CN 800. Great great film.
Is it a challenge for you to pitch shooting film to bands/management?
It was at first before I had a proven track record of sick shots, but now no one questions me :-)
Any advice for people who'd like to get into analog music photography?
JUST DO IT. Only way to get good is to just take 9 million thousand hundred pictures. Remember what you do. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. Quality over quantity. Patience. And as for specifically music photography, go to 9 million thousand hundred shows. Meet everyone. Make friends with EVERYONE. Having a wide network of musicians was the ticket to me doing this as a career, but I wouldn’t have that if I didn’t grind as a musician for 5 years first. And follow your heart. Don’t make something a specific way just because you see everyone else doing it that way. Don’t be a follower, start your own movement and if you create genuinely people will hop on board. And always remember the ethics of rock and roll and instill them into your daily life –throws up devil horns– okay I’m done here, haha.