Concert photographer Ryan Russell has spent a large chunk of his life on the road, documenting bands like Paramore and Death Cab for Cutie on tour. Today, we're throwing it back to the 2000s, with some photos he dug up from his early travels – all of which were taken on his favorite cameras, the Lomo LC-A and Lomo LC-A+.
Let's hear from Ryan and take a look at his photos!
Hey Ryan and welcome to Lomography Magazine! Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself and your work?
Howdy, I'm Ryan Russell and I've been a band photographer for 20+ years. I grew up and worked in Birmingham, Alabama most of my career but moved cross country to Bellingham, Washington in 2013. I spent my years photographing different folks including: Paramore, Death Cab for Cutie, Pedro the Lion, My Chemical Romance, Blink-182, Against Me!, Taking Back Sunday, Tegan and Sara, Tigers Jaw, as well as a few comedians like Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifianakis.
Could you share how you got into analogue photography, and more specifically concert photography?
I used to build websites for a few local bands and a skate shop in Birmingham, Alabama around the late '90s/early '00s. One of the bands signed to a label and began recording their new album. We needed content for the site and I had picked up a camera for a freshman photo class anyway so I documented the recording process. I started shooting their local shows for more content and would also photograph a few of the bands they opened for. Some of those bands liked my work and invited me to shoot their shows and it basically spiraled up from there. Also around that time, an art director friend, Tom Bejgrowicz, got me a photo pass to document Fugazi when they played in Birmingham in 2002 and the images from that helped get my foot in the door when reaching out to bands to shoot in those early days.
What has been your favorite part of photographing life on the road over the years?
It's been incredible to document so many bands I love on tour, but some of the best times have been traveling to their hometown to document a rehearsal session. The intimacy of a practice space is incomparable to any other setting you'll photograph a band in. Whether it's working out new songs, or rehearsing a set list for a new tour, all the rawness of creation fills those rooms and it's just a great space to be in for exploration.
How does your personal photography practice differ from documenting the music scene?
With shooting live performances, I'm looking for the most high energy, dramatic parts of a performance and stage production I can get. Offstage, I much prefer natural, fly on the wall shots when documenting bands. Similarly, a lot of non-music work focuses on slice of life type settings. I am forever striving to be like William Eggleston and document the mundane when it comes to anything not involving music.
What first inspired you to shoot using the Lomo LC-A?
I discovered Lomography around 2001-2002, starting with the ActionSampler and Supersampler. I was so new to photography, it opened up a world of cameras for me outside traditional SLRs. I experimented with those and the Horizon 202, and made my way to a Soviet-era LC-A that I found on Ebay. I fell in love with the images I was able to produce with that first LC-A and the entire experience using that camera. A lot of my earlier work focused heavily on color saturation and contrast, and finding the LC-A brought out the best in what I was capturing. I couldn't believe some of the colors coming out of it using standard C41 films back then. When Lomography released the LC-A+, I upgraded and was just astounded with the clarity of the images and added features. I never modified my original LC-A for multiple exposures, but having the MX slider on the LC-A+ gave me an extra tool to be creative in a new method.
Do you have a favorite shot you've taken on the LC-A? Is there a story behind it?
In 2006, I flew up to Seattle for a proper vacation vs. just being in town for a few hours on tour. It was also my first time to really get to visit the market. I loved seeing all the fishmongers and farmers set up there. I shot this photo of some produce, it's probably so boring to anyone else, but the color tones and contrast felt so perfect to me. Every time I see it I think, "well that's the closest you'll ever get to Eggleston". So many good memories surrounding that trip wrapped up in that image.
If you could take the LC-A anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Japan. I've always wanted to go and I feel like the LC-A would be unmatched in aesthetic and portability while traveling to different prefectures.
Do you have any tips, tricks, or advice for anyone interested in concert photography?
I always tell anyone who asks how to get into documenting bands is to start with your local scene. Almost every city or town has at least some type of music scene. When you partner with folks starting out you're not only helping document someone's early days but it gives you a chance to hone your skills and build a style for your craft. Shoot as many local bands as you can, as often as you can. Additionally, meeting local promoters and/or working at a venue can give you an easy way to get photo passes when bands play a particular venue.
Is there anyone you haven't worked with yet that's on your bucket list?
Right now at the top is Turnstile. After working in music from 2000-2016, I took a step back from the industry feeling burnt out and a little jaded. I had lost that drive to photograph bands anymore and didn't shoot anyone for a few years aside from close friends Pedro the Lion and Death Cab for Cutie. I heard their album, Glow On, in the summer of 2022 and the emotions it invoked brought me back mentally to why I loved music in the first place, and it was almost like a switch went off that I wanted to get back out there. All this incredible music was still happening out there and I was missing out. Glow On became a perfect reminder of how powerful and transformative records can be. I now come out of "retirement" a few times a year to scratch that itch to document bands again.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Discovering the LC-A changed my life as a photographer and empowered me to document things the way I wanted with the aesthetic I was searching for. I've been asked for 20+ years, "what's your favorite camera?", and I always come back to the LC-A. Anyone even slightly interested in photography should make their way to using the LC-A at some point in their creative journey.