Music photographer Danny North has shot Oasis, Muse, Kaiser Chiefs, Gogol Bordello, and Vampire Weekend, and contributes to NME, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Rock Sound, The Independent and Time Out. He talked to us about overcoming disability, going gonzo and how Iron Maiden changed his life…
My photography career started at a very dramatic point in life.
I’ve been heavily disabled with arthritis and bone disease for most of my life. It’s hard for me to overstate how bad that was – I used to wear these massive Forrest Gump knee-braces and walk with a stick. I eventually had a series of about 20 operations.
Because of my disability I knew that a live music career was going to be very difficult, so I branched out. I promoted gigs, stage-managed at nightclubs, managed a band and took photos. About seven years ago my wife bought me a really cheap, crappy digital camera and I just exploded creatively.
My old man took me to see Iron Maiden when I was 12; that was the biggest influence on my entire life. My dad came from a background where you worked for a living. He always loved music and wanted to be a part of that, but never got that opportunity. He obviously planted that seed in me.
I had this moment once in the Soho Hotel in London. The Foo Fighters walked in to the room, I had this camera in my hand and I looked around just thinking, “How the f**k did I end up here?”
I’m from a shitty town called Dewsbury. My dad was working markets in Withernsey the day I was born. You know, I just shouldn’t be in Soho hotel rooms with rock stars.
One of the greatest things about this job is definitely the travel. I love adventure. I think for me, because the first half of my life was lived in pain 24/7, I appreciate that freedom even more.
You don’t make a shitload of money from music photography unless you’re right at the very top. Maybe some people think I am, but I can absolutely assure you I’m not.
The camera I use for live music is a Nikon D3. I’ve had it for three years and I still have no plans to upgrade it. As a live music photographer, your greatest battle is with lighting conditions. Up until the D3 came out, all cameras really struggled with anything above 800 ISO; you’d end up with overexposed shots and motion blur. With the D3 you shoot up to 3200 ISO.
Nikon has now put that chip in lower-priced cameras. You can probably pick up a good, used D700, especially from a good Nikon dealer like Grays of Westminster, for about £1,000. I also always use the software Lightroom. It’s amazing.
My heart really does belong to live music, particularly festivals. It’s quite heavily related to the physical restraints I had growing up and through my twenties. I find portraiture more challenging; it’s more where my brain is. It’s financially and creatively more rewarding because you put in what you get out.
When I see a band like Trash Talk or Gallows, my soul soars. I’m so happy to be part of that moment. Some photographers stand back and observe. My style has always been a little bit more gonzo. Ricky Wilson [singer in the Kaiser Chiefs] once wrote that, “Most photographers are ninja-like, lurking in the background, waiting for the perfect shot. Danny, on the other hand, is often the loudest person in the room.”
But I would never, ever get drunk on a job. I’ll have two pints at the absolute most.
Danny North was talking to Nell Frizzell.
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