Photo courtesy of Mikey Riot
Welcome to another edition of Live in Limbo’s concert photographer interview.
Today, I am pleased to have the highly respected photojournalist Pete Nema answering some questions for us and telling us what’s currently on his mind. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Pete a few times on the job at Virgin Festival 2007 (god, I wish this festival came back to Toronto Island) and the CMW Indie Awards. Pete is the Publisher and a photographer at Sticky Magazine based in Toronto.
In this interview, Pete takes us on a little trip through the interrelationships between his life, career and ambitions. It is a great late night read, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.
Sean Chin (SC): Thank you so much for taking part in this interview Pete, let’s get started! Tell us little bit about yourself?
Pete Nema (PN): Let’s see… During the day I’m a Software Development Manger at Quest Software Inc. where I work on Java and .NET monitoring tools. Here’s the reveal: During the day I use my given (real) name. When I’m out at the shows taking photos, or working on Sticky Magazine, I am Pete Nema. If you really want to know my real name, you’ll have to Google for it… it’s out there.
SC: Where did you grow up and where are you based now?
PN: Born and raised in Toronto, currently based in Toronto, but spent a few years living in Australia many years ago, as well as a year in Switzerland.
SC: Did you ever take formal photography classes?
PN: When I was about 12 years old, I took some photography classes run by the Toronto School Board on Saturday morning. I learned the basic physics of the camera as well as how to develop film in a darkroom. I was fortunate enough to have a darkroom of my own during my teenage years and in my 20’s; I learned a lot through that experience.
SC: You are well known for your concert photography and musician portraits, what in particular led you to specialize in the music industry of photography?
PN: For many years I took photos of other things, but about 6 years ago, I ran a personal blog for which I would sometimes write about music. Out of nowhere, bands started sending me music. I liked it, so I decided to dedicated a whole blog entirely to music, which is how petenema.com was started. Then, quite literally while at a Broken Social Scene concert in 2006, it occurred to me that I could mix my love for photography with my love for music. That was my first concert review. It took a while to get going with the photography, but that show was where I had the epiphany.
SC: Who and when was your first “official” gig with a fancy photo pass?
PN: After shooting a number of smaller shows, I somehow managed to wrangle a photo pass for Pilot Speed (with People In Planes) at the Koolhaus in July 2006. It was a huge change from shooting at the Horseshoe, and I remember being quite proud of a few photos from that gig.
SC: How many gigs do you shoot in a month?
PN: It used to be about 8-12 a month, but I was unable to keep up that pace. I started Sticky Magazine so that I could still provide coverage for bands I love but not have to do all the shows myself. So then I was down to about 4-6 a month. For the past few months, I’ve been unable to be out hardly at all, but I hope to be back out at it again later in the summer.
SC: Who and when was your most memorable gig to photograph?
PN: The Flaming Lips at the Molson Amphitheatre was probably the most fun I’ve ever had shooting a show. I swear I only spent half of the time I had (3 songs) trying to get photos and the other half just in awe of what was happening around me. It was incredible! Sometime it’s amazing what you get to be a part of as a concert photographer.
SC: Who is your dream gig to shoot and why?
PN: I guess that would have to be Jimmy Hendrix, but it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to do that one at this point.
SC: In one sentence, how would you describe you style of concert photos?
PN: In the moment.
SC: You have a beautiful wife and two amazing children plus a full time job besides concert photography. How in the world to you manage to keep yourself intact and focused on each of these important aspects in your life?
PN: For many years, I was able to balance it all through careful time management, immersing myself in whatever I was doing, and not worrying about what I wasn’t doing. It also involved (and still involves) saying “no” and “sorry” quite a lot. But honestly, over the past few months, I’ve been unable to keep myself intact —I’ve have been battling some personal issues and I’m still working on putting myself back together. So the work I do for Sticky has taken a bit of a back seat, temporarily. As I mentioned, I hope to be back at it all later in the summer, but for the time being I’m working on getting myself healthy again.
SC: Prior to Sticky Magazine, you directed the bulk of your portfolio to PeteNema.com. What are the differences in dynamics between shooting for your own blog versus a team effort?
PN: Having Sticky and working with a team is nice for a number of reasons. For me, one benefit is that I don’t always have to write the reviews. Sometimes I like to, but for the most part, photography is the aspect of the work that I enjoy most. I like to write to help promote the bands I love, but I’ve never considered myself a writer, and I only do it to provide context for the photos. It’s really nice to have a team of music lovers to work with, and together we can cover more deserving artists that just me alone.
SC: What do you enjoy and dislike about being a Publisher?
PN: I love getting to see the results from my contributors, and feed off their enthusiasm. I enjoy reading their articles for the shows I’m not at, and getting see them succeed in areas where they are focusing their efforts. But, as the publisher, I’m also the web master, and I can’t say I enjoy maintaining the site: fixing bugs, keeping the software up to date, backups, etc.
SC: What skills or characteristics does it take a photographer or writer to become a part of Sticky?
PN: I look for people who don’t just love photography or writing, but also truly enjoy the concert experience. I like them to have similar musical taste as I do, but also different enough that I can learn about new music from them. And I look for people who are self motivated… they keep an eye on the shows, they keep an eye out for great new bands, they are immersed in the music scene. Everyone who contributes does it on a volunteer basis, so it’s important that they love the work.
SC: If your staff at Sticky had a chance to tell me what they think of you, and you are locked up in a sound proof recording studio, what five words would they use to describe you?
PN: Hmm…Tough question. I really don’t know, so I’ll guess: Smelly, awkward, old, geek, tyrant?
SC: What gear do you currently wield? And why do you prefer that brand?
PN: My Canon 5D Mk II, Tamron 28-75/2.8 lens, and Canon 70-200/2.8L IS do the bulk of the work. I use Canon because when I first bought equipment, their high ISO noise levels were better. I’m not sure it really matters anymore, but I’m used to Canon and their camera bodies feel good in my hands. Also, because I have Canon lenses, I still buy Canon bodies. In the end, it’s just a camera. I’ve shot with a friend’s Nikon, and aside from having to learn where the controls were, it was effectively the same.
SC: If you are in a situation when you only had to time to take one lens to shoot a concert, which lens would that be and why?
PN: Quite often I will only take my Tamron 28-75/2.8. For many small shows, it’s all I need.
SC: Are you a Mac or PC?
PN: I’ve got an iMac. And I typed up the answers to these questions on my iPad (in Pages). My iPhone is in my pocket, and I own a few other iPods for a variety of music listening purposes. Dear Apple, this advertisement has to be worth something! I’d love a new MacBook Pro 15” laptop. Hint hint.
SC: What digital editing tools do you use to touchup your concert photos?
PN: I do all of my photo post processing in Adobe Lightroom 3.
SC: What blogs or sites do you visit the most?
PN: I wish I could say I read other music blogs regularly, but it’s not true… I just can’t find the time. But when I do read other music blogs, I like to read Frank Yang’s chromewaves.net, as well as buyingshotsforbands.com, thetakemedia.com, plus I really love what they do over at southernsouls.com.
SC: What is something that you’re still learning or would like to learn?
PN: I’m not very good at directing people for portraits and studio work. I would really like to improve that area so that I can properly and efficiently set people up for portraits and provide them with good posing guidance. I got some experience doing that while working on the 52TO project, and photographing actress Theresa Joy, but I am definitely still learning!
SC: In your opinion, what is something that is overrated?
PN: I try not to focus on music, bands, or really anything that is overrated, and instead try to find the things in life that are underrated. It’s been satisfying finding bands like Arkells and Hollerado that were once very underrated and see them take the public eye. There is a band out of Winnipeg called The Details that I think falls into the underrated category at the moment. But you asked about overrated… hmm… I think I’ll just go with: Rob Ford.
SC: If you could have breakfast with any musician/band in all of history, who would it be and why?
PN: I think it would have to be Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters. When Kurt Kobain put an end to Nirvana, it wasn’t Dave Grohl that I expected to go on to become a massive success. I really respect him for that, taking what he learned from his experience and applying it in a way that appealed to the world.
SC: What is one way you market yourself?
PN: I’m not sure I really do market myself. I think the most effective action I’ve taken to get people to see my photos is to share them online via Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else comes along. I just want people to see the photos and learn about the great music they represent.
SC: Your thoughts on release forms these days, what you feel they represent, and the relations they create between musicians and journalists?
PN: There are some release forms that are very reasonable. It is a musician’s right to protect their image. (In some cases, their image may be more important than their music.) But there are release forms that basically steal copyright, and although they will sometimes be signed, I don’t think it is a fair business practice.
SC: What ambitions do you have, that you have not fully achieved yet?
PN: I have, for as long as I can remember, wanted to make a movie. As teenagers, my friends and I would make short films on video tape. In university, I once directed some of my friends to act out one of my dreams, although I’m not sure whatever happened with that (perhaps we never completed the task due to… beer). I would still like to make a movie someday.
SC: If someone asked “how can I be the next Pete Nema?” what would you say?
PN: Like everything, the more you do something, the better you will get at it, so get out and shoot shows… it’s the best way to learn. Start small! Don’t expect to be shooting shows that require a photo pass from start. Learn everything there is to know about your equipment, and once you think you know it all, go back and experiment with different settings. The Horseshoe on Tuesdays is an amazing way to get started… but there are many other small venues that have an open policy. Rancho Relaxo comes to mind too. Learn how to shoot in bad lighting, and don’t complain about it… figure out how to make it work. When you finally have good lighting, just be thankful. Develop your own style, don’t be afraid to be different. I’m a geek by nature, and I think that shows in my photos… don’t be afraid to let your photos reflect yourself.
SC: Thank you so much for your time Pete!
You can find and stalk Pete and his crew at Sticky Magazine via the links below!