Performing is tough. Though we may not always see it from the floor, most musicians come off the stage drowning in sweat and high on adrenaline. Photographer Brandon Andersen captures exactly that moment in his ongoing series, “Before/After,” which took off when he started shooting musicians before and after their sets at Warped Tour. The Cleveland-based photographer has been working in music photography for about 3-4 years, and began with punk and hardcore bands in Northern California. Between covering concerts around the country, he has also launched a music photography publication called Discordant Media. I had the chance to talk to him and get an inside look on his Before/After series.
As soon as I saw Before/After, I was obsessed with it, and it seems like a lot of other people are too. I’m seeing it everywhere now. Thank you, I’m glad you liked it. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on it and it got picked up by a ton of people. I sent it to one photo blog that I regularly read, and I was stoked with just that. Then it kind of just took on a life of its own. It got a bunch of overseas coverage, which was pretty rad, and I started getting fan mail from people in the middle of nowhere saying how it inspired them to keep shooting – Canada, Switzerland, England. It was tight.
That’s awesome, congratulations. Now that this one photo series has taken off so much, do you feel like there is pressure to keep that same format in the future? Oh I definitely want to keep it going. I wanted to continue with it at another festival I worked on earlier this year in Columbus, Ohio, but I took on a lot of responsibilities on the media team so I didn’t really have time to focus on a personal project. But I definitely want to keep Before/After going.
The photos have such nice color and contrast to them; they don’t look like they were taken in a dark, backstage area. Did you have some kind of a formal setup for the artists to immediately go into after the show? Alright, (laughs) I basically took these two pieces of polyfoam board, taped them together, and put hooks on the back. I was able to attach them to a piece of chain-link fence, which I held up with my hand. So I shot with my camera in my right hand, with my left hand holding up the backdrop. That’s why you can see that not all of the portraits are exactly the same, and something I want to try to do in future shots is keep them more uniform. But there was no lighting. It was all just naturally lit outdoors, so you can tell some of them were earlier in the day or later in the evening. There were a couple of times the setup fell on the artists’ heads while I was shooting, but they would just laugh. I mean it’s really lightweight, it was just awkward and bulky. So all these other photographers at Warped Tour were like “who the hell is this guy walking around with this big white thing?”
Is it kind of chaotic trying to get ahold of these musicians right when they get off stage? Well, Warped Tour behind the scenes was amazing, I mean everyone is a huge fan and everyone is working with each other. The first day of Warped Tour I was on was one of the dates out in PA. I was out there with a band so I did it with them first, because I was riding in van with them and they’re a bunch of close friends. And then there was another band at Warped Tour that are close friends of mine as well, so I knocked it all out the first day I was there – I think I shot 10 or 11.
Are all of them online right now? Will you be releasing ones we haven’t seen yet? Actually the stuff that’s going around right now is like maybe half of the project. I think all in all it came out to about 22 photos. The next festival I do is going to be about another 20, so there will be around 40 total – or however many I can get done over the next 6-12 months. I’ll probably release all of them on a separate domain.
I noticed your first batch captured mainly heavier, alternative groups. Is there a specific genre of music you like to focus on? Not at all. I want to branch out and do it with more than just that genre, so I’m reaching out to different musicians and trying to get more content.
Do you think the contrast between the shots will look different for different genres of music? For example, an indie pop singer versus a heavy metal singer versus an opera singer? Everyone still gives it 110%. I mean every time an artist leaves the stage they’re spent. They’ve put everything out there, they’ve done everything, they gave it all – they literally waited all day for that. It’s still going to show that they worked their asses off.
Did you find that the artists were receptive to the idea, or did they not want to be portrayed looking messy and exhausted? No, I mean everyone at Warped Tour is out in the sun for a couple months straight every day, sweating and looking like junk. So everyone for the most part was like “Oh this is sweet.” There weren’t really any prima donnas worried about keeping up their appearance or anything. That’s one thing that was really good about photographing that genre.
If you had the chance to shoot some big names for the series, would you take it? Or do you prefer to stick to more alternative musicians? Oh hell yeah, I’ll do anyone and everyone that’s willing. There are really no guidelines for it besides being a musician. If you’re a tambourine player that’s just a backup player for someone – I mean I’ll really shoot anyone for it.
Would you say that the energy they put into performing is the main story you want to get across with Before/After? Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. It’s showing that they left a lot out on the stage. It’s not like any new or profound idea, it’s exactly what you thought was going to happen. I want to see you right before you go on the stage, super stoked and ready to do this. Then I want to see you right when you get done when you’re spent and you look shot, you know? When you look like junk, you’re all sweaty, and your hair is messed up. I mean I’ve gotten some flack from people who are like “Oh cool, big deal, they’re just sweaty.” But the whole point of it is that it’s so straightforward. It’s not a surprise that they look like a mess afterwards. I just took a photo of it.
Are you planning on displaying the Before/After collection in a gallery? Maybe, if I end up doing a ton of them I might. But right now it’s probably just going to be an online thing. I’m doing a couple prints as a Christmas present to some of my friends, but that’s about it.
Do you have any advice for other music photographers who are trying to do stuff outside of conventional music photography? Well you know, the answer is always going to be no if you don’t ask. I mean, just yesterday I applied for press passes to go shoot Usher, so we’ll see what happens. But if you don’t ask, your answer is no.