There’s no denying that photographs allow us to communicate in a way that’s like no other. More than just a simple record, a photograph lets us preserve memorable events, moments and peoples in our lives. With the ever-growing accessibility and instantaneity nature of social media, photography has certainly become even more significant throughout many large industries, particularly that of entertainment as both artists and fans alike wish to capture and share these special memories with one another.
One artist capturing many of these remarkable occasions for the likes of K.Flay, Hippo Campus and Young The Giant, just to name a few, is touring photographer extraordinaire Brit O’Brien. We recently caught up with the Northern California native to talk about her journey into music photography, the challenges of life on the road and getting past those ‘it’s too hard’ moments.
What was your exposure to photography in your early years and how did you originally develop an interest in it?
I developed a knack for it when I was 13 or so. I carried a point and shoot camera around with me at school (our phones didn’t have built in cameras yet) and I would post little photo albums of me and my friends hanging out to Myspace and Facebook. I was the documentarian of our group.
Do you remember your very first camera and at what point you knew you wanted to make a career out of photography?
My first camera was a little Coolpix point and shoot. Took it everywhere. I got my first DSLR senior year of high school and fell in love (even though I had no idea what I was doing..) Didn’t realize it was going to be my career path until I was 20 or so.
Have you always been passionate about music and what was it that originally sent you in the direction of music photography?
Yes! Always. Music has been a big part of my life since I was 13. My first favorite full length album was By The Way by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It really made me fall in love with music. From there music sort of creeped into all aspects of my life.
Were there any particular photographers or artists who influenced you and impacted your work in any way early on?
Yes! When I first got into the idea of doing travel/tour photography Foster The People were making a big splash in the indie scene (2012-2013). They had a photographer out with them named Andy Barron – his work with them was a huge impact for me early on. I also take a lot from Robert Yeoman!!
Can you tell us a little bit about your career path in terms of how you went from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it full time, for a living?
It took so much time and work. I would grind and grind going to local shows in San Francsico. I was “working” (unpaid gigs obviously) for local music publications and venues – being called out for shows all the time. I would practice at those shows and market myself on the internet. One of the local bands I did a lot of work with (Finish Ticket) got offered a tour with Twenty One Pilots – and I went and worked shows with them out there. It blew my mind. Coming back – I wanted more than ever to tour full time. I went with Finish Ticket on their next few tours and started meeting other bands who liked what I was out there doing. Eventually I was able to market myself directly to managers.
We first discovered your work through K.Flay. How did you come to work with her?
I e-mailed her manager asking if I could shoot a show she was playing in San Francsico. He responded saying he liked my work and was interested in having me shoot…but it didn’t work out. Eventually we met up in LA and I got invited on the road! Touring with K.Flay is a dream. Her team is wonderful, the shows are awesome and it’s living with some of my best friends for months on end.
Is that how the process usually works, or do some acts come to you directly first?
It is a combination of the two. I’ve had it work for me both ways with different bands. The relationships are very important though. Capturing intimate moments would be impossible if I wasn’t comfortable around the people I work with.
If you could tour with and photograph any artist/band, who would it be?
So many options! I think for me it would be The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys.
Do you have any crazy or memorable tour/photographing experiences you could share with us?
Ah, a million.
K.Flay took me to Europe last April. It was my first time in Europe and I was so excited to come out and photograph her playing arenas with Imagine Dragons. Kristine is very athletic and part of the deal was I had to walk with her around all the countries we were visiting. So when we were in Prague she said “let’s go walk to breakfast…” and this WALK ended up being over 10 miles. So I can safely say I’ve walked what feels like the entirety of Prague. And I have K.Flay to thank for that.
Can you also tell us a little bit about what life is like as a touring photographer.. What are your favourite aspects of touring and some of the more difficult factors of life on the road?
My favorite part of touring is traveling/exploring/trying coffee shops every day/not knowing what the night will end up like/living with my friends.
My least favorite part of touring summed up is this: attempting to wash your face because you haven’t showered in two days but the bus is moving and the sink is less than a foot wide. So your being thrown around with cleanser all over your face, sloshing water everywhere…then suddenly you run out of clean water and are stranded.
Tour is dirty and uncomfortable.
Has there ever been times where you were ready to give it all up for an “office job,” and if so what kept you from actually doing so?
There were many many times in the beginning where I had that itch. Then I would say to myself “when have I ever quit?” If you really want to work for yourself in a creative field – you have to put in the work. If there were times I wanted to quit I would remind myself how miserable I would be otherwise and that would put me back in the driver’s seat.
Did you ever have a back-up plan incase a career in photography didn’t work out for any reason?
Yes! I wanted to be a meteorologist.
When it comes to shooting both portrait and live, are there any major differences with how you approach the two and do you have a preference to which you prefer?
I prefer candid shooting over anything else. Capturing people in real life doing real things and making into portraiture is special to me. The major difference is light too. I always sort of know what light I’ll be working with in live – never know what I’ll be working with in the day to day.
In terms of style, how would you best describe your photography as a whole – Do you have an end goal in mind in terms of what you want to achieve during each shoot?
I would describe my photography style as “documentary.” My end goal always represents my overall goal – keep it unique and try something weird. I don’t want people to get bored with my work, I want each shot to feel quirky and new.
Your first time being flown somewhere to photograph a show was SXSW in 2014 – which is a pretty big deal. Do you remember any particular lessons you learnt during that experience?
Yes! I learned a lot. I remember feeling grateful – a feeling I would come to cherish because it always pushes me to be the best I can in the field. I also learned that you must be ready for anything in the music industry on that trip. Plans can change in a second and you have to be accepting and prepared.
As a visual artist, social media is a very powerful tool – What is your take on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter?
They are a vital piece to my career. I honestly hate what social media has done in terms of a wider scale mental health related issue. I think people are too obsessed with their online personality (speaking from experience) and have forgotten how nice it was to just be in the moment.
Instagram has been a wonderful tool for me and Twitter is great for getting more people in on the conversation. I stay away from Facebook. All can be dangerous for me though – I start to get angry at myself when I spend to much time on these apps nowadays. I want to get back to life itself.
Last but not least, What else is in store for you throughout 2019?
2019 is shaping up to be busy. Very full of touring. I’ll be with Hippo Campus April-June. I’ll be with Fitz and The Tantrums, Young the Giant and Coin June-August … and a few other things to be announced too. I’m also hoping to release a photo/tour book called “Nobody’s Guide to Life on the Road” — you heard it here first!