In My Mind: Ben Walsh (Interview)
In My Mind: Where we talk to creative people doing interesting things across the world. This can be in areas ranging from music, to photography, to journalism, to A&R, fashion and beyond.
Ben Walsh is a rising London photographer who has spent a considerable amount of his time capturing moments and artists within the grime scene. Over the last couple of years he's worked his way up and has managed to gain opportunities to shoot at festivals like Born & Bred and Bestival where he's been able to shoot MC's like Novelist, Wiley, JME, D Double E & more.
ITNOR: What made you get into music photography (specifically) in the first place?
Ben: I had been following the Grime scene and photography for a while and I kept on seeing other photographers work pop up. Grime and Photography are my two favourite things so I just figured why not combine them and give it a go. Things have been going pretty well so far just my big regret is not starting earlier!
What was it about the grime scene in particular that you made you want to immerse yourself in it?
I've been a fan of Grime music for a while now. Not to say I'm a proper early listener but I started listening to it around 2010/11, finding old Tim Westwood freestyle videos on YouTube featuring artists like Newham Generals & Marvell. It's just such a unique British sound and something I'm very passionate about. When I first started out my goal was just to get to meet some of the artists and build a portfolio of work but it's taken me to some pretty cool places.
When did you feel comfortable enough to start getting more involved and approaching artists? I imagine there's a lot of networking required, and having some sort of a portfolio to help prove your worth/skills?
Networking is crucial at events. Getting shots of an artist is one thing but when you are connecting with people from radio stations or blogs that's when the work starts to come in. I try to approach most artists after the show, saying I'm a fan of a certain song/project or showing them photography I had taken of them at a previous show. This is the most interactive way to talk to them as they'll respect you and may even recognise your work, showing you love rather than just shoving your camera in their face and asking for a quick photo. This way I have built a relationship with certain artists in the scene by the likes of Novelist and AJ Tracey so this way works best for me!
What camera / gear are you currently shooting with?
At the moment I'm currently shooting with my Nikon D7000 and my prime f/1.8 35 and 50mm lenses. I'm looking to invest in a Nikon D750 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens as my current camera is on the limit of the ISO when shooting low lit venues and I'll need a zoom lens for festivals in the future. It's really not about your camera/having the latest equipment to take good photos it's just I need to take it to the next level to pursue this professionally. By the time this interview goes up I probably will have splashed out on the new kit, haha
Do you have a personal preference between shooting portraits and concert photography?
I love shooting both really as they are two different types of photography and have their own perks. With live photography I love capturing the expression of the artist along with the dramatic lighting and freezing that specific moment. With portraits I feel it is more intimate as you are with the artist and it's great finding cool random locations around London and positioning the artist. At the moment I am trying to focus more on portraiture to improve my skills and maybe go into fashion related photography.
Have you had any big breaks yet? You interned at Bestival (among other festivals) right? Tell us about that experience.
Bestival has definitely been the biggest milestone in my photography career so far. It was such a learning curve as I was shooting with photographers for the main production company who had been photographing festivals and concerts for 10+ years. A lot of the team shot for NME magazine when it was in its prime. Bestival was only about 30% live music shots and 70% people, atmosphere and activities so it was a good variety. I did a bit of shadowing with the main guy called Vic in the evening and he gave me some great tips shooting people and night parades which helped a lot. About 5/6 of my photos made it into the final cut of the production pictures, which was around 100 including a shot of AJ Tracey & Section Boyz so I was very happy. I also shot Wireless festival on Friday for an American blog called Upcoming Hip Hop and Born N Bred Festival for radio station Rinse FM which were both epic.
If you had the chance to work with anyone you’d like, who would it be?
I'd probably say Stormzy. He's the only really big Grime star that I'm still yet to photograph live or meet in person. He produces some insane energy when he's on stage so he'd make for some great photography. Shooting some sort of Adidas campaign featuring him would also be a dream.
Have you had to learn anything the hard way, or gained any valuable lessons throughout?
I've learnt that there is a lot of exploitation with young up and coming photographers. Promoters/organisers will often tell you they "don't have a budget" or think that they are doing you a favour for the exposure just so they can save some money. As a photographer I don't mind doing it as a favour at first but if they continue to use you and it not benefit you then you need to know when to stand up for yourself which can be difficult. Some jobs can also be too hard to turn down for free for the experience which is also tricky. If they say they cannot pay you at least try and ask for your expenses to be covered so it isn't money coming out of your own pocket.
Any other photographers/friends in your circle that you want to shout out or plug?