This month, we chat with Nashville photographer Amber J. Davis about her concert photography, how she got started, her tools, favorite places to shoot, and what she's working on now. Read the interview below and find more of Amber's work on the internet at amberjanedavis.com and @ambjanedavis.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Amber J. Davis. I am a photographer who focuses on music and live show photography, specifically capturing the Nashville scene. Recently, I have dipped into the world of portrait and activism photography.
How long have you been photographing the scene in Nashville? What got you started?
I have been photographing the scene in Nashville going on five years. I actually stumbled upon photography by accident while interning for a website, studying for my undergrad at Belmont University. Before working with them, they discussed needing someone to shoot the local scene by going to events and shows around Nashville. I loved the opportunity. As a broke college student it allowed me to go to shows for free and get out of school.
What’s been the most memorable show you’ve shot? Proudest moment?
Ty Segall at Mercy Lounge in 2014 during his Manipulator tour. I remember getting to the venue super early to get a front row spot to shoot perfectly (and to fangirl over Ty being so close to me). Long-story short, the crowd got crazy. Everyone was moshing, moving, and crowd-surfing, which pinned the lower half of my body to the corner of the stage. In a moment out of character, I remember looking around and being like, “Fuck it,” and got up on the stage to shoot behind his amps. Then by some miracle, I managed to not only be fangirling, but I’m also getting this killer shot of the intense energy flowing through the room. I was shocked no one pulled me off the stage, I stayed shooting behind his amps for the remainder of the show.
So far, my proudest moment is when I started shooting shows for the Nashville Scene. Sending links of my work to my family eventually wears off, but giving them something more tangible means the world to me.
What’s your background? Did you study photography in school?
Photography was something I never saw myself pursuing. When I was shooting for my internship, I had no idea how to use a DSLR. But, I fell in love with capturing live performances and I am still completely self-taught. Luckily, I have been fortunate to have very close friends who have been professional photographers for years. I don’t know where I would be without them answering all of my ridiculous questions.
How did you know that you wanted to be a photographer?
I believe it hit me during my last semester at Belmont. I was shooting shows 4-6 times a week at this point. I remember attending a few shows without my camera and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would shoot the show or the people around me.
Film or digital?
I truly love film from a romantic perspective, however, I have to say digital. A lot of my photos need a fast turn around, so I focus a lot of time and energy on digital formats and equipment.
What’s your setup when shooting?
I shoot on a Canon 6D with a 24-70mm lens. If I am at a punk / DIY show, I will always bring my external flash.
Do you experiment with any of your photos? If so, how? What’s your favorite method?
Flash photography and using multiple exposures is very fun to experiment with. The local music scene has been using really trippy liquid light—artists such as Silver Cord Cinema, Labrys Light Show, and DigDeep Light Show—they create a completely new dimension when experiencing a live show. I like to create the same effect as if my viewers were at the show by utilizing the multiple exposure tool, overlaying their backdrop on top of the band performing on stage.
Do you have a favorite venue to shoot in? What’s been the strangest venue you’ve shot in?
I do not necessarily have a favorite, I have shot every single venue in Nashville and can’t pinpoint my absolute. They are all different in their own respects and when I am shooting, it’s more about the energy of the show and the band performing.
The strangest venue I have shot has been Tin Roof. I was on assignment to shoot Vanilla Ice and Coolio. In a nutshell, it turned out to be the weirdest show I have ever witnessed and shot.
Who are some artists that influence you? Anyone we should know about?
One person who always influences me, and I am so happy to call him a close friend and mentor, is Jake Giles Netter. But, I have also been obsessed with Marcus Maddox, Dylan Reyes, Jacqueline Justice, and Pooneh Ghana.
How do you motivate yourself creatively?
I always want to capture the moment and movements at a show. I study their body movements to capture a moment of emotion with their performance. Honestly, the more active the artist or band is on the stage, the more I have fun shooting.
Where do you go to escape?
Oddly enough, going to shows. I attend 3-5 times a week, with or without my camera. I have a full-time job that can be high stress, and high volume, and expects me to be on the phone and computer all day. Attending shows allows me to step away and be around people.
What’s your biggest challenge with shooting shows?
The crowds. If I am not early to a show and have to worm my way to get a good view to shoot, it can get pretty intense. I’ve had beer thrown on me, my hair pulled, screamed at by various attendees. Even if I do arrive early and lock in “my spot,” I get bombarded with people in the crowd trying to intimidate me out. I deal with social anxiety, so when a crowd gets rowdy with the people around them it can be very triggering.
What bands are you listening to right now?
La Femme, Jimmy Hunt, Crumb, Priests and Laura Sauvage.
Anything you’re looking forward to coming up?
I have been working on this new portrait series about being inclusive. I am so sick of seeing portrait photographers taking photos of their friends who just so happen to be thin and blonde. Everyone is beautiful in their own way and we need to showcase more people of various colors, sizes, and genders. There is so much diversity in this town and I feel it is seriously misrepresented and not covered. That is going to be my main focus in the next few months. I am so excited to collaborate with friends and local artists on this project.
Where can we find more of your work?
You can usually find my work in No Country for New Nashville, Nashville Scene, and Nashville Psych Alliance. But, for more up-to-date photos and side projects find me on Instagram @ambjanedavis or over at my website, amberjanedavis.com.
All photos by Amber J. Davis.
FOUND is a monthly series by Original Fuzz. We aim to discover visual artists from every corner of the world, no matter the background or creative vision. We believe it's not just what you do, but how you do it. Art is important. FOUND celebrates the visual and those who create it, serving as a platform for the creative pioneers who keep us doing what we do.
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