Pooneh Ghana is a music photographer who got her start shooting Polaroids at shows in Austin, TX. Her work has been featured in NME, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Kerrang!, Impose, Billboard, and Fender, just to name a few. Since starting her career at 18, Pooneh's spent time on the road doing what she loves, taking iconic photographs of bands she admires and traveling the world.
Read our interview with Pooneh on coming up in the photography world, touring with bands and life on the road, thoughts on her creative process, and what she's got coming up. Find Pooneh's art and musings on the internet @poonehghana.
All photos by Pooneh Ghana.
Who are you and what do you do?
Hello! My name is Pooneh Ghana, and I’m a freelance (primarily music) photographer out of Austin, TX!
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer? How did you get your start?
It was a very gradual thing that happened. In high school, I stumbled upon Lomography’s website and instantly fell in love with their cameras/films. I also loved the community of photographers on their website all sharing each other’s work and posting photography tips. It created a really inspiring atmosphere for me at that time. From there, I started shooting on a bunch of cheap film cameras I’d buy off the internet and take them to shows with me for fun. That was also around the same time I bought a Polaroid camera and started snapping polaroids of the bands I’d go see and meet at the shows. I did it all totally as a hobby at that time, without a photo pass or anything. I lived in San Antonio and would travel up to Austin almost every week to go to see a band. Or if it wasn’t Austin, I would plan a trip that involved either going to a bunch of shows or going to a festival. I started uploading my shots to Flickr, and really came to enjoy music photography more as I did it. I wanted to learn more and more about photography in general, things like developing film, which light modifiers to use, which lenses to buy, how to get into the photo pits at show, how to build a portfolio, etc. I think at some point I just figured that I love photography, live music, supporting the bands I love, traveling, and working on my own schedule, so let’s try to make this music photographer thing work!
What was the first camera you picked up? Do you still use it?
A Holga was the first camera I ever bought, but my dad’s Pentax K1000 was the first camera I ever picked up. I remember loving to play on it when I was kid, even though I had no idea what I was doing with it. I have a different Pentax now that I love shooting on, and the K1000 is still with my dad.
What’s the best part of shooting live music? What’s the best part of shooting portraits? Do you prefer one over the other?
I like both just as equally. With live music, you don’t really have control of your environment or what’s gonna happen while you’re shooting. All you can do is be alert during the performance and have your camera ready to capture those perfect moments and the energy of the room. On the opposite spectrum with portraits, you have complete control of what’s going on in the photo and of the subject. The lighting, setting, positioning of everyone in the shot, etc., can all typically be controlled and modified to bring an exact idea to life. I love the intimacy of shooting portraits as well. So I’d say live music and portraits both inspire a lot of creativity in shooting, but in completely different ways. Which is why I wouldn’t want to choose one over the other.
Cage The Elephant
How much do you travel these days?
I’d say recently, I’ve been traveling at least a week or two out of each month, if not more.
Has traveling helped develop your style? Is there a place you haven’t been before that you’re wanting to explore?
I absolutely believe so! The more of the world you see, the more you have to be inspired by. The fashion trends, the landscape/architecture, the people and their culture, even the food of the places I’ve traveled to have all been things that I know I’ve either consciously or subconsciously come back to when thinking of photoshoot ideas. Travel photography definitely helps me stay fresh and inspired. I’m dying to go to Japan and Australia someday soon!
Who was the first band you went on the road with? Do you have a favorite memory? Was there a moment you realized you wanted to do this as a career?
The wonderful JEFF The Brotherhood was the first band to ever take me out. I remember how excited I was as I’d never gone on tour before, and by the end of it realized how much I enjoyed being on the road and just being a fly on the wall with these bands I love. I remember we were on that tour with FIDLAR, and one night we all just ended up partying together in a Motel 6 in Maryland after we somehow took over the entire floor of this motel. The photos from that night are still some of my favorite photos from touring. Especially when the hallway wrestling match went down. Haha.
Have you had any mentors along the way?
I definitely did when I was first starting out. My good friend Andrew Kendall, who used to shoot for NME and did a lot of music photography for a while (he now runs Digital Photo Gallery), was a big part in my development as a photographer. He’s probably one of the smartest people I’ve met, and without his knowledge and guidance on the photography world and how to make this lifestyle work, I don’t know where I’d be now. There was also Chris at Gorilla Vs. Bear, a music blog out of Dallas, who gave me my first real music photography gig for their site. He took a chance on me when I just was an 18 year old music fan with a Flickr account, and I am forever grateful for that.
Film or digital?
How do you motivate yourself creatively?
I always carry a camera with me and try to travel as much as I can. I’m constantly looking at my surroundings and drawing up compositions in my head. That helps keep my brain and creative juices running. Also learning new tricks and techniques and experimenting with those keep me motivated as well. Things like using a new type of film, learning how to develop film, painting on portraits, making cinemagraphs, playing around with strobes and color gels, are all examples. There’s always something new to learn.
What is a normal week like for you, and does that even exist?
Definitely doesn’t exist, haha. It feels like every week is different and unpredictable. But that’s what keeps it exciting in a weird way.
Where do you go to escape?
Escape for me is road-tripping to a place with my film cameras and no job or objective. Just being out there exploring, taking photos, and hopefully experiencing something new and inspiring. Though, sometimes, just being home with my boyfriend and my dog is the perfect escape too.
How do you find moments to yourself, or self care on the road?
Things like eating healthy, actually finding some time to sleep, taking regular showers, and having a minute alone to get yourself together are all important, yet often difficult things to try to do on the road. The biggest thing for me is just eating well, because eating something like gas station food everyday adds up pretty quickly and can definitely affect your overall experience of being on tour. The more I learn how to maintain some of my regular home routines on the road, the better I feel.
What bands are you listening to right now?
Is there an artist or band that you haven’t photographed/ toured with that you’re wanting to work with?
What’s been your proudest moment thus far in your career?
Getting to work with The Strokes was a huge one for me. They were such a huge influence on me when I was an adolescent just discovering rock music, so when I got that email 10 years later saying they want to work with me, it was a big full circle moment.
What’s your ultimate goal?
To keep developing as a photographer, to stay true to myself in this industry, to keep enjoying what I’m doing, and to be able to do this the rest of my life.
Where can we find more of your work?
What are you working on now? What are you looking forward to?
I’m currently just in an editing hole, finishing up a couple weeks of work. Was out in Paris for a festival, then hopped on a tour out there with my buddies in Broncho, then came back and had a few gigs in Austin. So yeah, just editing forever! I’m looking forward to Day For Night Festival in Houston next month as well. It’s by far one of my favorite festivals of the year.
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. Read more articles in this month's magazine.
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