Lights are dancing, music blaring, crowds cheering… all the while a photographer is silently documenting the scene, capturing the moment. They play a crucial role in the music industry – we constantly use their images in magazines, posters, online – but are often hidden behind their own lenses; rarely thrown into the spotlight themselves.
Jennifer McCord is carving out her own path as a music and lifestyle photographer. She has toured the world with bands like Half Moon Run and Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, was nominated as Best Photographer 2017 by the Heavy Music Awards and is continually building a vast, stunningly-diverse portfolio.
Intrigued to learn more about her artistic process and what it’s like to tour with bands for months on end, I met up with Jenny for a chat about life on the other side of the lens.
How did you first get into music photography?
I kind of fell into it. I’d always gone to gigs and would take my little point and shoot but it never occured to me that it was a thing. I guess it’s because you don’t see music photographers as much – fashion is really in the forefront. With music photography you see a lot of old work, like retrospective images of The Rolling Stones, but I don’t think you see much new work unless it’s in the papers.
I was working for a charity called Wembley To Soweto, who teach photography to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and got talking to one of the founding members. We spoke about my interest in photojournalism and photography, and she suggested I do the photos for their opening night. I did it and she loved them. It was the first time I’d ever really shot anything for someone.
A couple of months later, she asked if I wanted to assist their main photographer. It was the year of the London Olympics so everything was very much based around that. We got to do the torch arrival ceremony at Hyde Park and that was the first time I shot music. It was incredible and I knew that was all I wanted to do.
A couple of years later, I saw that a band I liked were coming over from the States to tour the UK. I sent them my portfolio to see if they wanted a photographer and they were like, ‘yeah, come and tour with us!’ It was the first time I’d been around people who really got how I felt about music and the whole artist mindset.
After that, I met another guy who was promoting rock shows in London and started shooting them every week for free. I was shooting about three times a week and editing on the train home to get the photos up on Facebook so the band could post them. That’s how I got into it and just built it up from there.
How does music photography differ from the other lifestyle work that you do?
It’s the same headspace – a lot of my work is coming from a documentary mindset. I’m just trying to talk to people and get something out of them rather than be intrusive.
I definitely get into a zone when I’m shooting. When I’m shooting live music, I have to work with what I have and react to everything that’s going on around me.
What’s it like going on tour? Are you often the only woman?
Touring is basically hunting around trying to find wifi and food! There’s nothing glamorous about it.
Yeah, I’m often the only woman. It’s normally okay. There have been a couple of occasions where people have been (maybe unintentionally) non-inclusive. They’ll just assume I don’t want to do something, like book a hotel or play five-a-side. That felt a little alienating.
What’s it like touring outside of the UK?
Touring in Europe is significantly better in terms of hospitality. A lot of venues in places like Germany are state-funded so they are able to provide more. Your rider is a three-course meal – it’s really good! I love touring in Europe. Canada was good, too.
Touring in Australia was really odd because you fly between places; it’s so big. As a music scene, Australia is really weird. A band can be huge in Australia and no one else in the world will have heard of them, or a band can be huge everywhere else and play in a tiny place in Australia; but the level of music out there is so good.
Do you have any female photography idols who inspire you?
Annie Leibovitz – I love her. She’s such an incredible photographer. She toured with The Rolling Stones and was working in a world where female photographers were so few.
Music photography-wise, two of my best friends are photographers and are smashing it. They’re so supportive and it’s inspiring to see them growing as artists while I’m growing as well.
There are a lot of women in the music industry who are doing an impeccable job.
Do you find using social media and website platforms a challenge?
If I could delete all of my social media, I would in a heartbeat! I think it’s a very double-edged sword. We need it to a degree, especially when you’re an emerging photographer… Nowadays if someone wants to see my work, I tend to show them my Instagram.
I’m going to start pitching for some other work soon and am planning on making some prints, booking meetings with photo editors and being like, here, hold them! I think they will appreciate that, because I think it’ll be the same kind of people that still buy magazines.
I guess it’s the parallel to everyone buying vinyl and tapes again – people want something to hold in their hands.
Yeah exactly, like Polaroids. Film is having such a comeback. Having the prints and holding them is a different experience; being able to leaf through someone’s work like that. I don’t think any photo that you see on the internet can ever compare to seeing such a beautiful shot like that – it’s not the way it’s meant to be.
What have you got coming up this year?
One of my goals is to work with more female musicians; more women in general. In portrait work – lifestyle stuff – I work with women a lot, but I don’t get to work with female musicians anywhere near as much as I want to.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
The best bit of advice I ever got was to stay hungry. Keep wanting it. Shoot great images and don’t just do it for money. I mean, money is great but when you stop wanting to create great imagery then what are you doing anymore?
That, and also (I’ve got this written in all my bios), ‘be so good they can’t ignore you’.
There’s a lot to be said for trying to stay quiet, ignore what other people are doing, ignore the noise, all the other stuff that’s going on and just do great work – consistently pushing it – because people will know if you’re doing great stuff. You don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room. If it’s good work, it’ll speak for itself and the right people will come to you.