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Interview: Alexander Hallag from The Music is Talking

03 Aug 2017 // An interview by Reef Reid
Alexander Hallag of The Music is Talking is an internationally published photographer originally from Seattle and New York City and who now resides in New Zealand, specifically Wellington and Palmerston North. Alexander has done a wide variety of photography and is probably best known for music photography and capturing live music performances in particular.  These days, Alexander is focused on capturing live performances as well as studio and promotional work for album covers.

He has photographed many international artists such as U2, Leonard Cohen, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, B.B King as well as many New Zealand artists such as The Black Seeds, Gin Wigmore, Lorde, Shihad, Six60, Tiki Taane, etc. His work has appeared in various publications such as The New York Times, Juxtapoz, Rip it Up, Red Bull Magazine, Groove Guide and NZ Musician to name a few. Alexander has recently self-published a 'Photo Book' called 'Shh The Music is Talking'.

Alexander has spent many hours in 'the pit' as it is called, at hundreds of live gigs, if not more. As a live music photographer myself, I have shared 'the pit' with Alexander at a number of shows in recent times. When I was a newbie live music photographer starting out, I posted in a Facebook group (HTBARP) that contains a large number live music photographers globally (including most, if not all of the New Zealand based folks) and I remember receiving a private message soon after from Alexander offering to help me out if there was anything I needed to know, which I thought was pretty decent of somebody to do, but at that time I wasn't aware of his background and extensive experience.

Anyway, on Sunday 30th July, I met with Alexander to conduct an informal interview (below) and to catch up in general over lunch in a pleasant Wellington eatery. This is something we don't generally get time to do when we are engaged in our craft. It was also a great opportunity for me to purchase his photo book, have it hand delivered and signed. :) 

So, What attracted you to photography?

Perhaps not so much an attraction, but a friend of my mother's asked me to make movies, but to better understand direction he recommended that I shoot still images in order to see the affects and the concepts of lighting. I kind of fell into it by mistake, or as a by-product of a venture into videography.

So, do you still make movies?

No, not so much anymore, mostly just stills.

When you photograph a show, do you stay for the whole event? Or do you only stay for the usual first three songs?

That depends on a number of things... such as the shooting policy, whether I have a ticket or not, whether a ticket is required, the artist, publishing deadlines, etc. So, sometimes yes and other times no. There are many variables that influence that decision such as these and probably more.

What sort of equipment do you use? Do you have a go-to set-up?

As a Sony ambassador I shoot Sony gear exclusively. My typical gear setup is as follows

Primary

Sony Alpha A99 Mark 2 (full frame)
Sony Alpha A77 Mark 2 (crop sensor)

Secondary/Backup

Sony Alpha A99 Mark 1 (full frame)
Sony Alpha A900 (full frame)

Lenses

Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss
Sony 70-200mm f2.8 


What has been the most challenging aspect of being a music photographer?

Making great work. Making something special, something unique. Quality images is what we strive for, well it's what I strive for and so making something great, an image that people can look at and then get a sense of what was happening at that time, or something that portrays the emotion or effort, yeah. I guess in summary, I strive to make great unique images.

What is your greatest memory since becoming a photographer?

This is tough as there have been many. But if I were to choose one, I would have to say shooting at Madison Square Garden. It was a very memorable moment and one that I won't soon forget.

You’ve been able to photograph some amazing bands in your time, is there anyone you haven’t been able to shoot that you would drop everything to shoot?

I don't really have a bucket list, but I have been very fortunate to shot a number of great artists and some of them weren't necessarily great at the time but have since gone on to become great.

Do you find certain genres of music more exciting to photograph? How do the artists and crowds vary between music types, from a visual perspective?

Certain genres more exciting to photograph? Definitely!! *laughs* But I don't have a preference. The variation in terms of the artist' delivery and the crowd action is very broad even within the same genre of music.

The transition into digital SLR cameras (and also mirrorless) has meant that many people have been able to pick one up and call themselves a gig/concert photographer. What do you think it is that separates a professional (or experienced) photographer from an enthusiast?

Joe Average doesn't look at all the detail, mainly. They're just seeing "ROCKSTAR!" and click. Where as a pro-am photographer also sees rockstar yes, but they separate that from their goal of having to make a great image. So it doesn't necessarily matter who the artist is (for the moment) because they are there to make great images regardless of who the artist is. It generally isn't until after we shoot our 2-3 songs and leave the pit do we think 'OMG I just photographed rockstar x" or whoever.

What advice would you give someone who wants to become a music photographer

DO IT!! This is a journey. Appreciate the journey. It isn't going to be straight forward and there will be twists and turns along the way. Be open to shoot anything. Learn the craft. Learn it for low light, learn it for bright light, learn it for rain, learn it for all lighting conditions. Talk to others. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't think you know it all because none of us knows it all and we're constantly learning. Be respectful and manners will get you far.

How has social media affected you as a photographer?(good or badly) I imagine you get a greater reach, but it also becomes much harder to control unauthorised use of your product?

Good. More of a reach? yeah. That's one thing I do like, the reach and the ability to interact with people that we may never have otherwise without social media. There is a guy I chat with weekly in the UK and it's really neat to interact and share as we learn our craft. Similarly like what Matthias (Hombauer) has achieved in terms of starting up the HTBARP (How to be a Rockstar Photographer) community on Facebook which is magic. Social media has definitely helped in that way. As far as unauthorised use of media, yeah it happens and that's just part of the electronic age. If you don't want your images out there, then don't put them out *laughs* Sometimes I've had some band who haven't given me credit, sometimes I email them and sometimes I don't, sometimes they fix it and sometimes they don't. I suppose some time ago I would get bent outta shape about it, but to be honest, in my experience most people don't look at a watermark, no matter how nice it looks and then wonder if that photog did any more. It's the quality of the work that gets you the next job, usually. That said, it's always nice when an artist acknowledges you.

What made you decide to release a photo book, and what was the process of self-publishing your own book?

I was working in radio, playing all this cool music and I wanted to share it with friends back home (USA) and not just in an audio sense. So, I went to the bookshop and asked for a book on New Zealand music, so I could send back home, but I found nothing! I found some books with mostly text and some photos, but I didn't want to send a written thing, I wanted to send a picture book and couldn't find any. But, the thought to make one did not occur immediately. Some time later (in the shower) I thought, I used to shoot music, why don't I make a photo book? My first counter thought was that I hadn't shot in a long time (as I was on a hiatus at the time from shooting anything) but I had a 'burning bush' moment after listening to a podcast given to me by my flatmate at that time and in the podcast a photographer was saying 'if you like concert photography? go with that'.

A week later another I had another 'burning bush moment after a good friend of mine in New York sends me a message on Facebook saying "I gotta talk to you!" So, I called him up and to cut a long story short he said "You used to do music photography, you were good at it, you should do it again!"  It was the combination of those two 'moments' that made me yeah 'Yeah, I am going to attempt to create a visual record of at least the contemporary scene" and so I embarked on the journey from there.  You don't make a photo book to become rich. I wanted to make something special.

Where and how can we get a hold of a copy?

Direct purchasing from here. There are approximately 30-40 copies left from the original 500 copies. 

Alexander in Action
A week before I conducted this interview, Alexander and I happen to be shooting at the same gig. Here are a few images I specifically took of Alexander in action up close shooting Ciarann from Bakers Eddy


   

and this is the resulting image he made:


and another from that show of Alex from Skinny Hobos



You can check Alexander out at the following places on the internet.

Credits:
Introduction: Reef Reid
Interview: Reef Reid
Interview Questions: Chris Morgan and Alex Moulton
Images: Reef Reid and Alexander Hallag
 

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