Brett Schewitz (@SchweppsRocka) is a professional live music photographer and record label man based in Melbourne, Australia. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Brett started seriously taking photos of musicians in 2004. His photos have been published in various esteemed publications in Australia, France, Japan and South Africa and he is currently a regular contributor to Triple M (Australia’s biggest rock radio station), Tone Deaf, Music Feeds, Everguide and others.
Brett has taken photos of some of the most iconic figures in music including Bruce Springsteen, KISS, Black Sabbath, The Jacksons and Aerosmith (and that was only the past few months). Because I missed him in the pit at Oppikoppi 2013 Bewilderbeast I recently popped Brett an e-mail to find out what he has been up to, this is what he had to say:
You’ve photographed many International acts over the last few years, are there a few acts that stand out above the others?
There are so many standouts. This year has definitely been the best yet. In March I photographed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. On this particular tour, Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine was playing guitar in the band. It was a surreal experience. Springsteen puts young musicians to shame. He is the most fit and energetic 60+ musician I have ever seen. He played for 3 hours and he was still raring to go.
Black Sabbath is a band I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d ever see live, let alone photograph. We were only allowed two songs and there was a track in the middle of the photographers’ pit with a camera crew going up and down blocking the shots every few seconds. It was challenging but rewarding. I’m honoured to have had that experience and proud of those photos.
One of my favourite photos (and one that I recently exhibited at a live music exhibition in Melbourne) is of Marilyn Manson. Manson walked up to the edge of the stage and crouched down. I knew exactly what I wanted. I moved up to the edge of the stage, about half a metre away from Manson, composed the shot and just before I clicked the shutter, Manson looked straight down my camera and reached out to my lens, fingers mere centimetres away from touching it. That’s one of those one in a million shots.
The career highlight, however, has to be KISS. They put on a serious show and they play up to photographers. These guys know all about image and how to look good and still rock out. I mean, I have a photo of Gene Simmons sticking his tongue out with spit hanging off of it. That’s rock ‘n roll history right there!
What are you currently working on?
It’s the “off” season in Australia at the moment due to Winter. Tonight I’m heading out to local artist, Josh Pyke’s sold out show. On Friday I’m photographing an Aussie rules (AFL) football event for Triple M. They’ve already warned that I have between 4 and 7 minutes to get all the shots I need. Different to what I’m used to, but always happy to expand my horizons. Otherwise, upcoming gigs on the horizon are Muse, Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam, Blur, Arcade Fire, Massive Attack, Franz Ferdinand and plenty more. We’re heading into the 5/6 months of festival season, so my camera and I are about to become very busy!
What 5 South African artists are you favorites and why?
My all-time favourite South African artists are Sugardrive, Springbok Nude Girls, Boo!, Wonderboom and Fokofpolisiekar. Why? Because all those artists are original, emerged at a time when South African music needed heroes the most and have not yet been equaled or mimicked. No one sounds like anyone of those artists. They’re unique. The world doesn’t need bands that are clones of other bands. What’s the point? Paul E. Flynn from Sugardrive is one of my all-time favourite vocalists, songwriters and human beings. I wish that man would release new music more regularly.
Which 5 Twitter profiles do you see as recommended follows and why?
I follow a lot of music publications and like-minded people that are as music obsessed as I am. It’s difficult to single out just 5 profiles. I enjoy every single profile I follow on Twitter. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t follow them, of course.
Any advice for aspiring band photographers out there?
Take as many photos as possible. I always tell people that I’ve taken at least 100,000 bad photographs in my time. That’s not even an exaggeration. A real skill to hone and learn is how to whittle your photographs down. Don’t show all 500 photos you’ve taken at a gig. Less is more. 15 or 20 amazing photographs is way more impressive than 200 average ones.
Always look for the photo that captures the moment. Don’t release photos of people looking dopey or stupid, unless that’s how they actually look in real life. Don’t misrepresent the artist. Your job is to make them look good and to capture the moment. Respect other photographers. Don’t get in their way ever. Don’t touch other photographers in the pit, if you can avoid it, and if there’s no pit be courteous to the punters and the photographers alike.
Learn about the settings on your camera. Shoot on manual from as early as possible. You have way more control over your shots. Don’t ever think that the camera makes the photographer. Having a good eye for photography is as much about being a photographer as having decent gear is. And for God’s sake, don’t use flash or lift your camera above your head.
What is the funniest thing that you’ve ever seen at a rock show / festival?
So many funny and memorable moments. They all kinda blur into one. One that comes to mind immediately is from Soundwave in Melbourne this year. During Blink 182’s set, a girl climbed onto a fence to get a better view, but she slipped and her pants got caught on the fence. She was left hanging for a couple of seconds before her shorts completely ripped off and she fell to the ground. That was amazing. I guess there’s a reason they tell you not to climb the fences.
Oh, another one that comes to mind is Laneway in Melbourne this year too. During alt-J, a man climbed a high tree to get a better view of the band. The cops signalled for him to get out of the tree. He wouldn’t budge until one of the cops flashed their handcuffs at him. He decided hanging off the branch and dropping to the ground was his best course of action. He hung on the branch for about a minute while everyone stopped and watched.
The band played throughout, as the show must go on, right? Eventually he let go and hit the ground with a thud. The crowd cheered and he was King of the Douchebags for at least 5 minutes. The next song alt-J played was “Fitzpleasure”, and the synth bass was so intense that this dude just dropped to the ground and passed out. Joe, the singer of alt-J stopped and asked “is that guy okay? I think he needs help. Anyway, we’re going to start the song again.” And they did. And the King was escorted out of the festival by police, never to be seen again (by me anyway).
Will we be seeing you in South Africa soon?
Maybe. I still have heaps of friends there and family to see. There’s many other places in the world I’d like to see too, but I may just drop in next year.
Huge thanks to Brett Schewitz for taking time off from his busy schedule to answer my questions. I wish him all of the best with this future musical and photographical endeavours.
You can check out more of Brett’s awesome photos on his official website or the Brett Schewitz Photography page on Facebook. And if you’re a music and band photography fan and you’re not following him on Twitter yet, make sure that you do it now via @SchweppsRocka.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, feel free to share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. Remember: Sharing is caring after all.
Watch this space for regular updates in the Photography, Technology and Music categories on Running Wolf’s Rant