Interview by Vice Lesley. Photography © Steve Gullick.
We live in a fast, expendable, and almost carefree culture brought upon by that radical revolution we call technology. Everything seems easy, just a click away and, at least artistically, there's nothing we cant do or be now, and we'll publish absolutely anything.
But what if the easier it was to do something, the harder it would be for you to find your own voice within that certain something and express what's true to you? We caught up with renowned photographer Steve Gullick to discuss it, an iconic force in music photography for nearly thirty years. Steve's lens have captured nearly everybody, including Radiohead, Nirvana, The Prodigy, Beck, Marika Hackman, PJ Harvey, and Grinderman to name a few.
How are you, Steve? Let's start with how old you were when you got involved with photography..
Very well thank you! I was fourteen, I became obsessed with it and instantly combined it with my obsession for music. I just worked hard and got good at it and didn’t give up my quest to be a music photographer. Times were better, three weekly UK music magazines, people used to buy records, I’m incredibly lucky to have been born when I was.
Has black and white film always fascinated you or is there some particular reason you prefer it over color?
What interested me in photography was the photographer’s ability to make the ordinary look extraordinary, to me there seemed little point in merely recording what you saw with your eyes. The photographers that drew me in were Don McCullin and Bill Brandt, extreme black and white craftsmen, they were definitely the catalyst for my obsessive darkroom activity. Color was of less interest until I started processing my own film & making my own color prints in the late 1990’s, then I was able to experiment & find where I wanted to be on a color level.
What’s your take on digital photography? Seems almost anyone with a phone could consider themselves a photographer, is that the case?
Looks like you may have the same view as me, I feel the digitization of photography has devalued the art – I do though remain conflicted, I now use digital photography for much of my commercial work, I resisted for a long time but remaining competitive whilst shooting on film proved impossible. I love my digital camera, I can shoot in situations that would have been impossible on film and I like the security of being able to be 100% sure about my exposures. but, for me the true magic of photography is seeing the negative, taking it into the darkroom & walking out with a print. Yes, everyone’s a photographer now, cool but it makes it hard to make a living out of it.
That early Sub Pop scene in Seattle seems to have opened your mind and maybe set you on your way for the remainder of you career, what was going to that Screaming Trees show like that differed to what you were used to at the time?
At the time I was into a lot of good stuff that has stuck with me like the Pixies, Jane’s Addiction , Waterboys and Cindytalk but something about Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Nirvana and Soundgarden really struck a chord, they were all so exciting and uncompromising – so ‘punk’ I suppose, I’d never really experienced a scene that seemed to generate from the same geographical area first hand – they all seemed to have a similar attitude.. They must have all gone to the same record shops & disco’s.
Mainstream music had begun to be more exciting during the 90’s, how do you compare that to today?
I don’t – I also don’t see a division between mainstream & underground anymore.
So how do you feel about underground music scene going on today?
Music in general seems to be so disposable now – when I was a kid, it was everything. You had your records and they were special, they were special because you couldn’t afford many, you only experienced what you could hear on the radio, what your mates played, what you heard down the disco or in the record shop. Now the magic seems to have gone, instant access to everything has killed the joy of discovery and has totally devalued the art in my opinion.
Can music still change the world? And what does punk still mean to you?
The romantic part of me would like to think so but the cynic say’s no. Punk is an attitude. Uncompromising – honesty – integrity - on your own terms. On a musical level I’d say it swerves between The Stooges & Nirvana – The most ‘punk’ person I know is probably Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy)... but you wouldn’t call him a punk act.