Thursday, February 21, 2008

Photographer Profile: Jeff Koga

You've seen them haunting the shows you go to, you've seen their work in magazines and on sites, but who are these people? Why do they do it? And is it for work or fun or both?

Read the answers to these questions and more, as we continue our series on local indie music photographers with Jeff Koga, who takes shots and video for LAist and seems like a pretty nice guy.

How did you start taking photos?

I joke that I started because I'm Japanese... The reality is that I became aware of photography at an early age through my dad, who owned a Nikon FE. And it was in junior high school that I finally took an active interest in it, borrowing my family's Yashica and documenting my life, especially after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

And how did you start doing music photography?

In October 2002, I saw Powder perform at the Sunset Room in Hollywood, and on a whim, I photographed it with my Coolpix. While the photos were full of noise and the colors were muted, I thought I'd captured some cool moments, so I e-mailed them to the band. To this day, I'm amazed that one of those photos is on still their website.

But it was about seven months later that I photographed shows on a regular basis, starting with The Ditty Bops and their residencies at The Parlour Club (now Bar Lubitsch) and Largo. I realized even before those shows that they were rising stars, so I documented their shows for posterity's sake, which with their open policy on photography was easy to accomplish. I also photographed the artists they opened for (and vice versa), such as Vagenius (now Hello Stranger), Jesca Hoop, and The Dresden Dolls, which has led to an ever-expanding circle of artists I still photograph regularly.

So while I stumbled onto concert photography, I discovered that I had a knack for it, and most importantly, that I enjoyed doing it. It's kept me creatively invigorated and balanced out my day job, which has in turn enabled me to invest in new camera gear and computer equipment, and that has allowed me to progressively shoot better photos and improve my workflow.

People are surprised that I don't make a living from photography and that I haven't had any formal training in it. The irony is while I was a Film Studies major at UC Santa Barbara and took some Art Studio classes, I never took any photography classes or picked up a movie camera.

What do you like about it most?

Getting that one photo that best represents a show I've been to -- Henri Cartier-Bresson, in regards to street photography, called it "The Decisive Moment," but I certainly think it's applicable to concert photography. For me, getting that "Decisive Moment" comes from experimentation and experience, not to mention dumb luck.

What was the best time you ever had shooting a band or show?

Recently, I started a new photo series called Soundcheck, where it's just the artist, the sound engineer, and me, all in an empty space, usually with bright lighting. [During] soundcheck, I have the freedom to move around without dealing with an audience, which has often led to photos that are better than ones from the actual show.

But if I had to choose one memorable experience, it would be on August 6th, 2007, which was my last day photographing The Ditty Bops in Northern California during their Summer Farm Tour. They invited me to their performance for a herd of cows at the Straus Family Creamery in Marshall as well as a herd of goats at the Redwood Hills Farm in Sebastopol, and the idea proved irresistible.

Abby and Amanda's intimate performance of "Walk Or Ride" was such a contrast from the shows I'd usually photographed, and yet it's still one of those rare indelible moments I'm honored and privileged to have witnessed first-hand.

Where can people find your work?

LAist, as well as MySpace, Uber, and Flickr.

I've also branched out into other photographic interests, such as the adult industry (SFW), but we'll continue that conversation for your sister site, Adults-Only Silver Lake. :)

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- Photographer Profile: Simon Cardoza


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