By Ben Doy
Wellington based photographer Alexander Hallag has just released his book 'Shhh... The Music Is Talking', a music photography book which features some of the greatest Kiwi musicians. Included in the 200 page book are artists such as Dave Dobbyn, Neil Finn, Jordan Luck, Don McGlashan, Shihad, Kora, Shapeshifter and Head Like A Hole... to name but a few!
Alexander was in Auckland recently and I had the chance to have a chat where I found out more about this impressive publication and delved into the mind of music photpgrapher.
Where were you born and spend your early years?
I was born in Vienna and grew up in Seattle and lived there till my teens. Once I got into photography and thought that I might go somewhere with it, I thought the best place to be would be New York. Then around the time of the birth of my daughter I moved back to Seattle and now I'm in New Zealand.
What brought you to New Zealand?
My daughter's mum is originally from New Zealand. We were splitting so I had a decision to make, do I go back to New York or do I move to New Zealand? I thought ‘Right, my daughter needs a father, so New Zealand I go'.
How long have you been photographing concerts?
I've been shooting bands off and on since about 1990.
Do you remember your first concert shoot?
It may have been Nirvana... or Mudhoney. I know it was one of the Sub Pop bands. I'm tempted to say Nirvana at the OK Hotel in Seattle. It was a good time to be in Seattle because we never knew what was going to happen. Then when the whole grunge explosion hit, all of a sudden what we were doing became validated. So it wasn't just for friends, now all of a sudden magazines wanted our shots.
The funny thing was though around that time I was shooting in Seattle, I was also starting to do stuff within the gothic and industrial scene. More of my roots were sunk in that genre, because the way I looked at it there were stronger photographers in the grunge scene and I still wasn't 21; which was the drinking age. So I couldn't always sneak into the clubs that I wanted too. The industrial and gothic stuff, I'd slip on some eyeliner and the security wouldn't look at you and check for ID... you could slip in a lot easier.
Did you get to hang out with the bands?
Oh yeah yeah. I made a lot friends and have working relationships with the bands. I took an Annie Leibovitz approach where she said 'When I photograph someone I want to get to know them'. And in a way that's what I want to embody... without even knowing about that quote till later on.
Who have some of your favourites been?
Tom Waits, he was pretty special. Nine Inch Nails is always fun, Skinny Puppy, there's a German band called Einsturzende Neubauten. Nirvana was fun, Soundgarden was fun. Pearl Jam in their early years was great. They all have special qualities.
Who would you like to shoot?
That's a hard one because some of them are dead. I would have loved to have shot Freddie Mercury. Miles Davis... I would have loved to have done another shoot with BB King, I got to do some but would love to do another one. I photographed Rush before and if they were to tour I'd love to shoot that again. And there are smaller bands that I'd like to shoot, I like to make images for someone and help them on their path.
What have been some of your favourite venues?
I miss dearly CBGB's in New York. It was magic. In Seattle, the venues that were there that I miss were the Central Tavern, we had a place called Squid Row, The Vogue... there was a place called Rock Candy, The Off Ramp. I like dirty venues. But I was very blessed to photograph at Madison Square Garden. There is just something about when you photograph a show at the Garden.
How long have you been working on this book?
The book has been 5 years in the making. It kind of came about when I worked for Radio Control in Wellington... which is kind of like bFM here. While I was there I was exposed to a great deal of music. I'd try to tell all my friends back in the States about these great bands, and they'd ask is there any book that they can buy so they can check them out... and there wasn't. There were gorgeous books written about the scene, but a lot of them were older and nothing really contemporary and nothing really photographic. So I thought ‘Well I'm a photographer, I'll make one'. So I kind of went into it naively thinking I'll make this book and here it is.
Who put the package together?
I have a lovely designer named Lisa. She took my images and produced this. In total, there have only been 500 books made.
One of the things is I tried not making it all about the big names. There are bigger names in here, but I tried to get smaller names in as well. Every band started small, and sure some of them have grown but it's the evolution
What equipment do you use and how have you dealt with the changes in technology?
It was funny because I was in New York when digital started coming along. And I honestly thought it was going to be a fad and it was going to go away. Several photographers I knew were using the Nikon Z1, and they told me you have got to get this. I just looked at them and said "That is the stupidest thing", and I stuck with film until maybe 2002 or 2003... maybe even as late as 2004. Finally someone had to come to me and say "Alexander it's like this, remember when there was only black and white film? Then they made colour film and it didn't go away."
So I reluctantly went to it. But since I have U stopped using Nikon and now everything in here is shot with Sony. I love Sony' colour, partly because it reminds me of slide film. So it may not be film but it's close.
If a client wants film I fortunately have enough in my fridge. I'll gladly take it out.