Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dana (distortion) Yavin – firecracker music photographer!

I’ve wanted to write about Dana for a while now, and I think this is the perfect time to do it, because I feel that this time next year she won’t be anywhere near as available to sit down with me and answer my questions. This talented lady is going places, and fast!

Dana is one of my closest friends, and we have been through a lot together. We are both strong-willed, opinionated and emotional, and we always find strength and comfort in our friendship. I feel grateful to have Dana in my life today. I will never forget that our first conversation was the life-changing discussion of whether Keith Richards was shaggable or not (Dana no; me yes). Anyway, let’s not get off topic, or I will spend hours trying to entertain you with all of the different antics Dana and I have got up to over the years. This piece is about Dana and her talent, and how I have had the privilege to see her not only discover her passion, but also work her backside off for it.

Kim Gordon

Although in the form of an interview, this is more of a conversation, so please forgive me if I wander off into memories and describe a few funny stories along the way.

When I asked Dana what prompted her to go into music photography she explained that it was all really a chain of events. She was already working in film and music videos, and was on tour with Gogol Bordello, filming their shows. One of the venues had a no video camera policy, so instead of sitting that show out she picked up her point and shoot and began snapping away, and just loved the feeling she got from photographing the band in motion. Once she got home she purchased her first DSLR (and ended up getting it for free thanks to her credit card points – so the banks aren’t actually bullshitting about those points adding up!). Her next photography gig was the New York Dolls, and from there onwards Dana hasn’t stopped.

Dana and I share a huge passion for music. I’ve been to more live shows with Dana than I have with anyone else, and she understands music in the same way as me. The sound, the emotion, the crowd – altogether makes for an energy that you can’t really translate or reproduce elsewhere. And Dana captures this essence and gives it to us in the form of a picture.

The Flaming Lips

Dana does not consider her work as a job. It’s a passion, a dream come true. How many of us spend years looking for what we do with our lives and never really feel that we accomplish this? I know for a fact that Dana feels blessed by the fact that she is living her own dream, but I also know that she worked so hard to get where she is right now. Once she had discovered that music photography was the path she wanted to explore and make into her own journey, she started to build her portfolio up, continuing to go to as many shows as she could, but now bringing her camera along every time, and hustling for photo passes as much as possible. I don’t know many people who have the guts that Dana does. She never relied on any of her connections in the music industry (who often notoriously become absentee friends when you ask them for a simple favour), only on her own pure willpower and ability to never give up. So the band’s PR company isn’t getting back to you? Why not go straight to the manager and see what he or she can do for you? If Dana has taught me one thing it’s to never, ever give up, and to fight for what you want. The old saying is true – you are never going to get what you want if you just sit back and wait for it to happen.

Once Dana had created a portfolio she was happy with she shopped it out to different publications. Brooklyn Vegan published her Wanda Jackson and Jack White photographs, realized what a talented photographer she was, and she has since become a regular contributor to this popular online magazine. You just need to go to the Brooklyn Vegan site to see how much stunning work she does for them, and she’s also extremely vocal in how much she appreciates them, and for giving her the chance to shine. Dana also works directly for bands and PR companies, and also contributes to another awesome music blog (and a personal favourite of mine), Fucking Nostalgic.

Dana embodies passion – she lives to shoot live music. When I asked her what she felt when she was up there in the photo pit taking photos of different artists, her response was simply “passion”. Photography is art, not just a desire to take photographs of famous people, or a way to pay the bills. Dana explained how she would go to shows feeling physically ill and leave rejuvenated, shooting live music brings a type of excitement that just grows as the shows goes on. She feels like she “comes back to life whenever the show starts”.

Eugene Hütz

Dana’s least favourite question is one that everyone tends to ask (especially other photographers in the business): “what camera and lenses do you use?”. Dana is all about the style and the creation of the shot rather than the camera itself. Of course, having a really good camera is going to help you get a sharper shot than a cheap point and shoot, but in the end there are so many music photographers out there with amazing cameras. Dana’s main aim has always been to create her own personal and unique style, to create photos that tell a whole story within one shot, to capture the emotion of a moment in time. When I personally look at Dana’s photos I feel that I am right there with her. I can breathe the air, hear the voices and the music, and feel the energy and the power of music. Dana’s photos have SOUL, which is exactly what makes her photography stand out from other people’s. That soul and passion and drive portrayed in one simple shot. That’s what art is.

One thing about music photography is you never really know what to expect. You can’t stage a shot, or ask a musician to strike a pose again. You need to have a six sense and know when you are going to get the best shot on the spur of a second. Dana spent a lot of time learning how to use her camera, how to control certain elements, like the lighting and the exposure, practicing what works and what doesn’t work for her on different bands, teaching herself new tricks, renting all types of different lenses to see which ones fit her work the best, trying out all different types of shots on her camera but admits, that in the end you can give yourself all the tools to succeed, but you never can know what to expect once the band starts to play. And that’s the key to enjoying her profession: the complete excitement of the unknown.

I asked Dana what type of advice she would give to budding music photographers. Her response? “Get a good health insurance!” – that photo pit can be a dangerous place! I’ve seen Dana get hit by an empty glass right on her head during a Motörhead concert, and not even stop for a minute. Or get pushed around in the middle of a mosh pit while trying to capture the crowd’s energy in motion. Dana’s not very tall (to say the least), but she has more energy than your tallest metalhead around. Festivals are the worst places for short, women photographers, but she’s never seen a hurdle she can’t climb yet. High stage and drummer tucked away in the back? May just have to climb up on this stack of amps to get that shot then! That ability to just go the extra mile has got her some more than memorable shots.

Never take no for an answer. Ever. You can’t be insecure or shy in this business, you have to push your way to the front and get that shot. And THAT shot may be any shot – so don’t lose any chances and go in there and get it. I’ve seen Dana work so hard to get what she wants, long after everyone gives up. Not too long ago we were both at the Flaming Lips/Weezer show at Jones Beach. There was a strict 3 songs for each band policy, but the tour manager messed up and the photographers only got to shoot the first three Flaming Lips songs, and were kicked out of the pit afterwards. Coupled with that, it was an outside show and the rain was pretty much torrential (no exaggeration, I had to empty the water out of my boots I was so drenched). Dana didn’t let up with security, long after the other photographers gave up and went home. They finally gave in, found the tour manager who arranged it so that she could go back into the pit and remain there for the rest of the show. “My photo pass says Weezer on it so I am not leaving without photographing Weezer!!”. That dedication and perseverance made it so that not only was Dana one of the only ones to get shots of the entire show; she also shot some of the best photos of her career.

Richard Ashcroft

Other important advice she gives is to know your camera, whatever camera you may be using, and use it. Try the manual settings out and play with them, see what you can do. Create your own style and don’t always count on the automatic settings to get you through the show. Experiment, be adventurous! In Dana’s own words: “explore, have confidence, develop your talents, learn all the time. If you are really passionate about becoming a music photographer, try things, screw up, try again and get better. ” In my opinion this advice should go for everything in life – we only live once so fuck it, get out there and be passionate!!!

Some of her favourite shoots: Weezer and Flaming Lips, Paul McCartney (show of a lifetime), Jane’s Addiction and Suede. Bands that she will never be able to shoot but wishes she could? The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. But knowing Dana… Everything is possible if you go for it. I’m sure by this time next year she will have created a time machine and captured The Beatles in 1966.


Quick links for more information:

Distortion Films - Dana's website

Distortion Dust - Dana's Blog

All photos posted within this article by Dana (distortion) Yavin .Copyright ©.All rights reserved.

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