She hates being photographed, but she doesn’t say “no” if anyone asks to take a picture of her. She prefers black and white shots over the colour ones. And, despite some obvious inconveniences, she’d rather capture live performances than just be in the crowd at a gig.
Suzanne Phoenix is a live music photographer based in the Melbourne area. We met four years ago at a video shoot for a band we both knew. I’ve been impressed by her craft and persistence in pursuing that exceptionally dynamic genre of photography ever since. And I was really keen on touching base with her to talk about a – hopefully – more optimistic 2021.
‘Photospunctuatemylife’ – Suzanne’s personal brand – is definitely her life motto, too.
It was her late Nana who inspired her to become a photographer. But she only started entertaining the idea seriously eight years ago, having already established herself as a professional in the field of community work. Soon enough, she learnt about “the power of photography as a tool to connect and communicate with people”.
Building her presence in the music and entertainment world in Melbourne slowly but consistently for five years, she achieved one of her long-awaited objectives last year, becoming the official photographer for a festival (Golden Plains 2020). This year she’s also celebrating the 10th anniversary of her ‘What Does International Women’s Day Mean To Me’ series.
When we catch up on Zoom in February, on the day Victoria goes into an instant 5-day lockdown, Suzanne talks to me very openly about the pros and cons of the profession that is the object of desire for many young people. We cover topics like the price of photographic gear, losing the already unstable income, the risks of taking photos from the crowd’s perspective or men’s domination in the business in general.
But I also learn heaps of other interesting things from Suzanne, i.e. the concept of taking pictures online, what it means to give someone else control of your work and how one of the biggest female names in Australian live music photography chose her two shots to be featured in a Melbourne Music Week exhibition.
Asked about her favourite photo ever taken, Suzanne has to think for a moment. And, even though she loves capturing people, she says this in the end, “It’s Amy Taylor’s white boots. I took a photo of her white boots [when she was] sitting on a stool at Bendigo [Hotel]. I don’t know, I love that shot”.
The Melbourne photographer frequently chooses female-identifying artists and non-binary people to be the subject of her work. She also has an amazing ability to capture those special moments (that she calls “cliché”) when musos and entertainers are in their element. That skill is every photographer’s dream, but very few can do it in such an unobtrusive way.
2020 and Victoria’s super strict second lockdown forced Suzanne to operate in a very constrained space. But it didn’t limit her creativity or activity at all. Quite the opposite – she was able to face, and in many circumstances overcome, some of her biggest fears. Simultaneously, she began exploring other opportunities for combining artistic development with gaining new followers and monetizing her work (check out her Patreon account).
“I can’t ask people to do something that I’m not prepared to do myself” is her answer to the question about being photographed by others. It’s also important to her in the context of documenting what you look like in different stages of your life. Being a rather sceptical “selfie” person, she recognises the phenomenon, nevertheless, and links it to the concept of beauty. “If I can find it in myself, I can find it in anyone else”, she says. And that’s ultimately what this job is about.
Find out what else we chatted about in the four chapters on my YouTube channel. Chapter 1 is available today (10 March 2021). The following chapters will be released between 11-13 March.
Cover photo – courtesy of Suzanne Phoenix
Read the introduction to “The Female Factor in Australian music” limited series here:
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In 2019 (or what we now know as “the last normal year for live music before the Rona”), I accidentally ended up at the Pol’and’Rock festival. It’s a huge, completely free (not a joke) European music event with a pretty diverse line-up of both local and international artists. Two Aussie acts were scheduled to perform […]