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SHOOTING ROCK FACES

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On an unusually blustery day last week, redbankgreen hovered while photographer Michael Marmora worked on his first magazine assignment: shooting the rock band Bedlight for Blue Eyes for the upcoming debut issue of d. magazine, to be published by Red Bank photographer Danny Sanchez.

The shoot took place in the East Front Street breezeway next to Billy’s Barber Shop, and in a parking lot out back. Afterward, we put Marmora through the 10-question ‘Human Bites’ drill.

Marmora, of Holmdel, is 22, and graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology last spring.

This was your first magazine assignment. Were you anxious?
I was. I still am. I’m probably not going to be relieved until I see it in print. I’m always kind of nervous about first-crack attempts at things. But yeah, I mean, I’m excited.

What kind of work have you done with bands in the past?
For the most part, I’ve worked with record labels and bands that need promotional images. Some friends of mine started a record label in Rochester and they needed pictures of their bands, so I went ahead and did that. That’s how I essentially learned to approach the process. I learned that it’s easier to go to the people who manage, or are in charge of the bands, than the bands themselves.

Are you a Bedlight for Blue Eyes fan?
I’ve heard of them. I listen to the music. Yeah, you can say that.

Is it important to know a band’s music before you shoot them?
I think it definitely helps. It’s not necessary, but it’s good to have a ballpark idea of what they sound like so you don’t portray them incorrectly. For instance, I’m not going to photograph a rap group the same way I photograph a metal band, or I’m not going to photograph a folk singer the same way I photograph a grunge band.

Is there an element of absurdity to photographing rock bands? Perhaps a sense that your subjects are both trying to conform to a model of what a band should look like without appearing to do so?
I was just thinking that, actually. For instance, this shoot. They wanted to look like a real band, they wanted to look a certain way, but at the same time, you don’t want them to look like they’re trying too hard, you want them to look natural.

At the beginning of the shoot, they were very casual, and I was just snapping off pictures. As the shoot progressed, it became more, ‘OK, you move here, you move there, move your head this way.’ It was very specific, almost neurotic. But I think that in the overall scheme, while that will look more posed, you don’t want it to appear too posed.

Who are your professional role models?
To be honest, I have more than I could ever count. There’s Mark Seliger, who does a lot of portaiture. There’s Jon Ragel, who also does a lot of portraiture. There’s a photographer in California, Chris McPherson, and Kareem Black. Those four are very influential. I just kind of browse their work occasionally to see how they would approach something.

I always try to push the envelope a little bit with what I do, and for most part, the photographers I mentioned definitely push the envelope. They have the ability to do classic stff, but they definitely go against the grain both in terms of technical issues and pop culture.

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What’s the best band photo you’ve ever seen?
Oh, there are so many. I got a book from an ex-girlfriend, and it’s probably the greatest gift I’ve ever received. It’s called ‘Rock Faces.’ The cover has an iconic shot of David Bowie, but the book is just full of great images, from Bob Marley to Morrissey to John Lennon to Patti Smith.

Patti Smith is very heavily photographed artist. She was photographed a lot by Robert Mapplethorpe. I still love his work. He’s one of my favorite all-around photographers.

I can’t say there’s one specific photograph that made me want to photograph musicians. But this book, I open it every day just to be inspired.

Looking five years down the road, what would constitute success for you?
Well, it certainly doesn’t involve money. It’s more or less the fact that I’m recognizable in some circle or niche in the art world. I don’t see myself being a big-name photographer, but if a record label or a magazine is looking for a photograph of a band, I’d like to be one of the first people they think of. I hope to have a few good names under my belt.

How did the Bedlight photos come out?
They turned out very well. One thing I always reiterate to myself afterward is, ‘Shoot more, shoot more.’ And that was sort of my downfall. What I got, I’m happy with. But under the circumstances, with the wind [which continually threatened to knock over Marmora’s reflector light lamp], it could have turned out that much better if conditions were available. For example, I would have used another light, which was impossible with the wind. But all in all, you make do with what you have available, and I have at least two shots that are definitely good.

Finally, which is more important, comfortable shoes or good food?
Wow, that is a tough one. I’d have to say comfortable shoes, because I have a kind of quirky diet: I can eat pretty much anything as long as it’s edible. And I do have sort of a shoe obsession.

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