If you’ve been a part of the Birmingham music scene at any point in the past five years, there is a good chance you will have come across Rob Hadley.
While the musicians play away on stage, Rob can be found darting around in the pit in search of that magic angle, the right light and the image that encapsulates the spirit of the performance.
A photographer for many years, Rob teamed up with Counteract magazine in 2013 to begin documenting Birmingham’s blossoming music scene.
It’s a scene can be defined by many aspects. The artists create the soundtrack and the fans act as the heart. But photographs are at the epicentre of the identity; a living, tangible piece of evidence that such a thing existed.
I first met Rob in 2015 at Birmingham’s Town Hall. He was there, camera in hand, eyeing up potential shots and toying with creative ideas. He was given the task of photographing a local festival that I and a few others had programmed, a task which he met head-on with class and efficiency. It baffled me how the images he took were able to incorporate the concept and feel of the festival while appearing natural and effortless.
This provided me with one of my favourite live music photos to date. During the electrifying performance of Friendly Fire, Rob steered off towards side stage where he captured Tomlin Mystic, arms above head and completely lost in the music emanating from the stage.
With such photos in mind, I wanted to know how he goes about capturing such things and how is he able to portray the tone and mood of a performance from a single photo?
“I am constantly observing what is happening…or about to happen on stage,” he said. “Experience plays a part here.
“Although I say I am not looking for technical excellence, I do want it whenever possible, but the look or vibe of the image is more important to me.”
Iconic photographs, not photographs of icons
It’s refreshing to hear that in a world full of over-processed, severely-edited pictures, a photographer would place a higher emphasis on the overall vibe of the image, as opposed to what most people would label as a technically-adherent photo.
“I am looking for iconic photographs, not photographs of icons,” he mused.
It is this hunt for the perfect shot, the “decisive moment” as Cartier-Bresson so eloquently put it that seems to drive Rob’s photography forward.
But capturing these iconic photos can be like searching for gold in a minefield.
Rob talks of the challenging conditions photographers are faced with, the LED lighting, the three song rule and the abundance of huge tablets and iPads spread out amongst the crowd. But it seems to be a challenge that he not only enjoys but thrives on.
There’s also a recognition of the younger, less experienced photographers looking to make their way into the game.
He added that the rise of digitalism and the densely populated market had changed the landscape.
“Photographers need to use their eyes, learn to see and not just look,” he explained.
“Look at how light falls and affects colour, shoot as much as you can, shoot what interests you.”