NI music photographer Carrie Davenport: 'I once had to drive to Holland and get a priest costume at short notice... that was my first cover for Kerrang'
From Lady Gaga to Metallica, photographer Carrie Davenport has made it her business to capture the icons of music, writes Lee Henry.
While Northern Ireland has its fair share of wedding photographers, portrait studios, landscape and fashion snappers, when it comes to capturing rock and pop acts blasting out tunes onstage or posing mysteriously for album covers, there is really only one name on the list.
Carrie Davenport is, was and perhaps always will be the undisputed heavyweight champion of Ulster-based music photographers, having shot everyone from Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift to Metallica and Iron Maiden by way of every conceivable indie act that has ever rocked up to the Limelight.
"I've learned the hard way to always wear good earplugs," Davenport laughs. "I have a bit of tinnitus by this stage in my career, but I guess it's a hazard of the job. I love what I do. I'm pretty lucky in that I've gotten to photograph every single one of my favourites, except for The Rolling Stones, but I've not given up on that one yet."
Davenport (36), from Belfast, developed a love of photography from an early age. Her first camera was an old Pentax film SLR.
"My granny Edie passed away when I was 14 and she left me some money, so that went towards buying it," Davenport remembers. "I always name my cameras after her. I'm on Edie Mark 6 and 7 now. I still have that first camera at home."
Armed with the proper equipment, and with the support of her parents Davey and Miriam, Davenport set about learning how to use it.
"I went to Methody and art was always my favourite subject, so I took up photography and taught myself in the darkroom, which nobody else used. It was a great way to dodge maths class," she says.
"Then I went to Belfast Tech to do a foundation course in art and design, and after that I got a First at the Ulster University's Art College in Belfast.
"I spent my summers thereafter working for the Environment and Heritage Service as a photographer's assistant. That taught me a great deal of technical skills."
Looking back, Davenport learned about style, tone, composition, lighting and more from flicking through music publications like Kerrang, NME and Rolling Stone. Established music photographers including Mick Rock, Anton Corbijn and Danny Clinch had the biggest influences on her aesthetic development.
"I was always a huge fan of a lot of different styles. Nick Knight was a big favourite when I was younger, and still is. His fashion work is beautiful and really unique. But my favourite photo of all time is by Elliott Erwitt, a Magnum street photographer. It's from his Dogs Of New York series and I finally bought an art print of it last year and cannot wait to have it framed up. It's a black and white image of a man with a bulldog on his knee, shot so that it looks like he has a bulldog face, and it makes me smile every time I look at it."
Fully trained up and ready to rock in the professional field, Davenport was naturally drawn towards music photography. Back in school, she studied up to grade 8 in saxophone and, with lots of her friends playing in bands post-university, she began shooting their gigs.
"I decided to combine my love of music and photography and try shooting live concerts," adds Davenport.
"It was definitely much harder at the start when I was shooting in small, dark venues on film but I absolutely fell in love with it.
"Over the years I've shot for lots of outlets. Regulars include Getty Images, BBC Northern Ireland, Kerrang, Hot Press, and I've had work featured in Digital Camera Magazine, lots of national and local newspapers and books. I honestly couldn't list them all. I used to try and keep everything but I lost track years ago."
As well as shooting live performances, Davenport has also made a solid career of photographing bands for promotional purposes, posters, advertising campaigns, album artwork and magazine spreads. That side of her job is all about creativity, spontaneity and collaboration.
"Things can change in an instant, from the weather to the location. I was working with Guinness and Biffy Clyro a few years ago after they played secret shows in Belfast for Arthur's Day. They wanted a shot of the guys drinking Guinness but they didn't drink, so I ended up bringing them to the Duke of York to shoot them under the vintage Guinness signs. It was a last minute idea that saved me from letting one of the clients down.
"On another occasion I had to hire a car and drive from Belgium to Holland to get a shot with All Time Low after dates got mixed up. The magazine editor booked a shoot thinking that they were at a festival in one country when they had actually played the night before. Driving in Belgium was terrifying and I had to find a priest costume at short notice. But that ended up being my first cover for Kerrang magazine."
Davenport's personal taste in music varies and she admits that "nothing is a guilty pleasure". As such, cheese rock icons Kiss and Poison will often feature at the top of her Spotify playlists, while blues rock band Clutch and "more mellow acts" like Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and The Gaslight Anthem are also particular favourites.
Having shot hundreds of gigs over the past decade and more, it is understandably difficult for Davenport to pick out career highlights, but when pressed she is quick to give credit to local acts. Rock three-piece Therapy?, led by Andy Cairns, always make for an enjoyable experience.
"Through work I've been lucky enough to become friends with some acts and Therapy? were one of my favourite bands when I was younger, so getting to shoot them was a dream come true.
"Our first shoot together they were a tad hungover and so late that I ended up shooting them in my living room."
There are plenty of other perks of the job too. "One time, at SXSW musical conference in Austin, Texas, I was missing my best mate's birthday, which I felt awful about, but I managed to track down her favourite musician, Rob Zombie, who was there promoting a book, and got him to send her a birthday message in a copy of the new book and she was over the Moon. I think she forgave me!"
Asked if she has lived through any green room diva experiences, Davenport admits that she has been lucky in that regard. "Maybe I got them all on good days," she laughs. "Though I did have to deal with Jared Leto freaking out and covering himself with hand sanitizer after I arrived for a shoot at a festival. I had been eaten alive by mosquitoes and he thought I had measles and is a well-known germophobe, but once we convinced him I wasn't contagious he was a perfect gentleman."
On New Year's Eve in 2016 Davenport had the uncomfortable experience of having the camera turned on her when she married her long-term partner Dee McAdams (35) in Belfast.
Like all photographers, she argues, Davenport "usually hates" being on the other side of the lens, but was put at ease due to the fact that her good friends Brideen Baxter and Deci Gallen from Simple Tapestry were on hand to shoot the day.
"We love the photos, so we definitely made the right choice," says Davenport. "I've shot a lot of weddings myself and I really wanted to go somewhere different, so our ceremony was in Belfast City Hall and after that we had an alternative ceremony with personal, funny vows, friends playing music and cocktails for everyone upstairs at the Hudson Bar. It was absolutely amazing.
"Then we headed to the Mac. We had hired out the top floor and were their first ever wedding.
"We hand-made as much as we could. Most bridesmaids end up tying flowers or making favours with their bride but mine ended up helping me drill bottles to create lights and build a photo booth.
"After that we disappeared for the longest holiday I've ever had. Being freelance, it's hard to get more than a week ever, but this time we hit New Orleans, Mexico and finished with 10 days traveling around Cuba. I'd go back tomorrow if I could."
If her ultimate long-term ambition is to finally shoot Mick Jagger and co, in the short-term Davenport is busy putting the finishing touches to her latest exhibition, VISAGE, which opens at ArtCetera on Belfast's Rosemary Street on July 27.
"It's a collaboration for Pride between myself, designer Aaron Eakin and the queens from Maverick and Boombox. It's not just normal photographs but sculptural prints designed to show both the queens in drag and the man before. I haven't seen anything like it before so we're all very excited.
"As well as that, I also have a music photography workshop in the Oh Yeah Music Centre for teenagers in August. Participants will get the chance to photograph and interview musicians and make a 'zine', so it's going to be a fun summer ahead."
- VISAGE also features the work of local carpenter Gareth Martin. The exhibition launches July 27 and runs until August 5. ArtCetera is open 11am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday, and closed Sunday.