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For those who were there, and those who weren’t, the energy and emotion of our favorite performers echo on through the perfectly-timed frames of music photographers. These are moments of musical inspiration, channeled through the artist and out to the masses, preserved for posterity for all to behold. But just imagine being the one behind the lens… Camera-pro Monica Schipper has captured every angle of live music over the years on her journey from the soundboard to the stage.
“I love capturing energy and emotion in music photography,” Schipper says, “when you look at a photo and you can really feel the performance.”
The Australian-born photographer dove into Melbourne’s music scene at an early age. A music scene that has birthed influential bands across all genres, from 80’s alt-outfit Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” rockers Jet, synth-pop syndicate Cut Copy and “sampledelia” pioneers The Avalanches, the city was surging with musical synergy. It was the perfect arena for Schipper to cut her teeth in the world of music photography.
“I had friends who were musicians so I would bring my camera to their gigs to get experience shooting live music,” the photographer reminisces with a smile. “This was back in the MySpace days, so I’d put photos on my page and connect with other bands. Eventually, this led to professional work as I got more experience.”
After a move to New York City in 2008, Schipper continued to find opportunities in the clubs, theatres and arenas of the Big Apple. While shooting for online music publication Prefix, Schipper got her biggest assignment yet—Bruce Springsteen, live at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, there was a bit of misinformation in her briefing.
Arriving at MSG prepared for a pit shoot (where photographers and media professionals assemble in a reserved section at the front of the stage), Schipper was guided to the soundboard instead. Much farther from the stage than anticipated, she had to make do with the lenses she had on hand. Although she was able to capture the essence of the group's performance, she simply didn’t have the gear to snag the close-up shots of Springsteen she craved.
“It was a bit of a bummer, but I did the best I could with what I had,” Schipper explains. “If anything it motivated me. I knew that if I kept delivering my best work, more opportunities would come.”
Undeterred, Schipper did just that. Over the next few years, she continued to put her lens to all types of events, from celebrity portraits to extravagant fashion shows, and of course, huge concerts. Her reputation, and portfolio, began circulating through NYC’s media circles, eventually landing her an invitation to join the biggest photo agency in the business, Getty Images.
Through Getty, Schipper found herself shooting top-level events that matched her top-level skills. In 2014, she was sent back to Madison Square Garden, this time to cover Stand Up for Heroes, an annual concert/comedy festival that supports charities and runs programs benefiting veterans. Billed as a highly anticipated night of hope, healing and laughter, the event has featured superstar comics such as Jerry Seinfeld, Conan O'Brien, Robin Williams, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.
The music side of things is no small matter either, with Grammy Award-winning acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers and John Mayer bringing their aural allure to the Stand Up for Heroes stage. But this year’s musical guest would hold a special significance for Schipper. Redemption had come. It was none other than The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. And this time Schipper was more than ready.
Bolstered by her Getty Contributor credentials, Schipper and her camera were now granted access to the wings (the sides of the performance stage)! Forget the pit. She would actually be on-stage with Springsteen!
Close enough to count the strings of his guitar, Schipper savored every shot. Springsteen was in full focus, performing songs old and new from his legendary 50-year career. The event was sensational, and so were Schipper's photos.
“It was totally surreal, a pinch-yourself moment, no doubt!” Schipper shares. “It took me 6 years to get from the soundboard to the stage and it's one of those moments that will always stay with me.”
Since that night, the talented photographer has gone on to photograph some of the biggest personalities in live music. Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Alice Cooper, Jennifer Lopez, KISS… The list goes on. You need only glimpse Schipper’s work to appreciate the magnitude of the performance taking place.
A deeper study reveals how her expert eye has framed a moment in time so skillfully, you are immediately transported there. Her command of natural and stage lighting emphasizes every line of the subject's face, while the aptly assumed angle of each shot conveys the kinetics of art in motion.
It’s a phenomenon that can often leave you at a loss for words. But isn’t that why we love photography in the first place? To say all the things that we don’t know how to say?
At its core, music is about the message, and music photography keeps that message alive. Every shot tells a story, and no one tells that story better than Monica Schipper. With concert season just around the corner, we can’t wait for our favorite performers to dance and play into Schipper’s frame.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
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