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SHIRLAINE FORREST: I DO LOVE A CHALLENGE AND SHOOTING IN PLACES WHICH GET THE ADRENALINE GOING INTERVIEW BY MELANIE SMITH

 
Shirlaine Forrest is a well established and renown Manchester based freelance photographer, specialising in music, fashion and portraiture. Cited as one of the best photographers in the industry, indeed one of 50 of the best photographers worldwide, and she is certainly one of the hardest workers in her field. Shirlaine’s work has appeared in all the high end fashion magazines, and music publications (The Guardian, The Telegraph, The New York Times, NME, Rolling Stone, Kerrang!, Total Guitar and Vogue.) She is also the official photographer for the Manchester Roller Derby team. She is a much sought after photographer for bands needing professional quality images, and her work has graced many CD covers, magazine covers, clothing, merchandise and posters, for artists such as The Subways, The Courteeners and Morrissey, the latter even selected her personally to photograph at his 50th birthday party.

I recently saw a comment someone had posted which said something along the lines of…..“the mark of a good photographer is that we don’t see you!” I don’t always hold to that theory as behind the images and the camera there is a person with a story and its not often they get the chance to get in the spotlight themselves. I want to know more about Shirlaine as I am sure you do to…..

MEL: Tell me something about the petite young woman with multi coloured hair who I always see at gigs in Manchester on any given evening photographing bands.

SHIRLAINE: I’m 39 and originally from Newcastle, but have been living in Manchester for 13 years, after a year spent in Toronto, Canada. Being a full time freelance photographer leaves me very little time for outside interests or time off but I don’t mind being called a crazy cat lady, I love my four rescue fur babies, I’m a junk food vegan, a terrible bass player and when I can, I train with Manchester Roller Derby.

MEL: When and how did you first become interested in photography? Are you self taught or have lots of letters after your name? And can you recall your first ‘proper’ camera, and official paid shoot?

SHIRLAINE: I started as a film student, with photography purely as a hobby to help me understand f-stops, framing, lighting and composition.  I’m completely self-taught in photography but have a degree and ten years professional experience in film and television.  As my career progressed I moved more towards photography, eventually running the stills division of a Manchester based animation studio before it closed and I took the plunge into full time freelance photography.  I still have my first camera; an old Nikkormat 35mm from the 1970’s with a single 50mm prime lens and no light meter, bought by my fantastic parents - it’s a beauty!  I scored my first job with a local music magazine called ‘Paint It Red’ shortly before I moved to Canada. So I was an inexperienced tog shooting in tiny, sweaty, grimy venues in Newcastle one week, then the next blagging a photo pass to a stadium show with Radiohead in Toronto. I still remember the nerves!

MEL: Photography is your full time occupation, did it always start this way, or did you progress into making it your career? Just how hard is it in this highly competitive field, especially in the music industry?

SHIRLAINE: Although I’ve been photographing bands for eighteen years, I’ve been full time freelance for the last five. It is an extremely competitive field, not only with existing ‘togs and new photographers learning the trade properly, but with audience members taking pictures on iphones etc and giving them away to press for free, being published regardless of quality.  I welcome new photographers as I remember how nervous I was when I first started, but I draw the line at folk in the photo pit holding ipads over their heads, getting in the way of security, other togs and the audience.

MEL: Who inspires or inspired your photography, and who do you rate?

SHIRLAINE: I try not to take too much notice of other photographers’ work, as I don’t want my style to be too heavily influenced by those around me.  I’m still more influenced by film, fashion, music and finding inspiration on the street and in artwork than by still frames. My fashion work has been compared to David LaChapelle which is a massive compliment as the chap’s a genius. I love German Expressionist cinema and Brothers Quay animations.

MEL: What camera gear do you use?

SHIRLAINE: I’m a Nikon girl and use a D3s and D700 as my main bodies, with 24-70 and 70-200mm lenses, I do like using my fisheye when the brief allows and use Bowens and Redhead lighting kits. I also enjoy making my own cookies, gobos and backdrops from random things found in timber yards and junk shops, just so that I have original pieces to play with.

MEL: Do you do a lot of work in photoshop/Lightroom or anything else?

SHIRLAINE: I use Photoshop on every shoot, mostly sticking to traditional darkroom techniques for live music and event photography, and I constantly try to fine tune my Photoshop technique for fashion and creative portraiture which has a much wider scope for polishing up images.

MEL: As one of the most recognisable and extremely nice photographers in Manchester, what do you consider as the most important qualities to be successful in this field?

SHIRLAINE: I’m not sure how relevant this is to success, but respecting the people you work alongside is vital. We each have an agenda and a job to do at every event, however I find it extremely frustrating to watch other photographers give venue security and fellow ‘togs a hard time, or even shoot models without deigning to talk to them.  No-one’s more or less important than anyone else and everyone should be treated with respect; it’s a simple thing which many photographers forget in their rush to capture the image.

MEL: They say every photo tells a story, so can you give me your top 5 photographs which you have taken and the stories behind them?

SHIRLAINE: I don’t have a top five images I’m afraid, as my library of shots is vast!  I love the polysemic nature of photography, once my shots are published it’s up to the audience to put their own interpretation onto them and to enjoy or dismiss each image.

Busby Berkely Roller Derby: This idea was directly inspired by Busby Berkeley; I love classic Hollywood films and wanted to shoot a roller derby version of an aerial dance sequence.  Sometimes an idea for a shoot can be hard to realise and this one took a few months to put together. We shot this at Manchester Apollo who were overwhelmingly kind enough to let us use the stage and even give it a fresh coat of paint. Originally I wanted to shoot handheld but once I’d climbed up into the rafters, I saw there just wasn’t the space to shoot through, so the camera was strapped to a lighting rig with magic arms, bungee cords and gaffa tape, raised to the ceiling and was remotely triggered from the laptop with Bowens lighting also on remote trigger from the camera.  A little bit tricky to set up and the skaters were incredibly patient while we adjusted everyone’s position to get it just right.

Harajuku: This session was a cover shoot and fashion spread for Chimp magazine, and was inspired by Japanese themes of harajuku and kawaii and the film Battle Royale.  I cast Boss model Amy Gee, as not only is she fantastic, but I wanted to put my own style to the Japanese themes and not be too heavy handed with it.  I was thrilled to feature my favourite handbag designer Helen Rochfort, clothing by the amazing Tokyo Royale and jewellery by the fab Extreme Largeness.  My make up artists played a blinder once again, I love collaborating with fellow creative’s and Jenifer Perry, Lauren Coombes and Clare Ardern did such an awesome job!

Underwater: I do love a challenge, and shooting in places which gets the adrenaline going.  I’m actually scared of water (and heights, see the Busby Berkeley shot) so what better than to meet that head on and still try and get the shot?  I’d hate to get too complacent about photography, so give myself these challenges every so often, almost like I’m testing or daring myself to get it done. Again I was lucky enough to work with an amazing crew on this one, and I knew my team had my back.

Noisettes and U2: This was hard to pick as I shoot so many live bands, but I’ve gone for this pairing of Noisettes at The Ritz and U2 on the main stage at Glastonbury as it shows no matter the size of the venue, for me it’s all about capturing the lighting and performance. 

Guy Garvey with Richard Hawley: Some shoots take months to arrange and some like this just happen and you have to be ready to capture the moment. Richard Hawley made a guest appearance with Elbow at their preview show for The Seldom Seen Kid at Blueprint Studios, one of the best live shows I’ve seen. Chatting to Richard afterwards (mostly him taking the mick out of my Geordie accent) he kindly agreed to a photo and we grabbed Guy for this quick session.

MEL: Morrissey selected you personally to photograph him for his personal collection. What was Morrissey like to work with?

SHIRLAINE: I’ve shot Morrissey a few times live and was then lucky enough to be selected as his personal photographer for his 50th Birthday show at Manchester Apollo. It was a great experience getting to know him and his team over the session and to tailor shots for him. www.shirlainephotos.co.uk/musicpage_morrissey.htm

MEL: Are there any bands or people you want to photograph off your bucket list?

SHIRLAINE: There are many people I’d love to shoot portraits of; David Attenborough, Muhammad Ali etc, people with interesting backgrounds and strong character filled faces. I’d love to shoot an in depth wildlife set, spending months studying the behaviour of and photographing a particular species. Touring Japan with a band I like would be a dream come true, and as for bands I haven’t shot yet, I only want the impossible. I would have loved to shoot Nirvana and Jem and the Holograms, but I don’t think those are gonna happen.

MEL: What is your opinion of the big debate of photo consents at gigs and also the old 3 songs no flash at shows? Do you think its time for a re-think?

SHIRLAINE: I refuse to sign any release form which hands over copyright of my images to the artist, and if that means not shooting the band at all, so be it. Artists should show each other mutual respect and musicians claiming ownership of work that isn't theirs negates that.

I’m fine with three songs no flash. There are many shows where I’d love to shoot the entire set and get those sweaty finale images; however a live performance is a gig, not a photo shoot. Part of the skill of being a music photographer is to understand live music and capture the atmosphere of the show within those three songs.  Don’t get me wrong it can be frustrating, especially when you’re faced with dreadful lighting in the first three and glorious white light when it’s time to stop shooting, however there’s also a paying audience and a team of security guys and girls who need to look after them to consider, and we’re stood right in front of both of them with lenses inches from the band.

As I see it, my job at gigs is to capture the artist or band looking their very best and working with the lighting and performance to create a set of images which when published will relate the story of the show in a positive way to the artist’s fans.  My biggest frustration with the newer trend of shooting is being put on the sound desk at the back of the arena.  There is no artistry in those types of long lens images, no atmosphere can be captured at those distances and it’s impossible to fully work with the staging, costume and set up.  It’s like being put on the naughty step, the only ‘togs happy there are f*%$&^* paparazzi!

MEL: I noticed you met and photographed the actor Tom Cruise lately, how did this come about?

SHIRLAINE: This was my third shoot for Paramount Pictures c/o my agency Getty Images. Tom was visiting Etihad Stadium to watch City vs United with Robert Duval as part of their UK visit promoting the film ‘Jack Reacher’. I had an exclusive afternoon with Tom, Robert and the Paramount team and they were all extremely lovely to shoot with. Tom’s first words to me were “I love your hair, so cool, so freaking cool!” which left me completely agog as I was expecting diva demands to only be shot at certain angles etc but was instead greeted with that huge grin and an invitation to shoot as I wished. I remember Noel Gallagher walked past and gave me a nod as we were waiting for Tom to arrive, I was on strict standby for Tom but my trigger finger was itching!

MEL: Obviously you get to see bands for free all the time (even though you’re working) but who would you pay to go and see? What music do you listen to when you’re not working?

SHIRLAINE: I don’t think I could go to a gig and not shoot! I tried it once and it was really frustrating!  When you shoot bands for a living, it does affect the music you listen to in down time; if you’ve had a good experience with the band I find myself liking their music more, and similarly if bands are a bit off with you, it taints the next listen to their album.  I also have a bad habit of going out of my way to shoot bands I love and giving them a bit more time in edit, probably highly unprofessional, but if they’re decent folk I want to give them a bit more attention. 

I listen to a wide range of music but favourites are The Joy Formidable, Enter Shikari, The Whip, Man Made Noise, Elbow, Doves, The Subways, The Courteeners, The Longcut, The Futureheads, and Richard Hawley…the list is endless!

MEL: You’re the official photographer for the Manchester Roller Derby team and you seem to have become a bit of a mascot to them. How did this come to fruition and what are they like to work with?

SHIRLAINE: Yeah, they used to have a monkey mascot but I usurped him!  I only ever intended to photograph one roller derby bout, just to check it out and shoot something different, but while roller derby is technically hard to shoot with its low light, fast action and unphotogenic locations, it’s also highly addictive!  It’s a contact sport which means there’s lots of potential for action shots and the camaraderie within teams and indeed between opposing sides is incredible, capturing the sly glances or cheeky grins across track is just as interesting as the dramatic hits! 

Roller derby is a very inclusive sport, attracting all sorts of characters and the Manchester Roller Derby boys and girls as the UK’s first co-ed league are no exception; they’re an incredibly hard working, talented and dedicated league, and an amazingly friendly and creative bunch to shoot with.  Roller derby photography is my Passion Project and I’m incredibly lucky that MRD have taken me on as their official photographer; it’s one of the proudest achievements of my career so far and vitally they trust me enough to grant me the rare licence to shoot as I wish, which often means experimenting with techniques and using the team as muses for concepts which models and bands would be too afraid to try.  In short, I love them and shooting alongside them is a real treat, some of my favourite shooting time!

MEL: What have you got coming up in your photography world which you can share with us?

SHIRLAINE: I’m actually working on a book of roller derby photography at the moment (bit of a Mudkiss exclusive!) combining live bout shots and creative portraits, it’s almost complete now and ready to publish which is extremely exciting! 

MEL: You’ve recently done a fabulous underwater fashion shoot, they are incredibly powerful images. Why did you choose this as a theme and what was the most difficult thing about the session? What gave you the inspiration, to try this daring feat and what did you hope to portray?

SHIRLAINE: Thanks very much! This was my third underwater fashion shoot and as I can’t swim well and only use scuba gear on shoots I saw it as a great challenge.  I have an amazing crew of creatives I team up with regularly, on this occasion I had some of my best Make Up Artists; Clare Ardern, Lauren Coombes and Emma Fairfield, models from Boss and Nemesis, and my favourite clothing designer Velvet Johnstone amongst the team of eighteen all relying on me to deliver, so the pressure was on to capture their stunning work while not drowning. 

I wanted to use the space to capture some anti-gravity images, letting the clothing flow and models twist into poses they couldn’t achieve on land.  It was a tricky shoot to say the least and a bit of a logistical nightmare to set up; I spent seven hours in the freezing water, after a while I couldn’t feel my fingers to trigger the shutter and I was exhausted trying to frame up while keeping position.  It was a wonderful experience and a fantastic day, I had to learn early on not to grin when I got the shot as that does give you a lung full of water, but it was well worth it!

MEL: And finally I wonder do you have any plans to do any tutoring at workshops at all?

SHIRLAINE: I’ve given a guest lecture at a Manchester university and it was nerve wracking, I think I was more scared then than I have been on high pressure shoots!  I’ve mentored newer photographers and trained a few up but I think it’s important that newbies find their own path and their own influences.  Developing your own style is one of the most interesting aspects of photography and I’d never want to sway anyone else from their own end vision.

Many thanks for your time and keep shooting those amazing photographs. I’ll see you in the pit soon.

www.shirlainephotos.co.uk

Interview by Melanie Smith
Photos by Shirlaine Forrest (apart from main image of Shirlaine by Pull Focus)