My Life: Leicester photographer Amy Brammall on being a music photographer and lots more...
From taking “blurry, rubbish photos with an atrocious camera” to providing the cover shot for the NME’s 60th birthday edition, photographer Amy Brammall, below, has come a long way. Here, she talks to Gemma Peplow about her work.
Last month, music bible NME celebrated its 60th birthday. Fans rushed out to buy one of eight – or maybe even all eight – collectors’ editions, featuring the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Paul Weller, Manic Street Preachers, Patti Smith, The Killers, the Gallaghers (separately) and John Lydon on the covers, all holding their own previous front cover editions.
Amy Brammall, perhaps, was more excited than most when she picked up her copy of number eight – the edition featuring the Sex Pistols frontman sitting cross-legged in a chair, dressed in a Beetlejuice-style suit and Doc Martens, peering over his old magazine.
After working as a freelance photographer, mainly with musicians and bands, for several years, this was Leicester photographer Amy’s first NME cover.
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A 60th anniversary collectors’ edition can’t be a bad one to start with, can it?
“John Lydon was lovely and I completely directed him throughout the shoot,” says Amy. “I was just ridiculously happy when it went on the cover. NME, when I first started, was who I wanted to work for, so to get a cover is just incredible. It’s definitely the career highlight to date and hopefully it will be the first of many.”
Starting out taking “blurry, rubbish photos with an atrocious camera” at a mate’s gig, Amy persevered, upgraded her cameras and discovered she had a natural talent.
Meeting music promoters earned her more work, which she fitted in around five years gaining photography qualifications – first an A-level, then a foundation degree and then a BA – at Leicester College and De Montfort University. By the time she finished her photography education in 2009, Amy, now 29, had enough work to keep her busy as a full-time freelancer – and she has done ever since.
“When I was at uni I was doing lots of work and it suddenly got to the point where people were contacting me rather than me contacting them,” she says. “I had started creating a style for myself and people were coming to me because they could see that and they wanted something a bit different.”
It was hard, at first, but Amy was determined. “I didn’t know anyone in the industry when I started and I think that was one of the hardest things. Half the battle is working out who you need to speak to and when.
“When I started I’d look at my images and think they were great and then a year on I’d look back and realise they were awful. But I kept working at it.
“When I first started, I was shooting bands in abandoned warehouses, standing against walls and that sort of thing, which is pretty typical. By about the third shoot, I decided I wanted to do something different.”
Amy’s striking style has taken her all over the world: behind the scenes with bands on tour, in front of soap stars on TV sets and in the photo pits at some of the biggest festivals on the planet.
“I’ve done lots of work for NME, all over the country and further afield places such as Serbia and Croatia,” she says. “I’ve been on tour with quite a lot of bands as well, which is quite nice: Kasabian, Miles Kane, Pulled Apart By Horses, Robyn, The View... “With that, it’s all about creating exciting images. It’s like you’re giving people a snippet of what it’s like being on tour. There are photos of the gigs but then also of the setting up, the chatting backstage, the drinking, hugging each other after the show – bits the fans don’t usually get to see.
“It’s enjoyable but it’s not quite as you’d expect and it’s not all partying.
“It depends how you catch people. More often than not, you’re a stranger and you’re going there to photograph their private lives. Sometimes you think: ‘Do you really want me here?’
“You’ve got to respect their privacy but also intrude on it at the same time. It can be a bit odd.”
Although a lot of her work is with musicians, Amy doesn’t class herself as just a music photographer. She has also snapped the likes of Howard Marks, Dave Spikey and Stephen K Amos, to name just a handful.
“I’d describe my work as commercial photography,” she says. “It’s predominantly music-based because of the work I’ve done for NME and how I started and because I love music. But photography for me is all about portraiture, I just love capturing people.”
Which stars have been particularly lovely and which have been less lovely, we want to know. “Well, it’s difficult to say particular names but it’s all about people’s attitudes on set. When you’re working with professional, successful people, they’ve done it a thousand times before so they just get on with it and that can be good. But then, they’re not as excited as, say, when you do photos with local bands. I enjoy any shoot where people are enjoying it and communicating with me.
“Pulled Apart By Horses were lovely lads and were up for anything I said. The Ting Tings were great to work with, too. I did an American Beauty shoot with (Leicester musician and Fun Lovin’ Criminals drummer) Uncle Frank, with him covered in petals, and also some of him eating cereal. He’s great to work with, I always love shoots with him. I love working with people who are completely up for it.
“There was one – and I won’t say who – I was working with and I said: ‘Right, we’re going to do this next.’ And she just said: ‘No, we’re not. I’m done.’
“You just have to move on.
“I don’t really ever have any expectations when I go to a shoot. Thankfully, I don’t get nervous any more. The first two or three shoots for NME, I was incredibly nervous. Now, I just think, I know the brief, I know what I want, let’s try to make it happen.”
Amy is currently working in Leeds for ITV; a role that has seen her on the sets of Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Celebrity Juice.
The masterplan is to continue doing what she’s doing, while maybe adding a few more strings to her bow.
“I want my images to make people want to watch something, or make them want to read a book or buy a CD, so that’s my goal now – CD covers, book covers, that sort of thing.
“I don’t know if it’s going to go to plan but I’m a ridiculously organised person and if I get something in my head that I want to do then I’ll do everything I can to get there.”