Azuree Wiitala is a Chicago-based band photographer who has captured The Pixies, Ryan Adams, and Madonna, to name a few. Azuree brings loads of energy to her work and her striking photos are the result of persistent passion. She recently took the time to talk to THE PHOTO ACADEMY about her work and what drives her career of capturing musicians.
What was the event that led you to photographing bands? When was this divine event?
My Mom bought me a Canon Rebel for graduation and I started bringing that to shows with me, just for fun. I guess that was around 2000, which I can’t believe was 17 years ago!
When did you decide to take things to the next level?
Eventually I started taking promo photos for local bands, which lead to different portrait work. It wasn’t anything I was necessarily putting a lot of thought into pursuing, opportunities just came about and I embraced the chance!
You studied photography in university, tell us how helpful (or useless) that experience was for shaping your path?
Ha! I went through a quarter life crisis when I was 25, I was working a job that I didn’t love and wanted to figure out what to do with myself so I quit my job. When I did some soul searching I realized that photography was the thing I would love to make my career somehow so I decided to go to school. If I’m being honest, I don’t know how much that actually shaped my career or me as an artist but I am so glad I learned how to make prints in the dark room and how to view photographs more critically.
How do you describe the balance between chance and planning in both your photographic work but also in the way your career has played out?
My career has absolutely been a by chance situation. I would say there is almost no planning on the photos I take. I love taking candids or photos that lean towards a photojournalistic style. I think there is so much beauty and irony that life presents us with and I love seeking that or paying attention to what’s going on and documenting it.
Didn’t you used to run around shooting bands on film? Can you talk about the differences between shooting analog and digital in today’s market?
I love shooting music and I love shooting film, but digital really changes the game for concert photography. All of my live music work is digital now, while most of my other work is shot on film or polaroid. I know everyone has their own outlook on analog vs digital, I think they each have their place but I personally love the aesthetic of analog photos. I like the entire process of shooting film, not knowing exactly what you’re going to get, the grain, the way different films render color, the fact that you can archive a physical negative- that really appeals to me.
Your photos capture so much energy and drama. What is your technique for keeping up with performers?
Shooting live music can be so challenging, but also so exciting. You typically can only shoot for the first three songs and you never know exactly what you’re going to get. You have to really pay attention, everything happens so quickly that you can miss an awesome moment in a split second. I tend to stand back and scan constantly and always follow me intuition or try to anticipate a break down or a moment when I think two musicians will solo together, etc.
What would be your dream job?
My dream job would be to document a year long tour with one of my favorite artists. I’ve always been so intrigued by the family that is forged by a tour crew, everything that goes into production, all that behind the scenes stuff you don’t see that makes a great show great, in addition to the live portion of the show of course.
Who are your photo gods?
That’s a tough question! As far as music photographers go, I love and admire Danny Clinch, Autumn De Wilde, and Anton Corbjin. I also love Jeff Bridges’ panoramic photos, Adam Goldberg takes film / polaroid photos with an inspiring fervor, Francesca Woodman’s self portrait work has never left me, I love the way Jim Goldberg presents his photos, the way Martin Parr sees the world- full of weird irony and hysterical juxtapositions reminds me to always look, and Leila Peterson whose travel photography and polaroid work is so peaceful and serene to marvel at.
To end on an urgent note, if your house were on fire and there was a single image from your career that you could save, which would it be?
It would be a photo of my brother I took while I was in high school. He’s since passed away and it’s my favorite portrait of him. This photo reminds me of the importance of documenting life!
See more of Azuree’s work here: www.azureewiitala.com