Joel Winburne is a self-taught photographer with decades of experience shooting concerts in Dallas. He sat down with the Observer in a booth at The Green Room to discuss his favorite concert experiences, venues and that time he dodged a lougie from Marilyn Manson.
Dallas Observer: How did you get started in concert photography?
Joel Winburne: It really had to do with the time when I got started. This was late ’80s and early ’90s. We use have some great music clubs here: On the Rocks, The Basement and Dallas City Limits. There are a lot of great clubs that brought national acts.
My father is a musician and I played trombone in a marching band. I played bass guitar for a while when I was in the military. I had like a little band with some other soldiers and we played at our post. I wasn’t very good at it, but I love music, I love going to the concerts.
So when I got out of the military, I ended up with a lot of camera equipment when my grandfather passed away. I started sneaking my camera in to the different shows, cause again this was the time when you could actually do that. They weren’t patting you down with a wand; we didn’t have the security issues that we have nowadays.
I was at The Basement all the time. We had a lot of bands coming through. I knew everyone that worked the club, even the manager, Jeff Schattle. If I didn’t sneak my gear in, I would talk to the manager to work something out, like offering 8x10s. That’s how I got started. That’s also when I met the publisher for JAM Magazine. [Winburne shot for JAM for about nine years and has since moved to Live Nation.]
Do you prefer to shoot small venues or large stadiums?
I like the big venues now. I spent a lot of years in clubs — 15-plus years in those clubs. Getting there at 8 o’clock at the front of the stage and then staying in that spot for four hours until the headliner came on. It’s a lot of work. I was younger back then.
Now that I’ve been in the national scene for a while, I prefer those bigger shows. I like going to the smaller venues and enjoy them, but I don’t want to drag my gear along with me. I am kind of past that point, because I’ve shot so many shows.
Does the three-song rule limit you in any way or do you get enough shots?
It depends, but I always manage to get what I need. Sometimes if I only get that one picture, and it’s spectacular, that’s good enough for me. I’m sometimes my own worst critic. I have people look at my stuff and say that it’s fantastic, but I am like, “this and this and this,” ’cause it’s not what I wanted. But if I get that one shot, to me that makes it worthwhile.
You learn to deal with the song limit, because we always had it from the beginning, except when I was sneaking my gear in. The only bad thing now for me is that I find it hard to enjoy a show without viewing it through a camera — like when I went to a show at Verizon Theatre, to see Alice Cooper. I got a really high end point-and-shoot, so throughout whole show I was just shooting from my seat.
What gear is a must-have when you’re covering an event?
I am a Canon guy. I have two bodies: 5D Mark II and a 5D Mark III. For the first half of my career, I only had one body and I would constantly switch out lenses. You can do that, but you’re opening your gear to a lot of debris that could get in. Since all of my venues that I worked at were outdoors, plus that Texas heat and stuff flying in the air, I finally invested in a second body. I always use the 70-200mm and the 24-70mm. I also have one good 15mm fish eye that has fallen apart three different times, and I keep on having Canon fix it.
What makes your style unique?
I think I usually do more close up, personal stuff. Like with the Red Hot Chili Peppers I made myself shoot with the fisheye lens, but I tend to zoom in a lot, so I won’t get that dead space or the security in the shots. It also depends on what they’re wearing and how well they’re lit, because if they’re not lit really well, I tend to get really tight on the subject. My style depends on the artist, the stage and what they’re giving us to work with.
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What are your most memorable gigs?
Most of them are a long time ago when I was first starting; when I was still super excited since I was still new and young. One of the shows that I remember was in 1994 at the Fair Park Colosseum. It was Rob Zombie when he was still White Zombie. I’d never shot him before and it was a whole new experience for me. I got the album and I thought to myself that, “This is some crazy stuff.” I really liked his music since it was so different. It was such a thrill that I was getting so into the music, that I was forgetting that I had to shoot pictures as well. I found my groove, where I can still jam and still get my shots.
When Marilyn Manson first came out he was fun to shoot, because he was so different and had so much energy. I will never forget this one show during OzzFest. Marilyn Manson had a crazy look to him and beautiful lighting, before he got a bit more jaded. There were so many photographers, and he would try to spit on you. I remember I was shooting and he looked down at me. I see him start to wind up phlegm; I see it coming like it’s in slow motion. I slightly move away and it just hit the guy right behind me on the chest.
Any advice for amateurs?
Take some time to learn your equipment. There are so many tutorials out there online; the internet didn’t exist when I started. Shoot manual. Too many people make the camera work for them, and they don’t learn anything that way. Learn your gear, learn your environment, and the best way to learn is going to these small clubs where the lighting is horrible. If you can capture an image in the worst of conditions, later you’ll have some spectacular stuff. Work for it.
You can check out some of Winburne’s work on the walls of The Green Room in Deep Ellum.