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Photog Portrait: Kathy Tran Isn't Afraid to Sneak Around to Get the Shot

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A good music photographer's work can be spellbinding. It's an art that can send pangs of regret through viewers who weren't there that night, and return others who were there to the ecstasy of the moment. Dallas is home to many talented photographers who work in this medium and bring their own style to every shot.

For the first Q&A in a series that will comprise some of Dallas' best music photographers, we met with Kathy Tran, who frequently works with the Observer, at her cozy home office, where we were greeted with small growls from her pet chihuahua, Coco. Tran has a trail of accolades that follow her, including work with Billboard, and she was recently featured in the “Caught in the Act” photography exhibit at Kettle Art Gallery in Deep Ellum.

When did you start getting into photography?
I went to an arts magnet school for junior high and high school, so I did a lot of painting, drawing, sketching. [I was] deep into the visual arts. I started photography 10 years ago. I was 13, 14 years old when I got a camera. Once I got into photography, it surpassed my drawing, because it was a faster paced form of art and one that I can be social with, interactive.

And what about concert photography in particular?
I would look at the different categories on the [Central Track website, which I was working for] and I would see music, arts, food and fashion. I would start shooting in each category. While I was doing fashion for Central Track, I did street styles. The reason I started going to music shows is to get more street styles and shoot concerts at the same time, so it went hand and hand.

What makes your style, your style?
I like more of an intimate, personal vibe to my photos. Being behind the scene, being in the greenrooms — those are my favorite moments to shoot. Every time I go to a concert, I usually try to sneak in to the back to get the shots that I really want. I think the kind of photos that I do are intimate; sneak in, be a wall flower and conquer.

Besides music what else do you cover?
Fashion, food, portraits and heading into weddings. I shoot a little bit of everything.

What was the turning point in your career when you labeled yourself as a professional?
I think I started to consider myself a professional when I realized that I was making a living off photography, and never had any other real jobs. That’s all I’ve ever done, that’s all I’ve ever made a living from. Even at a young age, I was already charging people very little money for family portraits, small things like that. Then I kind of realized that I am paying my bills with this gig, and doing it full time.

What do you expect when you go to a concert? Is it like any other shoot?
A couple of years ago, it was always unexpected, because I would always try to get past security, get past the bouncer, get past the managers, get past whatever to get to the backroom. Every time I would go to a show I didn’t know what it was going to be like, because I knew I had to do some sneaking. Now it’s kind of expected. Most of the shows, like at The Bomb Factory, they always do the first-three-song rule [photographers are given access to shoot the performance of the first three songs.] [There are] more regulations.

What was the first concert you shot professionally?
Well I didn’t even know I was shooting it professionally. I brought my camera to my first concert, the Pharcyde, and I shot them. I got behind the scene of the Pharcyde after the show, and around two to three o’clock in the morning I was talking to -Topic, and the people who performed before. We were just chilling in Deep Ellum, then Pete Freedman was like, “Hey, you got some good pictures?” I was like, “Yeah, why?” Then Pete said, “Send them to me so I can publish them.” Boom! That was how I got into music photography. He liked the photos. I shot the way I wanted to shoot it, and it kept going.

Check out Tran's work with the Dallas Observer here, and visit her website and Instagram to keep following her adventures.

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