PRACTICALITY AND FISCAL PRAGMATISM ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR DESTROYING MANY A CREATIVE ENDEAVOUR. BUT MATT G REFUSED TO BECOME ANOTHER VICTIM. THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW A MOLECULAR BIOLOGIST RETIRED HIS LAB COAT IN FAVOUR OF BECOMING A ROCK STAR PHOTOGRAPHER.
He’s the Brian Cox of the photography world. An English-born scholar who specialised in molecular biology, Matt G may be a highly regarded concert photographer now but his first introduction to microscopes and cameras only came in his early 20s when studying for his PhD.
Matt says that while he had always enjoyed the practical side of art – sketching and drawing – he had never pursued photography as a creative outlet despite the fact his studies required him to learn the basics of Photoshop in order to “fiddle” the occasional result. Ten year ago, however, all that changed.
“I’d moved over to Australia in 2007 to continue my alleged research career, but while I loved Australia, I hated my job and realised I could take a photo at least as well as many of the professionals out there. Psychologically it was a move towards something where I could see the results instantly – having spent years in labs where progress can be tectonically slow, it’s great to press the button and then see the image on the back of camera and know you’ve done a great job instantly.”
Completely self-taught, Matt made the brave decision to turn his part-time hobby into his full time profession in his late 30s. His first “real job” was a shoot for motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson at the Sydney Tattoo Expo. “I spent a few days taking photos of tattooed girls on bikes and getting paid for it – that was the moment I decided to quit my job in the lab and go full time as a photographer.”
Matt says he’d always been interested in music and already had “the look and attitude” so his transition into band photography happened somewhat organically. Initially starting out in Sydney owing to the multitude of live venues at the time, he made the move to the Gold Coast in 2013 when the cost of maintaining his studio space in the NSW became prohibitive.
The move allowed him the space to undertake more studio and location work and while the early days saw his images appear solely on music websites free of charge, his unique perspective means he is now being approached by the management of high profile bands to shoot their concert promotional materials and his work is regularly seen across posters, flyers, CDs and EPs, iTunes and numerous streaming music services. He supplements this with the odd piece of commercial work.
Matt concedes many of his images tend towards “the dark side” but believes this may be his key point of difference. “Maybe it’s my love of somewhat darker music, or maybe it’s due to growing up in the UK where it seems to be dark most of the time. Even with a bright and smiley glamour photoshoot, I’ll pull out something a bit darker and low-key, and it’ll be that one that grabs my attention.
“I think that when taking a shot, at the base level, I can be very technical and precise – just like in medical research – which helps with product photography for example. Then for more artistic shots I like to just let loose and see where things go. Sometimes I’ll be guilty of shooting in a seat-of-my-pants kind of way and ignoring a lot of the ‘rules’. I’m a big fan of using open, blank spaces in my shots to convey an emotion – the rule-of-thirds is not a big feature in my work.” Splitting his time between the studio and at gigs, Matt describes himself as a “relatively simple soul” when it comes to his favoured equipment.
Having previously owned a number of long-zoom point-and-shoots, Matt says he fell in love when the Nikon D7000 was first released. “It was sleek and sexy and all the bits were in the right place so I’ve stuck with Nikon since then. Currently, my workhorse is the D800, but I’ll be upgrading soon to the D810, or more likely I’ll wait until the anticipated D820 is released. The D800 won’t be retired though as it’s still a top-class camera.”
Day to day his camera of choice is a Nikon D800 to which he will usually attached a “decent” wide-range zoom lens such as the NIKKOR AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G IF ED VR owing to its versatility however he never leaves home without taking his Nikon D7000 with a fast prime lens attached which allows him to switch easily between the two.”
Concert photography is an exercise in chaos, he says, and definitely not for the faint-hearted. One of the more challenging aspects of his work is the fact that when shooting at live gigs the photographer is unable to predict where the lights – or musicians – are going to move next. For this reason shooting at gigs is one of the few places Matt likes to put his camera on bracketing.
“More than once I’ve had shots that were not entirely anticipated that turned out to be the shot of the night. It’s also worth testing how fast your camera can shoot and write to the memory card – there’s nothing more frustrating than a camera pausing as it stores your images.
Also, at a gig, unless you’re in a photographers’ pit, you may have to fight for your shot (not literally, but close on some occasions). You need to be forthright in getting into position and keeping punters, security, and other photographers out of your way while you get the shot. And look official – I’ve been known to wear a lanyard saying “official photographer” even when I’m not.”
Yet despite anticipating the occasional moral dilemma, Matt says professionally 2017 is likely to prove something of a consolidation year where he intends encouraging a greater divide between his commercial work and his passion projects. “My style has always been a bit more dark than ideal for selling commercially. Previously I’ve had everything running through one website, which has restricted me a little bit.
[Last year] I started the Gold Coast Photography Studio website where the mainstream, commercially viable work goes, and my original website will be reworked so that I can put my images on there without worrying about whether they scare off the customers. In the year ahead I’ll be letting myself off the leash and taking the shots that are running around my head without worrying about whether they’re commercial or not.
“Later in the year, I’m hoping to arrange a gallery exhibition of some artistic work. The Gold Coast will be getting a lot darker.”
Words: Tracey Porter