RIZWAN OMAR HAS BEEN SURROUNDED BY MUSIC ALL HIS LIFE BUT IT WASN’T UNTIL 12 MONTHS AGO HE FINALLY PICKED UP A CAMERA AND BEGAN DEMONSTRATING HIS TRUE MUSICAL APPRECIATION.
Rizwan Omar is what some people refer to as a quadruple threat. He has an academic’s quest for perfection, a detective’s power of observation, a diplomat’s ability for persuasion and an architect’s eye for spatial dimension.
All of which are mighty handy skills for someone who spends every spare moment he has living behind a camera. The son of a retired pediatrician who left his role with the United Nations to call Australia home, Rizwan had lived in nine different countries by the time he set foot in Sydney.
While it did little to help the then 17-year-old maintain close childhood friendships, it did mean he was exposed to a lot of authentic artisanship through his parents’ love of classical and traditional art forms.
Having to relocate from one country to another so often resulted in him developing a refined and intuitive awareness of the most subtle, often momentary elements within every new surroundings, he says.
“I learned how to pay close attention. I was able to notice things most people overlooked or took for granted, knowing full well that I might not have the luxury of witnessing the same tomorrow. I absorbed every minute aesthetic detail in my immediate environment and developed an insightful and penetrating way of looking at things.”
It is a skill the qualified secondary school teacher utilises to full effect in both his day job as a casual lecturer and his after hours hobby as an up-and-coming music photographer.
Rizwan says initially he found it “incredibly embarrassing” when people asked him how long he had been shooting and he was forced to admit he had only purchased his first professional camera, a Nikon D7200 and his two lenses – a NIKKOR AF-S 35mm f/1.8G and NIKKOR AF-S 55-200mm f/4-5.6G – in 2016.
“Today, I find it pleasantly comical and outright remarkable,” he says, “…that I did not own a camera for the first 37 years of my life.” But it was no accident he has once again found himself at the forefront of Sydney’s live music scene. When he was 18 Rizwan began writing for 3DWorld – then Sydney’s largest and most widely circulated music magazine and considered himself lucky to have two successful shows on community radio by the time he was 23.
Living the life of a secluded audiophile, he says he rarely ventured out to visit live music gigs, and was not very serious about pursuing anything to do with music.
Having always had a keen eye for spatial dimensions, colour, symmetry and textures and composition, in mid-2015 Rizwan resolved to move to Tasmania to start what he terms “a more solemn and contemplative” life. For various reasons the move was not as he anticipated and he soon found himself returning to Sydney in search of furthering his involvement in music.
“I decided to try and contribute in some positive way to the overall awareness of what Sydney once was and still could be. I wanted to provide and make accessible a truly unparalleled and unpretentious set of creative skill set which both established and up-and-coming artists could use in order to leverage their own brand and overall presence within the community and greater marketplace. After the Tasmania thing, having been absent from the scene for over 15 years, I made a concerted effort to loiter at all the top live venues, and started visiting old contacts to help reacquaint myself with the Sydney music scene.”
On the 18th June, the same day he purchased his camera, a friend of Rizwan’s invited him to a live performance at a live music venue in Surry Hills where the headline act was New York-based soul vocalist Vivian Sessoms who had done backup vocals for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Sinead O’Connor and Donna Summer.
Rizwan used the gig to try out his new camera. Since then his efforts have secured Rizwan a role as a regular on the city’s live music circuit, being one of only three snappers accredited to shoot Sheila E’s Sydney concert at The Metro late last year, and counting Grammy-winning jazz artist Gregory Porter, Michael Franti (of Spearhead), veteran hiphop duo Blackalicious, and Australian hip-hop artists L-Fresh The Lion and Plutonic Lab, among those whose concerts he has shot.
A resident photographer at Sydney’s The Playbar live music venue, Rizwan has been given the green light by BluesFest Touring to shoot the Sydney concerts of a number of its artists – including Roy Ayers, Joan Osborne, Corinne Bailey Rae – next month.
In addition he has been tentatively scheduled to photograph American soul artist Mary J Blige at the Opera House in early April.
While he has yet to undertake any structured or formal lessons, Rizwan says he has been well looked after by other photographers, with veteran ABC and Triple J radio presenter and keen photographer Tim Richie taking an interest in his work, alongside songwriter and photographer Ronan Davis and DJ Moto.
“[Tim] has always made himself available. I am yet to take up his offer of going photographing with him… I need to be better. Ronan relocated to Sweden a few years ago [and] is someone who I can always rely on, no matter what time of day it is. I harass him on a regular basis regarding the art of photographic composition. DJ Moto is just a phenomenal photographer. I am not sure many of his fans are familiar with the amazing work he has done.”
Rizwan says while he has many amazing concerts to look forward to in the year ahead, if forced to choose just artist on which to focus it would be soul, funk and rock artist Lenny Kravitz.
“I suppose if I had a ‘dream gig’, it would be as Lenny Kravitz’s personal photographer. He is a truly gifted artist who writes, produces and arranges all of his own songs. He also collaborates with so many amazing artists. But [already] there have been so many blessed opportunities afforded to me. Photographing Grammy-award winning artist Gregory Porter is a priceless memory on its own. I wouldn’t trade that night for anything in the world.”
Rizwan’s tips for amateurs photographers hoping to break into the music scene:
- It is often said that ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ and this is certainly true of the music industry. It is not always a pretty place, and one should always be weary of what one is willing to compromise, especially in terms of one’s personal integrity.
- Since June of 2016, I have travelled an average of 300 km every week from my home to the Sydney CBD, driving back and fourth, on average, four to five times. It is not an easy vocation, and there have been countless disappointments and moments of pure anguish. Be prepared to have your heartbroken.
- Find a mentor and learn from them. No matter how talented you may think you are, there is no substitute for experience. Learn to be a student. Ask as many questions as you can and watch what established professionals are doing.
- It doesn’t matter how highly technical your equipment is, it takes time to learn and understand ‘good composition’. No matter what type of camera you are using, master each and every aspect of that camera. Keep a journal and record the settings you are using, and make small notes outlying the result.
- Don’t chase fame. Don’t be in a hurry to succeed. There are people in the industry who have struggled for years without ever receiving the recognition they deserve. Instead of being hyper focused on what you define as success, your number one priority should be to contribute positively to the art form and to the industry. Help others look good. It doesn’t matter if they don’t say thank you… not many people will. Accept it and stay focused on your art.
Words: Tracey Porter