“I know what they’re talking about,” Shawn Brackbill says about the musicians and celebrities he’s photographed over the past decade. “I know what they’re going through, so I approach photographing them in a way that won’t be a burden to them.”
The Brooklyn-based photographer is referring to the years he spent working on music-related projects like acting as tour manager for the bands Q and Not U and Zombi, and booking shows at a DIY Pittsburgh venue called the Mr. Roboto Project.
Looking back on those one-in-a-lifetime experiences, which included putting together classic bills like !!! and Les Savy Fav, booking Death Cab for Cutie in a room that holds 100 people and letting Bright Eyes crash at his apartment, Brackbill wishes he’d had a camera around then so he could capture the kinds of candid shots that occur when you’re immersed in a rich subculture like Pennsylvania’s underground music scene.
Maybe that’s why he’s been making up for lost time by shooting anything and everything related to music, from an ongoing black-and-white portrait project—an icon-heavy series that’s already counts David Byrne, Wayne Coyne and Henry Rollins—to editorial and commercial pieces for MOJO, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Self-Titled, and enough records labels to fill an entire music store aisle (Sub Pop, 4ad, Domino, Matador, and many, many others).
And that’s just the music stuff. In 2008 Brackbill was hired by Dazed & Confused to cover the backstage scene at New York Fashion Week. Eleven seasons later, his unique, reportage approach to photographing the much-covered event has led to assignments from top fashion publications, including Vogue, Interview and Lucky. Brackbill’s fresh perspective and beautiful use of light has also caught the eye of lifestyle-minded clothing companies, like J.Crew and Lands’ End, that appreciate editorial-inspired marketing campaigns.
Though shooting fashion and music assignments require different skillsets, the thread that runs through all of Brackbill’s work is his ability to see and capture compelling moments. As the Philadelphia gallery Space 1026 said during a showcase of the photographer’s work in 2009, “Whether shooting a musician before a performance or models waiting in the wings at a fashion show, the subjects populating the austere environments of his photographs seem to be caught in a cinematic state of suspended animation…a blank canvas that invites the viewer to discover the absurd or the sublime.”