Interview: Ekaterina Gorbacheva
In April 2020, concerts felt like a distant memory; the COVID-19 pandemic had brought live music to a complete standstill, breaking the hearts of music lovers across the world. It was around this time that I immersed myself in the work of LA-based photographer Ekaterina Gorbacheva, whose vivid, provocative concert images capture the emotion and drama of live music in an original and exciting way.
Although she is not a “guitar person” in the same way as Var Guitar’s other interviewees, Ekaterina is one of the premier heavy metal photographers, and as such she’s a must-follow for any guitar enthusiast. Check out Ekaterina’s Instagram for a goldmine of breathtaking concert photography.
Tell me how you got your start in photography.
This is actually a rather long story. I think in a way it all started with my mother; I didn’t have a chance to not get into photography. My mother used to do photography pretty seriously back in her university days – of course, it was all analog. Later she got too busy with work and family to do it professionally, but there was always a camera around, even if just a Polaroid or a disposable one. I remember taking pictures when I was 5 years old during family trips and gatherings.
If we are talking more professionally, then I got my first DSLR camera around 2009 and started taking photography classes in a number of photo schools in Moscow. At that time I was mostly shooting in the studio settings, since light and controlling light has always been a fascinating topic to me, and because outdoors aren’t always very shooting friendly back at home. It’s just too cold, hah. And because of the photo schools it was a lot of fashion related stuff. The other big one was equestrian photography, since I was spending all my free time at the stable. I used to train horses for 20 years of my life. Only shot a handful of shows before moving to Los Angeles.
What brought you to LA, and how did you get involved with the metal scene there?
Well, first of all I have always liked metal and wanted to do this type of music or be somehow involved in this world. I grew up listening to a lot of Scandinavian Metal and would go to Finland to Tuska Metal Festival in summer. And I came to LA to study music. I have since graduated from Musicians Institute with a Bachelor Degree in Vocal Performance and a minor in Audio Engineering. I was then briefly singing in a stoner / doom metal band “Behold! The Monolith“. While I was in the band I met some local promoters and they would let me come to the shows they were organizing to take pictures. I would like to take a second here and say big thanks to Dan Dismal and especially to Ryan Avery of Midnite Collective for all the shows they have let me shoot and all the help along the way.
Later I started shooting for Cvlt Nation and was also scouted by a publication called “mxdwn.com” during a Khemmis show to shoot for them. And it just kept going from there, meeting people and asking if I could shoot their shows, getting invited to shoot shows, meeting more people, becoming friends with bands and venues and etc.
What would you say are the hallmarks of your style?
I don’t think I’m the right person to talk about my style, it’s really hard to assess your own work. But from what people have told me, it’s the atmosphere I capture and the dark undertones I always bring to my work. I am also pretty known for my black and white photography, though I have been doing more color recently.
What advice would you give to somebody starting out in music photography?
My advice would be to firstly love music, because you have to enjoy what you are doing and the subjects of your photography. Well, maybe you don’t have to be a fan of every band you work with, but in my opinion liking what you do and having an emotional connection helps to get better results, to find motivation to go on, to be creative in overcoming all the challenges this genre has. I generally prefer working with people I know too, because then I know better what and how to capture and what I can show that is beautiful about them that they want to be seen or maybe surprise them. Also being a musician or an avid concert goer helps, because you have a better understanding on how to capture the moments correctly and what people like to see, for example guitar players usually appreciate when you catch them fingering some cool chord. And for metal especially, knowing how a mosh pit works can be very helpful, because you don’t always have barricades and sometimes you have to shoot while avoiding literally dying. Technical Death Metal shows are especially known for this.
The other advice would be to just stay open minded, attentive and flexible and allow some synesthesia to happen, because like everything concert and general music photography can become pretty repetitive, so I think it’s important to be able to listen and adapt and shoot each show, each band in that unique way just how their music is unique. I see it as a little minigame and always look forward to seeing what results the combination of the music, the room, my own mood and all the other energies create. We all want and deserve to be special and I think it’s important to remember that and to quote “The Last Unicorn” here, “let the magic flow through you”. I sincerely believe that if we are true to ourselves, then we never have to worry about losing “our style”, but instead can fully give ourselves to feeling the moment and going with what it has to offer and create something truly unique and beautiful. Not speaking just about creativity while shooting here, but if we think about the current COVID situation, this is a good example as well, where being open minded and flexible is the only way to survive and move forward.
And the last tip would be to always be prepared. You might end up doing BTS or an impromptu photoshoot or who knows what, but be ready to listen, change, adapt and be able to make magic out of whatever might be happening.
Many thanks to Ekaterina for agreeing to this interview. You can find her on her website, her Instagram, and – hopefully soon – at a metal show.