Interview with Photographer Jess Rechsteiner
This interview is the first in a series of articles featuring the perspective of people who are not musicians but are still part of the metal community – photographers, illustrators, producers, promoters, roadies, you name it. Jess Rechsteiner is a young concert & portrait photographer plus illustrator, based in New York and New Jersey. Check out what she has to say after the jump.
What came first, the music or the photography? Tell us a bit about how you started working on concerts.
I think the music came first. I remember being 15 and going to a lot of hardcore shows in my area in Jersey. I would have my parents or friend’s parents drive me and my friends to shows almost every weekend at The Bloomfield Ave Cafe in Montclair. When I was growing up music and going to shows was pretty much all I had, and not much has changed in over 10 years. I think I got my first camera when I was 16. It was a basic film camera and I brought it everywhere with me. I remember shooting shows and using a really old flash and having them never come out right because I didn’t understand how it all worked yet. When I went to college I was an illustration major, but my roommate who was a year ahead of me was a photo major. I talked to her a lot about photography and I was envious of her. She photographed shows as well and she was a big reason why I changed my major. I continue to shoot shows because it combines two things I love, going to shows and photography. I worked for The Aquarian Weekly for a summer and took about two years to start working for another publication, I’m now at New Noise Magazine.
You are also an illustrator. From what I’ve seen you focus on two of my favorite things: pizza and horror films. What other inspirations do you have? Have you ever done any designs for bands or concerts or is the illustration something you like to release on your own terms?
Being that I started off as an illustrator I did it mostly for myself. I can’t always go out and take pictures of things because most people are asleep when I’m awake so I doodle for fun. I did a poster design for my boyfriend’s band Thera Roya for their past tour. They are like a sludge/doom band so I did these art nouveau style girls with animal skull heads and they went over pretty well, I sold a few while on tour with them. The pizza doodles are for sheer humor. Pizza rules. Id love to do more illustrations for bands if the opportunity presents itself.
You have covered a lot of bands that are thoroughly appreciated by our community – Nails (represented in the featured image), Converge, Cult Leader, Eyehategod, Full of Hell, just to name a few. What are your favorite bands and subgenres? Anything outside of the metal/hardcore umbrella?
Right now I’ve been playing a band Hounds on repeat for like 2 weeks. They are a band from south Jersey and are great dudes. My taste in music is so varied thanks to my parents who played the strangest mix of stuff when I was growing up. I was listening to Tom Waits when I was 11 when kids were listening to boy bands. If you were to go through my iTunes it wouldn’t make sense. Last night while editing photos I went through Cult Leader, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Noah and the Whale, Sia to Bright Eyes. When it comes to my favorite genres and such I hate to pin hole myself and say I only listen to metal or whatever. I like whatever sounds good. But I guess primarily it’s metal and hardcore.
After seeing Taylor Swift and Satanic Necroboner on the same website I can say a lot of us can relate with having an eclectic taste. Tom Waits is definitely a house favorite here. Including childhood heroes, deceased/inactive musicians and current acts, which artists would you like to photograph the most?
To be honest, there’s no one I’m dying to photograph. I really only like to photograph bands I like personally. I don’t want to photograph huge bands just to potentially have someone notice. I really enjoy photographing underground bands because well, I’m underground. I’m not known to anyone really and I know how cool it feels to have someone notice my work so I feel like I’m helping out artists by photographing them. Artists, despite the medium are a group of people that I think need to stick together and help each other out. Sadly it’s not always like that and it’s every man for himself and I try to not be that way with anything I do. I like being the underdog a little bit and helping out other underdogs. Besides, these local and small venues I go to produce the most energy and give off the best vibes and allow me to really get the best images that convey all the energy at a show. I feel like shows that happen in bigger venues tend to lose that a bit. The images tend to all look the same, while composed well and are visually pleasing, there’s no life. If there’s one thing I’d like to photograph it would be a festival of sorts, like Bonnaroo or Riot Fest. That would rule.
Moving on to the acts you have already worked with, which band was your favorite to photograph and why?
Oh man, that’s a tough question. I couldn’t even give you just one. Cult Leader is definitely up there on the list. I’d say top 5 are probably Deafheaven, Cult Leader, Converge, United Nations and Modern Life Is War.
Deafheaven? Two of our writers are completely obsessed with George Clarke. I bet he is a very photogenic dude.
Man, seeing Deafheaven is a trip. George is a great front man. He does what a front man should do and that’s be engaging. He really interacted with the crowd and gave off a massive energy that couldn’t be ignored. I got a picture of him when I shot them at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn where he’s got drool coming out of his mouth and it’s dripping down to his waist. A photo from that same show ended up on the cover of a Canadian newspaper, believe it or not. Which blew my mind.
How much contact do you have with the bands you photograph?
To be honest, not much. It’s so hard to stand out and be noticed these days without having some sort of gimmick which I refuse to get. I have gotten attention from United Nations which still to this day blows my mind. I grew up listening to Thursday and the fact that Geoff Rickly’s project liked my photos and put them on Pitchfork is a dream come true. I remember getting the email from their guitarist Jonah and squealing. It’s so incredibly validating when a band actually gives a shit and not sees you as just another photographer, ya know? The drummer of another band just hit me up to use a photo and it’s almost unreal to think that people are starting to notice me. The world is crazy.
Being a concert photographer, you must have seen a lot of crazy stuff going on. What was the craziest or most lolbuttz moment that took place while you were working? Do you have any funny stories to share?
Honestly I haven’t seen too much crazy stuff. I photographed The Chariot (long live) once in college which is always wild. The energy those guys produced was infectious. Their bassist stood on people in the crowd and would hang from pipes and throw his bass in the air. I wish I could photograph them just one more time. They were a band to see, man, and if you never did, I’m so sorry. Photographing Deathwish Fest in Boston this past summer was definitely a trip. Modern Life Is War produced one of the wildest crowds I’ve ever been in. People were flying over my head left and right and there were legs and feet coming from every direction. Shows like that are the reason I photograph hardcore and metal, there’s a vibe and an energy that comes from no other genre. It’s something I’m really happy to be involved with. It’s a family and I love it.
Jess Rechsteiner is currently working for New Noise Magazine. To see more of her excellent photography work, stab the link for her Facebook page. If you’re interested in the illustrations, stab here and get yourself a sweet Pizza-themed t-shirt or a kick-ass wooden ornament featuring Hellraiser’s Pinhead.