Our photographer and writer Bella had the opportunity to interview Kansas City born, and now New York city based music photographer and current law student Deanie Chen. From graduating from USC to photographing some of the biggest names in the game and festival circuits around the United States, Deanie is proving just how much impact a young creative can have on the industry. She is an inspiration to all young aspiring photographers and this is what she had to say about her experience working in the industry!
To start, how are you doing?
I’m doing well :)
How did you get into photography and when did you start shooting for live music and artists?
I always have had a love for visual arts, but photography was the medium I stumbled upon that I could translate how I felt/what I saw in my head most accurately. I started shooting live music by bringing my camera into local shows and cold emailing managers of bands I already had tickets to their shows in Kansas City.
Did you have any background experience in the industry prior to getting into photography?
Haha absolutely not — both my parents immigrated from China in their late 20s/early 30s, and they both work at the community college by my house. I knew nothing about the music industry, just that I loved music, and I loved live music.
What kind of camera do you recommend for those also looking to get into live music photography? Do you have a favorite lens?
Whatever camera you can afford. I started on a Canon T3, a 12 megapixel camera. There’s artists who are making wonderful art with point and shoots. Don’t let budget stop you. And my favorite lens at the moment is my Tamron 17-28 — it’s a newer purchase, and I’ve been having fun with the wider focal length.
What is your process when going into a show? Do you work with the artist prior to the show discussing the creative vision or do you take full creative control?
It really depends on what the ask is, sometimes i’ll have full creative control, sometimes there’s a specific shotlist.
How do you express yourself through your work, if at all? What inspires the look of your photos?
I want my work to make the viewer feel something, perhaps, if not exactly the emotion I felt at a moment, a derivation of it. As someone who’s a little more introverted, my eloquence with words has always felt a little limiting, and so photography became my main medium of expression. I have no formal training in photography at all, so I can’t tell you why I frame or edit the way I do, just a gut reaction at the time. My biggest inspiration for photography are not visual mediums, because I think the creation from art comes from within, and the things that inspire you most are not necessarily the most similar in format, rather the most formative on how you process and convey emotion/feeling. Two things that inspire me most are literature and music. Literature stemming from my dad, who has a PhD in English, and from a young age taught me the magic of reading. He is the definition of a monomaniac, singularly focused on the love of his scholarship, a passion I never felt until I started doing photography. But in the same way that visual art conveys an intangible, there is also an indescribable way that a novel that can somehow grasp and portray a tiny facet of humanity. Music for the other reason perhaps —I grew up only to the classical and jazz that was played in my house, and thus finding my love for the music I listen to was like discovering a treasure, a truly formative part of my life. It was one of the first things that was truly mine, and mine alone. While my favorite books feel timeless, each album that has impacted me acts like a time capsule, pulling me back to a particular period of my life.
Who are some photographers that you admire? How do they inspire you and your work, if at all?
There are so many, but I’ll list as few. Matty Vogel was the reason I started music photography. I remember reading his blog about how he did music photography in 2015/2016, and for the first time, it felt like this was something tangible, within reach. He’s still continuing to innovate and create beautiful work, and I admire his passion and his craft so much. Miranda McDonald is also another huge inspiration as a female photographer I’ve looked up to for a long time. Her work captures emotion and feeling so simply and honestly. She’s an illustration of how talent can be coupled with humility/kindness, and how the former only enhances the impact of the former. And lastly this duo Andy Deluca / Sarah Heiseman — I met them both on the set of the Butterflies music video, and they’re truly not only some of the kindest people, but people I cannot describe as anything else but pure artists. Their work separately is neverendingly creative, and when they work together it’s like two souls in one. Two people who so effortlessly are able to bridge the gap between art and emotion.
We absolutely love the work you did with Holly Humberstone. How did you get connected with her and what was the tour life like for you?
Hahah her manager Josh randomly DMed me on Instagram, and the rest is history. That tour changed my life, not only because it affirmed how much I love what I do, but I met some of my favorite people in the world, and I found a soul sister. I’m so lucky.
We noted that you are a student on top of working in the industry? How do you balance the two? (As a photographer who is also a student, I am dying to know your strategy)
Well, taking law classes at 5:30AM every day on tour was absolutely heinous, but I guess being willing to make sacrifices of your sleep/time and drinking a insane amount of caffeine is my answer. If there’s something you truly love doing, I guarantee you’ll be able to make it work.
What has been your favorite show to date that you’ve ever worked on?
Most recently, the last show at the Greek with Holly & Olivia Rodrigo. Perhaps not my favorite but one of the most bittersweet shows — an end of an amazing couple months but just a night of crying and being grateful.
Who is your dream artist that you would like to work with in the future?
I think it would be incredible to work with Caroline Polacheck or Rina Sawayama. I would also die for Thom Yorke in a heartbeat.
Outside of working with artists directly, how do you get photography opportunities?
Referrals, social media, and directly through email.
Do you have any pieces of advice for young women trying to break into the music industry as a photographer or creator?
Focus on your art and your art only. Don’t let anyone’s insecurities or biases stop you from doing what you want to do. Also, work with and lift up other women, POC, minorities, etc., we have to support each other.
As always, do you have a favorite song or artist that we should be looking out for?
I recently went to a The Wrecks show and discovered girlhouse who was opening for them, so so good!
Keep up with Deanie!