INTERVIEW BY VIKASH DASS
Dan Garcia isn’t your “average photographer”. By day he is a 26-year-old lawyer from Wisconsin with no formal photography training. In fact, just a few months ago was his first time in a photo pit and his first time ever shooting with a DSLR camera. But despite breaking traditional norms for entering into the competitive music photography world, Garcia landed his first gig at Lollapalooza, where he shot for the first time among some of the best music photographers in the country. In less than a year’s time, he has shot photos of some of the biggest names in music, including Kanye West, Eminem, Outkast, Lorde, Calvin Harris, Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper, Migos, FKA Twigs and Wilco, just to name a few. He also founded this very site, The Early Registration, (among other reasons) to continue to shoot concerts and also give opportunities for other young photographers to shoot shows throughout the country. For someone who describes himself both as “not a real photographer” but who ask views himself as one of the best music photographers in Chicago, we wanted to interview the young lawyer slash photographer.
So, how did you get started in photography?
As a fan of music. I would go to concerts and use my iPhone to take pictures or I would sometimes take a small Sony camera with me.
Have you always had an interest in photography? How do you balance this interest/passion with your career and personal life?
Even today, I wouldn’t even say I have a strong interest in photography per se. More so I just really love music and because of this I love taking pictures of musicians. Balancing this was never hard too, because going to live shows was always part of my life, so taking photos at them was just a slight change to my concert going experience.
Did you always shoot with a DSLR? When was your first time shooting with one?
Not always. Usually I would just take pictures with a small nonprofessional camera, since that was the only thing I could bring into shows as a fan. Then last summer, I really wanted to go to Lollapalooza, but with just having graduated from law school, I didn’t have the money. So I took some of my “nonprofessional” shots and sent a portfolio to different music blogs. I basically pretended like I was more of a photographer than I really was and tried to land a pass for Lolla. Then one of my favorite blogs, Pigeons and Planes gave me the chance, I applied, got accepted, and the first time I ever held a DSLR was in the photo pit at one of the biggest music fests in the country.
“One day I want to be recognized as one of the best music photographers in the country.”
Were you always good at photography, or was it something you had to work at?
I would say I was always good, but I have definitely improved and still want to continue to improve. I try to stay humble but I do think that I am one of the best music photographers around right now, a mentality that every great photographer should have. As a fan, my shots always looked good. Then at Lollapalooza, since it was my first time with a DSLR and still not considering myself a “real photographer”, I was anxious to compare my shots to other publications. Even though it was my first time ever, every artist’s set I shot, I strongly felt like my pictures were as good or better than anyone else’s. This was a huge boost in confidence, not only because I was 100% inexperienced but also because my DSLR, a Canon Rebel T2i, is not as advanced as the bodies and lenses that everyone else was using.
A large portion of The ER’s content is photography based. What made you decide to use your photos as apart of a journalistic format? (In other words, why start a website with your photos, as opposed to being freelance, or shooting for other places, etc.)
As with photography, I wasn’t passionate about being a journalist directly, rather because I was passionate about music I was therefore passionate about all the aspects that surround it. So after I was accepted into Lollapalooza I decided to start my own music blog, so then I could write about music as well. This interest only grew at Lollapalooza as I got to interview Martin Garrix for my first ever interview. Then after Lolla, I wanted to keep doing this, so why not use my own website to get into shows and get to interview artists?
Let’s get to the pictures themselves. Talk about shooting those amazing pictures for the Yeezus Tour.
This was the first time that I felt that I had an exceptional talent for taking photos. Me and my friend went to the Yeezus Tour in Chicago and even though we had actual seats, we were able to sneak into the general admission pit and got front row for the concert. And since the United Center lets you bring in small cameras, I was able to bring in my Sony and when I got home and checked how my shots turned out, I thought they were better than most of the pictures that I saw from the tour. It was these pictures that I think made Pigeons think I was a photographer worth sending to Lolla.
Talk about going from shooting out of pure passion to being in photo pits and having press passes. Does the “press experience” ever take away from a concert? (As in, do you ever feel being at a concert as a member of the press and not a fan takes away from the experience?)
Yes and no. I love being in the photo pit for the first three songs of every show I go to and being that close is a rush. But when I would go to shows as a fan, I would always wait in line early to try to get front row and there is nothing like that thrill. But the cool thing is I can shoot from the crowd after the photo pit. Sometimes I skip the pit entirely so I can be just like any other fan, wait early, and get a good spot in the front. This way it’s just like before, but also I get to shoot from up closer for longer and lots of times I can get better final shots.
You’ve also got a chance to meet some musicians. What was your favorite experience meeting an artist?
Probably Jhene Aiko. I had shot photos of her at Lollapalooza, and she even shared one of my shots of her on her Instagram, but this time around she was headlining a show at the House of Blues in Chicago. Jhene is the best to shoot though, she is so gorgeous that it is almost impossible to take a bad picture of her. Well after the show I had the chance to go to the green room and say hi. We got to talk for a bit, she told me my shot of her at Lolla was one of her favorite pictures, and overall it was just amazing to get the validation from the artist directly.
The last time you shot Kanye was at Chicago’s AAHH! Fest. Those pictures of him were some of your most popular to date! How was that experience?
Shooting Kanye for my first time professionally meant so much to me and this was also the time I really got to separate my skills from other photographers. Kanye wasn’t even listed on the bill for AAHH! Fest, rather it was a poorly kept secret that Ye would be the surprise guest. But I’m not stupid, I know Kanye doesn’t necessarily like the press, so security would probably just kick press out of the pit after Common’s set. So instead of getting shots from the back of the crowd after the pit, I decided I would just wait early and get front row like any other Kanye fan. And that is exactly how the night went, I got front row center, press was kicked out before Ye came on, and I got some amazing shots. No other photographer there had photos that compared to mine and my shots were even shared by Complex, but the best part though was I got an email from Kanye’s Creative Director Virgil Abloh, saying that (Virgil) loved the shots.
Besides Kanye, what are some of your favorite artists you’ve ever shot?
Childish Gambino is another favorite. I’ve shot photos of Eminem, Outkast, Lorde, Calvin Harris, Iggy Azalea, Migos, Kid Cudi, and so many more, but Donald (Gambino) was definitely a favorite. It was pouring rain, he went into the photo pit, and he brought so much energy that it was just a blast to shoot and my photos turned out great.
What are some artists you would love to shoot, but haven’t yet?
Professionally, Lana Del Rel. I took some shots of her with my Sony when I was shooting as a fan at Lollapalooza in 2013, but I haven’t took shots of her in the photo pit yet.
Do you have a favorite picture, or gallery?
Believe it or not, my favorite picture isn’t even of a musician. It’s of a girl at Lollapalooza holding a muddy Chicago flag after the rain died down. I was waiting in line to get into the photo pit for Chance the Rapper when the bossiest photographer I’ve ever met made some random guy walk over to the girl (who he didn’t even know) to make her pose in a certain way. And since I was standing right next to the other photographer, I took a picture for myself and the result turned out great.
Any good stories behind a picture?
Well one kind of funny story starts with Tinder. I met this girl off Tinder, and she told me how she was excited to go to Vic Mensa’s upcoming concert. So with her talking about that, and since I’m a huge fan of Vic, I wanted to try to score a pass for the concert. So after a couple emails I was able to get in, but at that point me and the girl weren’t talking. I was kind of bitter because things went well for a couple dates but then she didn’t respond to my texts, so I took the hint. Fast-forward to the show, I get a call from Vic’s team and they needed a last minute videographer for the show. Even though I never really did videography, I seized the opportunity to fill in and be Vic’s videographer for one of his most important hometown shows. The night went great, Vic put on an amazing show, and earlier I texted that girl (for the first time in over a month) something along the lines of, “enjoy the show, oh and by the way I’m your favorite rapper’s videographer tonight.”
Where do you see photography taking you in the near future?
Hopefully this year I can shoot at Coachella and Bonnaroo. I also want to take more portrait shots of artists. I most recently did some great portrait shots of Big Sean, but doing some more, or maybe touring one day with a favorite artist of mine, would be a dream. Another goal is that one day I want to be recognized as one of the best music photographers in the country. I already think I am one of the best now, and there is room to improve, but it means a lot to me that other people share this opinion. I am a lawyer by day, I have no formal photography training, I didn’t shoot local or unknown artists to work my way up to ranks, I hit the ground running by shooting my first time at one of the best music fests in the world. Every photo pit I’m in I feel like I don’t belong, and despite my limited experience I believe my shots are almost always better (or as good) than my photographer peers, and I’ve shot beside some amazing photographers. These are things that I know, but I want the world to know it as well.