Life of Pablo: An Interview with Photographer Queen Pooneh Ghana

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Pablo Martínez interviews photographer goddess Pooneh Ghana

Photo of Pooneh Ghana and Interview by Pablo Martinez//
Transcription by Cait Kellagher//
Intro by Cher Dunn//

 

I met our writer Pablo Martinez seven years ago at Johnny Brenda’s, one of our favorite Philly venues at a British Sea Power show. We both happened to go alone and ended up standing next to each other. While we were waiting for the show to start, he turned to me and asked me if I have ever heard of the band Little Comets. As they were one of my absolute favorite bands at the time (still are) I couldn’t believe he knew who they were, I was telling everyone I knew about them at the time (still am). We started talking about our favorite music, what shows we’ve been to and were going to, and realized we had been to, and were going to, almost all of the same shows. A passionate music fan and photographer, I asked Pablo to start writing and shooting for mylifeinsound. Welcome to Life of Pablo, our new series featuring Pablo’s photography, interviews and favorite bands.

Pablo went to Johnny Brenda’s to see one of our favorite bands Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever who will be featured on our new Mylifeinsound podcast releasing this Fall! While there, Pablo met with absolute goddess and badass photographer Pooneh Ghana who is currently touring with the band. An absolute staple in the music industry and art world, we wanted to interview Pooneh about how she got her start and what some of her favorite moments are throughout her touring/ photographing history. Check out our interview with her below and follow her on Instagram here! While you’re there you might as well follow us too!

All photography featured below by Pooneh Ghana:

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Pablo: How did you get started in concert photography?

Pooneh Ghana: It pretty much just started in high school. I was just going to shows for fun. I started picking up photography. I was living In San Antonio and I was just kind of a loner in high school and so I just kind of dove into more of the art world and started getting into photography. I was also really into music and started going to shows a lot and then I started taking my camera to shows and just taking photos for fun. I was doing a lot of Polaroids at the time, just meeting bands after shows and asking them for a photo and I was just posting stuff on my Flickr and I just really came to enjoy it and through my Flickr, I got my first job working for a blog, Gorilla vs. Bear. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them.

Pablo: They’re from-

Pooneh Ghana: They’re from Dallas and, at the time, I think I was 18 and they hit me up because they also were doing band Polaroids and just found my stuff and were like, “We’ll pay for your film if you start covering stuff for us in Austin,” and then it just kind of grew from there and from that, I got my next job. So, it just kind of started for fun and I just kind of decided. I was like, “Well, what if I just try making this into a career and just trying to do something I love and see how it goes,” so kind of how it started out.

Pablo: What was it when you first started taking photos? Were you nervous?

Pooneh Ghana: Yeah. When I first started taking photos, I wasn’t doing it for anyone. I was just doing it for fun, so it was really exciting for me. I was shooting solely on film at the time and so I was just buying a bunch of cheap cameras and I was learning about film, learning about lighting, and I was researching a lot on the Internet about how to develop my own film and all that stuff and then I think when I got my first job it was for this blog called Austinist, my first job where it was like, “Oh, you need to turn the photos in the next day,” and it became more of a serious thing, I think that’s when I kind of got a little more nervous. I bought my first digital camera and I was like, “Oh, wow, I’m actually gonna start taking this a little more seriously,” but it’s always been very exciting. I always enjoy doing this and I always like staying a little bit nervous ‘cause that just helps me. I feel like if I’m not nervous, I’m not learning anything. It just becomes kind of boring, so it’s always been exciting.

Pablo: So, you challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone.

Pooneh Ghana: Yeah, it’s always exciting and nervous and I’m always wanting to learn more about what I’m doing, but yeah, especially at the beginning, it was definitely very exciting and I just wanted to learn more about what I was doing and get better at it.

Pablo: You are very good. What was the biggest lesson you learned while on the road as a photographer?

Pooneh Ghana: Biggest lesson I learned on the road … Oh, God … I think a big thing is just be respectful. You’re there. You’re being a fly on the wall and I think a big thing about being able to tour and being able to do this, this life as a tour photographer, I think you just kind of have to go with whatever’s happening. There’s a lot of situations where you can get stressed out or you’re cramped in a van or you’re sleeping on a floor and if you’re doing this, you kind of have to accept that that’s part of it and kind of make into a more enjoyable experience in that way and I think the biggest lesson I learned overall is just to… I have said this before, but just to not be a dick, just to be nice and be grateful that you’re … I’m definitely grateful that I’m able to do something that I love and I’m very grateful that these bands trust me to bring me on the road and be there capturing these intimate moments ‘cause those are always the photos I enjoyed seeing growing up and just to be grateful and to be respectful. Yeah, I would say that.

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Pablo: So, those moments … ‘cause the intimacy that you have with the band, you were saying about being the fly on the wall, those are the best moments. No one is looking. It’s just a regular, they’re putting their heads together and they’re not looking at the camera. Is that something you were trying to say?

Pooneh Ghana: Yeah, I enjoy just being there and capturing, I guess, this genuine side of the band, what’s really going on on the road, and what it’s really like and just being there, just being a fly on the wall and just watching everything happen. I think I just learned to be very grateful, I guess. I don’t know if that was a good answer, sorry.

 

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Pablo: How did you first get involved touring with bands?

Pooneh Ghana: The first band I ever went on tour with, which I’m actually about to go on tour with again in a couple weeks, is JEFF the Brotherhood and with them, I was just shooting them for a few years and I was a big fan of theirs and every time they’d come through town I’d shoot them and then we just became friends and then we kind of just started talking about it and we were just like, “Yeah, let’s do this. Let’s go out on the road for a few days.” A lot of it just starts with knowing the band, same with Foals. With Foals, I knew them for a while and then Yannis and I were talking and then they were doing this big UK tour and I was like, “Well, what would you think if I just came on the road and we made a book, I did something cool with it,” and he was like, “Yeah, totally,” and a lot of it is just asking. You’d be surprised how many people would say yes, but it really just started off, I think more importantly than that, it was just knew these bands and we knew we could get along and they knew that I’m not gonna go on the road and make them look bad or just be shitty, so I think initially, there was … Generally with tours, there’s some sort of relationship and then just kind of turns, like, “Yeah, let’s go out on the road for a couple weeks and just have fun and take photos,” so that’s how it first started off.

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Pablo: Do you prefer touring or getting booked for shoots with bands?

Pooneh Ghana: I like them both equally in different ways. I guess getting booked for shoots, it’s usually a day in and out. Touring is more of a commitment, but it’s definitely a lot more exciting. It’s more of an adventure. I like both of them, honestly. I like both of them equally. Touring, I obviously love being on the road and I love the spontaneity of it. I do enjoy touring a lot and I enjoy being in that position on a tour where I can just be there and capture, like I was saying earlier, just the intimacy and just the real side of the band. I’ll say that.

 

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Pablo: What were one of your favorite moments while on tour with a band?

Pooneh Ghana: My favorite moments … Well, it’s a hard one, but I remember I was on tour with Cage the Elephant back in, what was it, 2014 or 2015. I can’t remember and before that, I was talking to Brad, the guitarist, and I was talking to him about how I’d gone on stage with this other band that I got on tour with called Diarrhea Planet

Pablo: You played with them?

Pooneh Ghana: Yeah, I took guitar lessons growing up and I’m definitely not a shredder to any degree, but I still remember a lot of what I learned and we were just kind of talking about it. I don’t remember how it came up and then Brad, he was like, “Well, have you ever played in front of 3,000 people,” and I was like, “What do you mean,” and he took me backstage and I sat with him and the other guitarist, Nick, and they were like, “We’re gonna to teach you the last song of our set and just come on stage and play it with us, so we’ll just go wild,” and so they just both spent a couple hours with me, just teaching me the chords and I was so nervous, but it was in Kansas City and then that night I went on stage with them and it was absolutely insane and it was really fun and Matt would come up and he was hanging off my guitar and it was a very, “Oh, I get what it’s like to be a Rockstar now, I get it now, what it’s like to be up here,” kind of moment. Doing it with Diarrhea Planet was awesome. That was super fun. This was just so many people and it was so overwhelming. I’ll never forget that feeling, so that’s definitely one of my fondest memories.

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Pablo: Was that the only time that you went on stage with a band that big?

Pooneh Ghana: No. That was definitely the biggest crowd. The first time I went on stage, I think it was with Diarrhea Planet and then I went on stage once with that band SWMRS. Have you heard of them?

Pablo: Yeah!

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Pooneh Ghana: Yeah, I went on stage with them when I was on tour with them, too. I think those were the only times. Yeah.

Pablo: What was one of your favorite places photography took you?

Pooneh Ghana: One of my favorite places photography took me … Oh my god … Well, I always love going to Europe. Sometimes the festivals I get to go to are just really out of this world beautiful and there’s one, Desert Daze, that’s out in Joshua Tree. That’s absolutely beautiful. There’s one called FORM that’s out in Arizona and it’s pretty much this desert commune and it looks like Star Wars out there. It looks like Tattooine, that city. It’s all domes and just an hour north of Phoenix in the middle of nowhere, just absolutely beautiful. Getting to go to Europe, especially England and getting to shoot festivals there and bouncing around and I’ve gone on tour in Europe a few times and just being there is absolutely breathtaking every time I go, so I really enjoy doing that. There’s still a lot of places I wanna go. I’ve still never been to Japan, still never been to Australia, so those are next on my hit list.

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Pablo: Bing, bing, bing, you have those guys! You can go on tour with those guys.

Pooneh Ghana: I know. All of my favorite bands are coming out of Australia right now, so I wanna go out there at some point soon.

Pablo: What’s your favorite band right now?

Pooneh Ghana: My favorite band right now, well, I have been listening to their record a lot, Rolling Blackouts [Coastal Fever]. People that know me know how much I love King Gizzard [and the Lizard Wizard] and talk about King Gizzard all the time. I think they’re one of the best rock bands.

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Pablo: They were here, actually, at the Underground?

Pooneh Ghana: Yeah, that might’ve been recently, but the first time I came here, I was on tour with them.

Pablo: Oh yeah?

Pooneh Ghana: Yeah, this was a few years ago and they’re awesome guys and incredibly talented and they’re rock stars now and they deserve it. They’re just so, so good. They have such a vast discography and each album is so different. It’s just incredible what they’re able to do.

Pablo: Tell us more about them?

Pooneh Ghana: Oh, they are so, so good, just absolutely wild live, seven guys from Australia and I can’t even say what kind of music it is ‘cause every one of their albums is so different, but they’re able to just do every single genre, just do it so well. They have one heavy metal album, which I never listen to heavy metal, but they’re album is just mind-blowing, same with … They have an acoustic album. I really listen to a lot of acoustic alums, but theirs is so good. Yeah, they’re great.

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Pablo: Wow, I’ll have to check them out! What advice do you have for other music photographers?

Pooneh Ghana: I guess kind of circling back to what I said earlier, definitely work hard. I would say carry a camera with you everywhere you go. Try to learn as much as you can. Do whatever you can to stay motivated. Also, just be humble. Be nice. Be grateful for your position and then I would say don’t try to look at what other people are doing and be like, “Oh, that’s cool. I wanna be like that.” Try to do your own thing and try to trust your gut and don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t be afraid to get weird. If you try to conform to what you think other people want in your photos, then you’re not gonna be a visionary. You’re not gonna do anything new and cool and creative. You’re just gonna be copying other people, so just trust what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to get weird with what you’re doing and be humble, too.

Pablo: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.

Pooneh Ghana: Of course.

Follow all of Pooneh’s work and travels on Instagram and her website here!

xx Pablo

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