INTERVIEW: Roy Bjørge - Photographing Bergen’s Metal scene

The life of a concert photographer in 2015 is an unforgiving one. Promoters and record companies want you to work for free, and if you disagree then they’ll find somebody else that won’t. Your art is exploitable, and your time isn’t valued. This is thanks in no small part to the rise of the front row, smartphone photographer. ‘Johnny iPhone’ if you will. He turns up early to get his spec against the railings and proceeds to not watch any of the gig ahead with his own eyes in favour of spamming the capture button on his smartphone’s camera. He’s also not limited to the industry standard of three songs only for pros in the photo pit, free to shoot throughout the entire show. More importantly though is that he would eat his own hat for any of said photos to be featured in any kind of magazine or online blog, hell I think he might even pay some of them for the privilege.

This makes it all the more difficult for concert photographers to sell their images to media outlets, bands and record companies respectively, and it’s one factor that is absolutely killing the industry. As a photographer myself I know this all too well and now make the majority of my living showered in confetti. Many pros and enthusiasts have also backed away from shooting their local music scenes and it’s literally fast becoming a dying art. There are, however, some who refuse to give up the fight. Roy Bjørge has been at the forefront of the bustling Metal scene in Bergen, Norway for years now, and his work has improved immensely over that time, seeing him emerge as one of the top photographers in the whole region. I caught up with Roy to find out his take on things and figure out how he ended up engulfed in the Black Metal flames of Bergen.

Hi Roy, thanks for the interview - I’m a huge fan! First of all, how long have you been shooting gigs in Bergen, and how did you end up behind the lens in the first place?
First of all: thank you Nick! Very kind of you. I've been interested in photography since I was 15, and learned it the analogue way. But it was after I got my first digital camera in 2001 that it went from a fun hobby to a passion. I started shooting gigs in 2011 when I met an old school mate who I had not had any real contact with in years. Turned out he was already an established photographer in the metal community here in Bergen, and when he found out that I also loved photography he asked me if I wanted to try out a couple of concerts. The first real one I did was a memorial show for a local musician who died of cancer, and included well known artists like Satyr from Satyricon, Nocturno Culto from Darkthrone, Niklas Kvarforth from Shining, Hoest from Taake, and more. At the time I had just a very vague idea about who some of these guys were, and was told that they are actually world famous on the metal scene. So I had an interesting start, all went well, and I learned a lot. After that the ball started rolling.

Are you a fan of the music on show in Bergen’s Metal scene or are you strictly there to take the photos?
I've never been a big fan of extreme metal, but the energy of the live concerts got me interested. After taking photos of bands and experiencing the metal scene (very) up close it's grown on me. Now I find myself listening more and more to the various genres within the metal community. But nothing can beat the raw live experience. Especially not from the photo pit, haha.

What’s your take on the industry right now? Do you do this for a living or is this just a passionate hobby for you?
I actually work fulltime as a freelance photographer. Most of the concert work I do is unpaid, but it brings other work opportunities. The goal with the free work is to get shots for my portfolio, to learn new techniques (and refining my existing skills), and meeting people. Sometimes I do assignments for the local press, and also bands have booked me for specific happenings or shoots. With the state of the industry today there are too many who expect you to work for free, and some bands even want you to sign contracts where you sign over the commercial rights in perpetuity. Thankfully here in Norway most of the press refuses to sign any contracts at all. I have signed one in my time (it was a very mild contract), but I will never sign one again.

Back to the music. Where is your favourite venue to shoot in Bergen?
I would have to say Garage. There is just something about the atmosphere there that I love, and all the wonderful and interesting people you can find there. The lighting can be a challenge, but what would photography be without a challenge? I also like USF Verftet, and the outdoor venues at Bergenhus Festning.

Of all the varying sub-genres of Heavy Metal, which one do you find the most interesting to photograph?
It doesn't really matter as long as it's visually interesting. Some bands prefer to have subdued lighting, sometimes only red back lights. It should be needless to say that it gets boring quite soon when all you get is silhouettes. People in the audience that I've talked to generally doesn't like it either when they can't really see the band. So varied lights and energetic performances combined with dramatic costumes and makeup is what I prefer. But of course I'm always up for a challenge, haha.

Furthermore, I know you shoot a lot of other genres outside of Metal, is there a favourite amongst those?
See above question. Visuals, lights, energy, and show are keywords.

What’s your creative process look like generally? Are you uploading straight off the card or spending extra time polishing things up in editing?
I always shoot in RAW. This means that every photo I publish needs to be developed to bring out the colors and contrast. I strive to keep a photojournalistic approach and never manipulate the photos if I'm working for a music site or any other news outlet. But sometimes the artist in me wants to make the best version possible for myself, and I might edit out a mic stand or similar. But never when I'm there to document the event.

What advice would you give for somebody starting out as a concert photographer?
It might seem obvious, but use your eyes. Look for what's happening around you and try to anticipate what might happen next. Learn to use your camera, and know where the buttons are located and what they do. This way you will spend less time looking at the settings and more time getting the best photos. Fast lenses are usually important (due to low lighting). And try different things and techniques. (Bonus tip: don’t forget the drummer).

Do you have a favourite photograph from your career, and is there a story behind it?
I have several, not sure if I can pick just one :p .

Finally, in terms of photography - where do you hope to find yourself in five years time?
Well, I hope I can continue to earn a living doing photography. Definitely want to learn more, if I don't learn then I might as well stop. And I hope I have the same wonderful colleagues and people around me as today, and have met some new ones to share great moments with.

A lot of Roy's varying work can be found on his website, but for the most up to date work I'd recommend following his Facebook page.

Twitter: @BandsPlayedOn


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