Why Photograph a Muso Being Pelted With Tomatoes?

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Ryan Pavlovich tells how the idea was hatched & why his musician subject eventually agreed to it

PHOTOGRILL: Why did you take the ‘tomato’ photo?

PHOTOGRAPHER: The photo of Steve came from an idea that my assistant actually had a while back. We were joking around about how, in a certain time in the past, if people didn’t like you as a performer they would throw tomatoes at you and boo you off stage. The idea stuck around for quite a while until I was talking with Steve, (who at the time was in a band called The Tide) asked if I could do some photos of him for another project he was starting up. I said sure but I wanted to throw tomatoes at him. Of course at first he laughed and we moved on to other thoughts, but about two days later he called back up and said he wanted to do that idea. We both loved the hilarity and raw energy behind the idea. When all was done I don’t think he ever used the shots which stinks but they were a lot of fun to do anyway.

The tomato shoot was more of a surprise for me I think in that I didn’t really think he would be up for doing it. I know I wouldn’t want to have tomatoes thrown at me for any reason. When talking with artists or people about photographing them, I generally like to try to learn as much as I can before hand about their style, sound, likes, etc. I want my work to tell a story of each subject in one way or another while still having something that grabs the viewer to pull them in. Usually when I sit down with someone for a project like the tomato shot, the subject has an idea of the type of work I like to do. But I’m very open with them. I want to show them in the best way I can but still push them out of their own box a little.

PHOTOGRILL: He has a great expression, talk us through how the shoot went.

PHOTOGRAPHER: The expression on Steve’s face is totally real. The shoot happened on a warm summer night at about 1:30am in a back alley-way where I knew there was a great textured concrete wall. Steve showed up with his guitarist at the time and a whole trunk full of tomatoes. We set up and talked over how we were going to do this one last time, then it was do or die… We softened up the first few as much as possible but still wanted to get a good explosion when it hit so Steve’s friend got to throw them pretty hard at him which made for a pretty funny shoot. Over all we took about 50 shots then Steve was pretty over it so the whole shoot lasted maybe 30min.

Going into the shoot I knew what I wanted to get from it but really wasn’t sure if it would work, so I was really pleased with everything when we got back and saw it bigger on the monitor. It’s pretty hard to see that late at night with just the back of the camera. I love leaving some things up to chance on shoots, for me it’s the only way I get get a real rush from the shoot.

It must be quite a ‘buzz’ to make photos like this where the final
image is uncertain? What did you control and what did you leave to chance
in this situation?

PHOTOGRILL: It must be quite exhilarating making photos where the final image is uncertain?

PHOTOGRAPHER: It was a real ‘buzz’ shooting this, we were all pumped up for a while afterwards. I knew how I was going to light it so that was controlled for sure. Other than that it was really about catching the right moment of impact while not getting too many big chunks in his face. Steve was great with his expressions right away (though I would look like that too if I was getting tomatoes chucked at me) so really it was all about creating a simple portrait that had a lot of life within it.

PHOTOGRILL: What was your set-up like?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I used just one Profoto 7b head with a 3ft octa on it up high at right my shoulder. I love the Profoto travel gear, because it’s light weight and I can move around quickly while still getting really consistent light. Camera was a Nikon D700 with a 50mm 1.4. I’ve since switched to Canon but that camera was amazing with low light and was super fast, which was great for this shoot.

PHOTOGRILL: Is there post-processing involved?

PHOTOGRAPHER: There was some retouching on this image just basic clean up of a few chunks of tomato here and there and I cleaned up a few odd blemishes on Steve. Other than that it was simple colour correction, saturation, and I added a layer black and white to boost up the contrast a bit. I typically don’t like to over work my images in post. I’ve never been a big fan of the over photoshopped images – some are really cool but I like images that are more real and maybe even have a slight film quality to them.

PHOTOGRILL: What was the reaction to the photo?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Steve loved the images and I’m really glad too because he called the next day and I guess he had a slight allergic reaction to the tomatoes and was all black and blue on his chest and face… When I released the images it got an instant reaction from people and a really positive response. I love it because a lot of people don’t get that it’s a tomato at first so they have to look a little harder to get it, which is what I really want to do with all my images.

PHOTOGRILL: tell us about your photography in general.

PHOTOGRAPHER: I got started with photography in college, but growing up I remember watching my dad put together slide shows in the back room of his scuba diving trips. I would sit and watch the images project onto the wall as he played his Neil Diamond songs as background music, and I remember being so captivated by the stories he would tell as he read aloud from his notebooks. Most of my work is of musicians, artists and real people doing what they love. I started shooting music because it’s what I was around, and it made for great subject matter. Music is great to learn photography with because there’s so much life and some really challenging situations, yet you can really get creative with ideas for shoots because bands are typically open to try about anything to get cool photos they can use. I’ve worked a lot with local magazines, a few record labels, tons of touring bands, and lately a lot more commercial and editorial work. I get a good mix of working with design agencies and the artists themselves, so my work gets to be anywhere from billboards to cd packaging, posters, brochures etc. I’d have to say I prefer working with the artists that have a good idea of what they want to show but can be open to work with me and be open to letting it happen when we are shooting.

See more of Ryan Pavlovich’s photography at Ryan’s Website

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