For those who haven’t heard the name, Steve Gullick is a famed rock photographer who most notably worked with NME in the 90’s photographing many of your favourite bands of the era. Steve left NME in 2001 to self-publish his own magazine Careless Talk Costs Lives – and now Loose Lips Sink Ships – and continues to capture iconic shots of rock and punk bands which are nothing less of an art-form. When not taking photos, Steve also fronts the beautifully dirgy and experimental Tenebrous LIAR. The Punk Lounge spoke to Steve to discuss photography, favourite bands and his Coventry upbringing – giving you an excerpt of just some of his finest shots.
Print purchases can be made from Steve Gullick's print shop
Hi Steve, how are you?
Not bad Sophie!
Your work is incredibly striking, with the style differing between something either very otherworldly or very ‘real’. How does your inspiration for different artists come together and how do you decide which artists are to be shown in a particular style?
To be honest, I don’t give it much thought – I work around the reality of the situation, kind of problem solving on the fly, constantly looking for the angle, working the light whilst trying to keep the subject engaged – the way the images end up is down to the style and post-production techniques I’ve developed over the years. I always want my images to look intense and arresting yet I try to capture the personality of the subject and that comes through making the taking part of the process as painless for them as possible.
I know you’re a big fan of the effects and magic of a photography darkroom, is this still the case as demand becomes more time-critical and technologically focused? Do you find there is a difference in enjoyment of the photograph for you when it is a digital image or is the process too different to say?
Absolutely – there’s no greater thrill than pulling off an amazing analogue photo – it truly is magical. Of course we wouldn’t be having this conversation a few years ago as that’s all there was. Film photography and darkroom work requires huge amounts of unadulterated focus and tenacity, I’ve been known to spend days in pursuit of the perfect print. Digital photography has become ‘industry standard’ and even when shooting film clients expect me to present the results in a digital form. The days of submitting contact sheets are long gone. Even analogue materials have changed, any decent colour photographic paper is made for producing lab prints from digital files as opposed to hand darkroom prints, it still works well in the darkroom but a little subtlety has been lost – but then, I don’t suppose many (if any) would notice. There does generally seem to be a swing back to film, but clients tend not to want to pay for it. I only invested in digital equipment to remain employable and I’ve worked hard to try and make my digital work indistinguishable from my film work, in the process I’ve found that digital is way better for certain applications, but I remain obsessed with film.
How have you developed in your work over the years? Are you now drawn to particular styles?
Driven by the same thing – still trying to make the best images I can – every session presents different challenges.
Do you have favourites from your work so far, if so which images and why?
Oh yes, Jason Pearce [of Spiritualized] on Mount Etna – we just went out there and stood on a spewing volcano. The Kurt Cobain sofa stuff too, he’s [Kurt is] so calm and candid in these pictures. Mark E. Smith smoking – I was so chuffed with these pictures, really felt like we got something special & just outside a dressing room. The Bonnie Prince Billy ‘Master & Everyone’ cover shot – I just love it, remember everything about the day…
How do you go about setting the scene for some of the artists you’ve photographed? The picture of Nick Cave is fantastic; very up-close and personal, how do you create that relaxed atmosphere? Or even the underwater ones?
Nick was recording and we just popped into an empty room and shot a roll of film, I like to work around naturally occurring situations, those Kurt shots [for example] were done in the dressing room before a gig. I’d worked fairly extensively with those artists before those shots were taken and they were both comfortable with me. The Ed [Harcourt] shot was obviously conceived, a lot went into preparing for and executing that shot as you can imagine, it’s existence is actually a minor miracle.
What are typical difficulties in photography/photographing artists? Have you had any particularly bad shoots, how do you tend to try and resolve any issues?
There’s only an issue when the subject is a cock but this happens very rarely. I think I’m pretty down to earth and am fairly well practiced at disarming an ego (not that I encounter a great deal). Whenever I’ve encountered any such persistent issues, the shoot is a short one.
Your interpretation of punk is very broad – describe some of your own favourite bands and have you been able to photograph them?
The Stooges. I haven’t photographed Iggy but would love too… I am pretty happy to have played on the same bill with them and Mudhoney when I was in Soulsavers though… I may even have touched him from the crowd after 100 Margaritas – feels like I did.
The Damned. I did their latest photos… Damned Damned Damned is without doubt my favourite punk album.
John Lydon. I shot him & his pint of tea (or Baileys) in the 1990’s.
Mudhoney / Nirvana / Jesus Lizard / Leatherface… obviously.
Mark E. Smith – a very charming man.
I’ve heard your upbringing in Coventry has influenced you greatly – do you follow the Coventry music scene/punk scene?
Coventry formed what I am, in my experience there’s a Coventry mentality that keeps you grounded, it stops you crawling up your own arse and keeps you alert. I grew up in the early 80’s – Cov was rough then, or is it just the case that everywhere is rough if you’re a young man? I moved to London in the late 80’s and had little to do with the city other than visiting relatives until my band (tenebrous LIAR) played Taylor John’s for the first time in 2007, since then, the band has evolved into a 100% Coventrian line-up, Bren & Ben live in Cov and that’s where we rehearse.
Your favourite photography equipment?
Let’s get geeky… Leica R6/Summilux 50mm 1.4 – Canon EOS1V / EOS5D Mk III / EOS 50mm 1.2.
What projects are you working on at the moment? Where can people view your latest work?
LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS issue 7 [Steve’s magazine]… hopefully in book-form in the non-too distant future – read here.
A music/photography/poetry collaboration with Gerry Mitchell, here’s something from our last work together (over a decade ago) although Tenebrous MITCHELL will be releasing a new 10″ EP this summer.
I’d like to put a book & exhibition of my music photography together, as well as one of my landscapes… I’ve recently started selling darkroom prints here…