In the world of music, a picture can truly mean a thousand things to a thousand different people. Think of pictures that hung on your wall or you saw in your favorite magazine and reminded you of why you loved a certain band or a certain song. The person behind the lens has captured emotional, evocative and time stopping pictures that we need the creative eye, if not for a moment, to be the handler and keeper of thus said moment.
Let’s face it, without photographers doing the work that has changed the way we look at music, dress, what guitars we play, where we were at a certain moment, they are in some cases just as important as the music we listen too. I had the pleasure to speak with an amazing photographer, Alyssa Herrman, the eye behind the magnificent Foto Phortress. So please enjoy the conversation as it was one of my favorites.
Gaff- How did you come up with the concept behind Foto Phortress?
Alyssa- When I first got my first DSLR and decided that I wanted to do this for real, I
wanted to think of a name that was something other than Alyssa Herrman
photography. I wanted it to stand out. So originally I was searching the internet for
ideas in a different language because I am mostly German and my family is German.
I thought about it for a few days and then decided I wanted to do something that
sounded metal, so I just came up with Foto Phortress kind of randomly and that is how
Gaff- When did you start shooting and what were the first bands that you shot?
Alyssa- The first bands I shot were local
bands. My boyfriend is in a band Portland
called Headless Pez, I went on tour with them and that is what made me realize I
wanted to do this for a living. I shot my friends’ band Raptor, which was one of the first
bands I shot. The music scene here in
is so big that I was shooting shows Portland
almost every day.
Gaff- When did you first start?
Alyssa- Professionally, two years ago but I have done photography my whole life. I
went to college when I was 16 and I had to do a report on what I wanted to do as a
career and even back then it was photography.
Gaff- Did you study photography in college?
Alyssa- No, I have never taken a photography class, everything I have done has
been self- taught.
Gaff- Where did you go to College?
Alyssa- I went to
to actually finish High School. I did Portland Community College
High School and College at the same time, but then I ended up dropping out and got
Gaff- and now you are a respected and great photographer that has gone from shooting buddies bands to shooting really big acts like King Diamond and Brant Bjork, Mastodon just to name a few. How did you go about landing those gigs?
Alyssa- I don’t really know how it happened. I just worked my ass off and went to
every show I could. I started meeting people in the industry. I think it really started to
get crazy after the first Housecore Horror Fest because I met a lot of people in the
industry there. I would see a show I wanted to shoot, send an email and pray they
respond with a yes. It’s a lot of hard work.
Gaff- Do you think you get a lot of shows because you are easy to work with?
Alyssa- I try to be as easy as possible. I try to stay away from the pretentious
photographer vibe that a lot of people get. I really just wanna hang out. Music has
always been my life since I was a kid, and photography is so much fun, that when I
am out shooting shows I forget I am working. It is more like I am hanging out with my
Gaff- You don’t have to answer this if you do not want to, but what is the best show you have shot in the past few months?
Alyssa- Well that is really hard to say. Housecore Horror Fest was unbelievable and
life changing both years. But then I got to shoot Mastodon, which has been one of
my favorite bands for a long time. I was able to shoot them in April 2014. That
weekendwas amazing because right before that was Stumpfest. So I was hanging out
with people that were really fun to be around and then going right to Mastodon and
Rynne and Sara Stump ended up being behind the photo pit with me, so it was an
ultra Stump fest weekend. That was a highlight of my life for sure. One of the biggest
things I’ve done for my personal taste is shooting an interview with The Melvins. It was
the second time I got to shoot them live, but I have never had the opportunity to meet
them. So watching their sound check and then having the opportunity to hang with
them for a half hour was mind blowing. They are such kind-hearted and funny
Gaff- Do you find that artists are pretty approachable?
Alyssa- I have never met anyone that has been rude, usually it’s me talking more with
the PR people but the times I have talked with the bands they have always been so
Gaff- Some bands I have seen or heard can be a bit of a fucker when dealing with photographers, the fact that you have such a good time and have not had to deal with this, do you think that the bands have seen your work and witnessed how stunning it is?
Alyssa- I have met a few people that have seen my work before but I’d say 90
percent of the time they have no idea who I am. I don’t think I’m big enough for
bands to be recognizing me. I really only shoot bands that are in the genres of music
I like. I have not steered away from that because I like the vibe of the people I am
around and I think that is why I have never had a bad experience. In the type of
music I shoot, everybody is like one giant community and everyone is there for each
other and no one is really an asshole and when they are they usually don’t stick
around for very long.
Gaff- It’s great that you have seen that you can shoot and really enjoy it. If you don’t mind in the past few months whom are some of the bigger names that you have been able to shoot?
Alyssa - Well I just did King Diamond and that was one of the best experiences of my
life. That was actually thanks to James from the
Passive Aggressive. I was Seattle
shooting for that magazine. That was amazing. Right before that I was in
the festival. I got to shoot Portal which was on my bucket list and Super Joint did a
reunion. Oh yeah then I shot Goatwhore, which is one of my top 5 favorite bands. I
was able to speak with Ben, the lead singer and he was really nice. Before that I think
the biggest thing I did was Hoverfest, which was really amazing.
Gaff- Those pictures were great
Alyssa- Oh thank you, I was able to take a bunch of rad pictures of a lot of my friends.
Gaff- How was shooting that Super Joint Ritual show?
Alyssa- They sounded so good. I was just blown away at how good they were. I
didn’t get to see them back in the day, so this was a very special event for me. I
mean every single band at that festival was awesome and I was there from noon to 1
am everyday because I didn’t want to miss anything.
Gaff- Oh, how did you get the Brant gig?
Alyssa- Well, I just asked. That is usually how it goes. You find out who is doing PR for
the show, send them an email and they will either say yes or no. I mean, it’s not really
that easy but if you’re a part of a publication or have a good website it helps a ton.
That show was awesome and I never thought I would be able to see him in person so
that was really cool.
Gaff- So dealing with PR people, is that something you enjoy doing? It sounds as if you don’t mind speaking to them as you have had really good outcomes.
Alyssa- I like chatting with people in the music industry. I find, pretty much everyone I
have met since I started doing this, I find them all to be interesting. I like dealing with
PR people, not everyone responds to you but the ones that do are really awesome.
They have a job to do also so you have a mutual respect for each other and as long
as you stay professional it will run smooth.
Gaff- Are there different PR people that you enjoy working with more than some others?
Alyssa- Not necessarily enjoy more, but there are people that I talk too more than
others. I probably speak to Liz from Earsplit the most. We have become friends
because of how often we talk. She is really awesome.
Gaff- How did you get a lot of the Southern Cross PR gigs?
Alyssa- I met Cat Jones in
. My friend Leah created a calendar that we were Portland
both in about influential Heavy Metal Women in
. So we both did the shoot, Portland
but we didn’t actually meet at the photo shoot. Then a few months went by and I saw
her and we started talking about the calendar. Our friendship really grew at Stumpfest
as we spent a lot of time together. She’s one of the good ones.
Gaff- It seems that the
scene is really open to females in metal; do you find that it is growing? Are you seeing a lot more women doing PR and coming out to shows? Portland
Alyssa- From my experience it has always been there, I feel that now, people are
starting to notice. As long as I have been going to shows there have always been a
lot of women, at least one or two women photographers. I think a lot of it is because
there are Doom Metal bands coming out with female singers and the scene is starting
to shine the spotlight on women, so people are now noticing how many women are
actually out there, but we have always been there.
Gaff- Can you talk to me about how you got involved with Hovercraft?
Alyssa- I met Nial at a show in 2013, we started talking and then a few months went
by and he said that he might need some help with some admin work. So I started off
with helping him there and then I started taking pictures of his amps and now I am his
official photographer. That really just happened from us being friends. Nial is one of
the best people I have ever met. He is so giving and so smart and I am really happy
that Hovercraft is doing well because he really deserves it.
Gaff- So you shot Hoverfest, was there one band that really blew you away?
Alyssa- YOB is my favorite band from the Northwest. Acid King, I love them, then Holy
. I have to say I loved all the bands, and I am not saying that Witch Mountain
because they are my friends.
Gaff- Do you get the chance to travel with those bands now?
Alyssa- No, but I would love too.
Gaff- Are there bands out there right now that you would absolutely love to shoot?
Alyssa- SuperJoint was one of my bucket list bands that I never thought would
happen so that blew my mind and so did King Diamond, so right now I am still kind of
on a high. Well actually, TOOL. I have always wanted to shoot them. I almost had a
photo pass to shoot them and at the last minute it didn’t work out. Tool is one of my
favorite bands and they put on an epic show. I really think I could get some amazing
shots of them and it would make me so happy. Also, I have always wanted to shoot,
what used to be called the Rose Garden and is now the MODA center. I have never
had the opportunity to shoot in a place that big but I would love too. My other
biggest one would probably be Led Zeppelin or Robert Plant’s solo band. He is my
idol and he’s on tour right now. So if he comes anywhere near
, I plan on Portland
working as hard as I possibly can to get a photo pass to that show.
Gaff- Now besides photography, you also work during the day.
Alyssa- Well I actually have 3 jobs
Gaff- Is it crazy trying to juggle everything these days?
Alyssa- Yeah, it is. I have my core friends but it is very hard to make time because I
work 8-5 Monday-Friday, then I have Hovercraft and the Photography too. So yeah, I
am always really busy.
Gaff- but it sounds like you are happy being busy?
Alyssa- I love it. I spent a lot of my life floating around, not knowing what I wanted to
do, just working jobs and hanging out, so I am really glad I have something that I am
really passionate about.
Gaff- So, in 5 years, are you hoping photography is your main gig?
Alyssa- That’s the goal. My whole goal with this is to have music photography be my
whole life. A lot of people have told me that that is impossible, or really hard to do,
but I have met photographers that have done it. I think that as long as you stay
positive it will happen. I know it’s gonna take some time.
Gaff- Would you enjoy the travelling aspect of it?
Alyssa- Travelling is always something I wanted to do. If I could get paid to take
pictures then I would be happy. I have a boyfriend and a dog that I love, so I would
find a way to take them with me. But the idea of living out of hotel rooms my whole
life is like a dream for me.
Gaff- Do you have any plans to ever shoot some of the festivals overseas?
Alyssa- Oh, I would love too. My family is from
Germany and so I would love Ireland
to visit those places. Roadburn is something I have always wanted to go to and
Desertfest would be awesome. So one day I hope to make it over there.
Gaff- Now that you are taking high profile pics of bands, are you getting recognized?
Alyssa- I always think people recognize me because of my hair. I have big red, bright
hair, so I really think that is why people remember me. I have had a few people
come up to me that I do not know and say that they saw me shooting a show or saw
some of my photos on a band’s site. That is always really cool but I am also not used
to it. It is awesome, I really hear a lot of positive feedback and no one in the music
world has ever said anything negative to me. It makes me happy that people like my
work. I work really hard to make it happen.
Gaff- So in a 24 hour day, how much time do you spend on your pictures?
Alyssa- It depends on how many pictures I take. I would say that an average show, 3
bands, and I’m usually at the show for 6 hours, I shoot in the raw, so it’s more time
editing. So, anywhere from 4-6 hours a night and that is for one show. A normal day
for me, I get out of work at 5 and I live an hour away from where I work so I get home
around 6 or 6:30. I immediately go upstairs and edit pictures so I am usually up until
midnight doing it. Then I send them off to wherever they need to go. Then I am up at
5:30am to go to work. Or if I don’t have photos to edit I’ll go to a shoot after work and
it’s the same thing. I end up being up until 2 or 3am and get up at 5:30am.
Gaff- So since you are so busy you must have a very supportive boyfriend.
Alyssa- We have been together since we were 14. He is my best friend, my biggest
cheerleader and it is really because of him that I am doing this. He bought me my first
camera. He is a drummer so he understands the music industry and likes that I am a
part of it.
Gaff- So, do you see the
scene starting to explode? Portland
Alyssa- Yeah, we are getting so much attention and it is growing and there are so
many amazing bands coming out. I think that all of us are in it for the long haul. We
are all in this together and something great is gonna happen. I feel like it is going to
blow up. It is definitely a community, a tribe. There is no room for bullshit or anyone
being an asshole.
Gaff- It’s great that you are enjoying the scene and getting a chance to really shoot the music and bands you love.
Alyssa- I am really lucky and grateful to be where I am.
Gaff- Well it speaks volumes to your work that you are able to do it. What advice would you give to younger kids coming up?
Alyssa- the best advice I have is to be true to yourself and stay as positive as you
possibly can. Don’t let anyone bring you down. There will always be people that tell
you it is ridiculous to try and make any form of art a career. If you really love it, stick
Gaff- Is there anything else you wanted to say,
Alyssa- I wanted to briefly mention Cory Mitchell. I recently found out that he has
passed away. He had no idea what a big deal he was to me. I talked to him on the
internet and in person quite a few times, he and his festival changed my life. So I just
wanted to say Rest in Peace Corey. You will be missed.
Gaff- Well I am sure the pictures that you took would have put a smile on his face.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me as you are shooting some really great pictures that are truly capturing emotions and are making people’s lives that much better.
Alyssa- Thank you so much.
The pictures that are popping up through this interview are the amazing work of Alyssa Herrman. If pictures can say or tell 100 things about someone then the person capturing that image is telling an amazing story through their lens.
Photography is one of those amazing forms of art that truly can touch people that do not even know whom the picture is of or also what or why it was taken. It is open for us to decide what we like or do not like but it truly makes us think. The better the picture, the more we can laugh or cry and that to me is what Alyssa is capturing through her lens, the emotive spark of music. Do yourselves a favor and check out http://fotophortress.com/ for the amazing work of an amazing artist.
Words & Interview by: Marc GaffneyPhotos used with kind permission of: Alyssa Herrman
Photos of Alyssa by: Guy Nelson,