Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Capturing the Eye Behind the Lens - In Conversaton with Alyssa Herrman

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
            it happened.

Gaff- When did you start shooting and what were the first bands that you shot?

            Alyssa- The first bands I shot were local Portland bands.  My boyfriend is in a band
            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 Portland is so big that I was shooting shows
            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 Portland Community College to actually finish High School.  I did
            High School and College at the same time, but then I ended up dropping out and got
            my GED.

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 Seattle Passive Aggressive. I was
            shooting for that magazine.  That was amazing. Right before that I was in Texas doing
            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 Portland.  My friend Leah created a calendar that we were
            both in about influential Heavy Metal Women in Portland. So we both did the shoot,
            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 Portland 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?

            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
            Grove, Witch Mountain. I have to say I loved all the bands, and I am not saying that
            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 Portland, I plan on
            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 Ireland so I would love
            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 Portland scene starting to explode?

            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
            with it.

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 for the amazing work of an amazing artist.

Words & Interview by: Marc Gaffney

Photos used with kind permission of: Alyssa Herrman
Photos of Alyssa by: Guy Nelson,