For over 15 years, photographer Ester Segarra has been shooting heavy-metal artists, from Ghost and Watain to Carcass and Electric Wizard, with her images appearing in the pages of Terrorizer, Decibel, Metal Hammer and, of course, Revolver. Now, she's compiled her work in a new anthology photo book entitled Ars Umbra, which is due for release July 6th via Season of Mist, and innovatively features a companion original score, composed by Uno Bruniusson (Grave Pleasures, In Solitude, etc.). "His music has been created to provide a rhythm, a mind-space that alters the experience of the book," says Segarra, who commissioned the soundtrack just for the volume. Below, she talks about the "magick" of photography, the power of music and the challenges of shooting some of metal's most infamous and influential players.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO PHOTOGRAPHY?
When I was about six, I saw a sunset picture in a book and that sparked my interest in photography. By the age of 16, I had a chance at college to take up on a course in photography. My parents wanted me to do a computer course, so they opposed and discouraged me, telling me that I didn't even have a camera. That was true. Regardless, I signed up and used my friend's camera. The first picture we did on the course was with a shoe box. We made a hole and put a photographic paper inside. Waited about 20 minutes and developed it. It was magick! I was hooked. But it was not so straightforward — it was Spain in the Nineties and studying photography as a serious option for a career was not much of an option, so I went for a degree in economics. Halfway through it became obvious that keeping on that path was not an option. I then went back to photography and that led me to London.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO METAL AND EXTREME MUSIC?
The first time I heard about heavy metal was reading an article on Metallica and Anthrax in a teens Spanish music magazine, I was fascinated by the names ... "heavy metal," Metallica, Anthrax, and the looks, and I wanted to know more. My first metal album was Master of Puppets. I have always been attracted to the Devil's path. I remember when I came across a tape of Guns N' Roses Use Your Illusion with a warning: "This album contains language which some listeners may find objectionable. They can F?!* OFF and buy something from the New Age section." I loved it and it made me hate New Age. It was on my second assignment for Terrorizer magazine, I came across black metal for the first time. I went to photograph Ancient Ceremony and Behemoth at the Underworld in Camden. It was extremely dark and it sounded even darker, nothing like I had heard before. It was like something non-human, dangerous, occult, and I was transported to the deepest hell. That truly was the Devil's music. Herbie Hancock said that "music is the tool to express life" — well, I felt like I had found the music that expressed death. I had found home.
WHO ARE YOUR MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY/VISUAL ART INFLUENCES?
As a female music photographer — Annie Leibovitz. I am also inspired by paintings: Frida Kahlo, the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio, the nightmares of Goya and the surrealism of Dali. And movies: David Lynch, Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Ingmar Bergman, Dario Argento, F.W. Murnau are some of my favorite directors.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST BAND OR MUSICIAN YOU SHOT? HOW DID IT GO?
The first time I felt I was seriously shooting a band was Static-X playing at the Astoria in London for my first job for Terrorizer. It was the first time I was standing in the pit, between the audience and the stage. I felt very privileged and honored. I was very nervous and even more when, to my horror, I was told I could only take pics for the first three songs! I had one roll of film — 36 frames — which meant that every picture taken had to count. There's no deleting with film! Before I was even able to fully embrace the energy of being in such a position and integrate what was happening, time was up and we were asked to leave the pit. And the worse ... the waiting 'til I got the film back from the lab to see whether I had fucked it up or not ... I did not. And Terrorizer liked them enough to give me another job.
WHAT'S BEEN YOUR MOST CHALLENGING SHOOT SO FAR AND WHY?
One of the most challenging ones in terms of logistics was the cover shoot for the first Decibel tour cover. It only took about 200 emails and months to make it happen! At least the artists I worked with — Farida Lemouchi, Pelle Ahman, Erik Danielsson and Nergal — and the outcome of it, made it all well worth it. There was geographical challenges, five people, four different countries, schedules and time issues, budget issues ... They are common obstacles to deal with, but for this shoot, they almost led to it being canceled… a few times.
WHAT HAS YOUR MOST FUN SHOOT?
One of the most entertaining ones was the one of Abbath walking the streets of London. Inspired by the KISS shots done in London in the Seventies, Abbath agreed to go ahead with Metal Hammer's suggestion to spend a day around London with a photographer and a journalist. They had asked for me to be the photographer, and Jonathan Selzer the journalist. Not only was it a fun day with many unforgettable moments, but also my respect goes to Abbath and King ov Hell — it takes quite something to do what they did in the professional manner they did it.
DOES IT HELP OR HURT, FROM AN ARTISTIC PERSPECTIVE, TO BE A FAN OF A BAND OR MUSICIAN YOU'RE SHOOTING?
It always helps to work with what you love, inspires you and fuels your fire and passion. It could hurt if I am to meet the band/musician as a fan, but I am aware that I am meeting the person, and just because someone has earned my respect as an artist doesn't mean they have earn it as a person, so I treat them as I would any subject and conduct the photo session as I would with anyone. There's some dynamics that have to come into play for a session to be successful and if being a fan will stop you from achieving that then it is not good, if it doesn't ... then is gold!
WHAT'S THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE THAT MUSIC PHOTOGRAPHERS MAKE?
Not sure about the others ... I don't pay much attention to what they do. My "mistake" would be too much darkness in my pictures. But the idea of a "common mistake" implies that there's one correct way of doing things. And that is not how I see it — everyone has their own unique way and someone's "mistake" might be what makes their style unique.
WHAT MUSICIAN, ALIVE OR DEAD, WOULD YOU MOST WANT TO SHOOT?
There's a few ... as there's so many. Having shot him many times live, I would have loved to take portrait pics of Lemmy.