Among the stars

2018 Spring / Profiles / May 17, 2018
Text by Eric Rosenbaum | Photos courtesy Jenn Five
Stories from behind-the-lens Jenn Five's career-making photographs, including rock stars Prince, Foo Fighters and Bastille.

Above: PRINCE “It’s definitely one of my favourites. Prince liked this one, too. It was taken during a 12-minute version of Purple Rain! I was waiting for the confetti to blow. I’mjust lucky it wasn’t obscuring him. If I had been in front of the microphone it would have been a different story. A lot of people would have shot it vertically, with him in the centre, and that’s okay. But I like the negative space and I think that’s what sets me apart from other photographers.”

Combining her obsession with music and her love of taking pictures , Jenn Five (New Media, Production and Design ’06, Journalism ’12) has built an international career photographing some of music ’s biggest names for magazines like Billboard, Rolling Stone and NME. When she’s not travelling, Jenn lives in Calgary or London, England, where she spoke with LINK writer Eric Rosenbaum by phone.

How did you come by the name Jenn Five? 

JF: There’s not really an explanation. It was just a nickname and it took. It’s my name. 

Where is home? 

JF: Calgary, but the world is my oyster. 

What kind of kid were you? 

JF: I have always been a music-head. The first concert I went to, I think I was eight years old. I begged my parents to take me to see Alanis Morissette. She was the first rock girl I liked. Before that it was Madonna, then Alanis came out with Jagged Little Pill and it was a whole different can of worms. All the money I’d get for allowance I’d spend on CDs or cassette tapes and I’d blow my money on concerts. 

BASTILLE, GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL “This is the festival at sunset. I wanted to be on stage for sunset and I asked management to let me up there. Glastonbury is all about the flags. It was really hard to see and I thought, ‘Gee, I sure hope I get something.’”

When did you pick up the camera? 

JF: When I was a teen and old enough to go to concerts by myself, I remember taking my mom’s 35-mm film camera. I would wait at the concert venue all day so I could be in the front row. I’d take the pictures just for me. I didn’t have any thought to selling them. I remember taking film to Walmart for developing and the girl behind the counter — who was probably a couple years older than me — said, “Are you the one with the Avril Lavigne photos? They’re so rad.” That was cool stuff to hear. 

HMLTD, MOTH CLUB, LONDON “This band is my top pick for 2018. I’m so obsessed with and fascinated by them. Their music is out of control. I’ve never heard anything else like them and they look like they’re from a different planet. I’ve shot them more than a dozen times and they constantly have a different look, different colour hair, different makeup.”

After high school, you went to SAIT. 

JF: I enrolled in the New Media program first. I graduated and got a really amazing job, but I wasn’t really happy. I decided to go back to study journalism. I actually wanted to be a rock writer; I wanted to be Lester Bangs (who wrote for Rolling Stone and Creem). Then, at some point, I thought, ‘You know what would be better than writing about rock stars? Photographing rock stars.’ And I thought, ‘I’d be really good at that.’

FOO FIGHTERS, GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL “This was taken about ten seconds after their last song, right off the stage. It was pitch-black. I had NME’s editor-in-chief using the flashlight on his iPhone to light Dave (Grohl’s) face and the publicist holding the reflector with my flash bouncing off it. They’re pros. I didn’t have to tell them how to pose. They knew exactly how to form themselves. I also like the fact that the three road cases are the colours of the British flag.”

What was your big break? 

JF: Prince. When his team approached me, I was in Amsterdam on holiday. It was 2014. His team was looking for a photographer and they were asking around for recommendations. I’ve heard that my name was recommended twice and so they checked out my stuff. I remember getting the email and thinking it was a joke because, three days before, I had tweeted that my holiday plans meant I was going to miss a Prince show. Before Prince, most of my work was with underground bands. 

THE LEMON TWIGS, LONDON “I was there just to check them out and of course I brought my camera. It’s a tiny venue. It was my first time seeing them and I didn’t know what to expect. They’re brothers, Brian and Michael D’Addario. That’s Michael with moves like Pete Townshend. I put this on Instagram and the next night there were way more photographers there looking for cool shots.”

Which do you like better, shooting live performance or portraits? 

JF: I love both, but I started off doing live photography so that will always be exciting to me. You don’t know what the lighting is going to be like. You truly don’t know what you’re going to do. That’s super fun for me. It can be challenging. You just try to make do with what you have. You just have to know your camera really well and to change your settings without really thinking. 

A$AP ROCKY, COACHELLA VALLEY MUSIC AND ARTS FESTIVAL “He decided to start the show from the crowd, not the stage. It was his first song and there was hectic craziness. I got on a platform to be above the audience and I wanted to get the ferris wheel to grab that Coachella backdrop.”

What’s your favourite gear? 

JF: My Mark III camera (Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR) and my reflector. My reflector goes everywhere with me. It’s particularly useful for on-the-go portraits. 

CAGE THE ELEPHANT, NEW YORK “Matt (Shultz) took off his shoes and went into the crowd. I’m just really glad I decided to stay onstage. I was next to the Rolling Stone photo editor who got a similar shot. We were both thrilled. You can see the row of photographers behind Matt. They were in a good spot too, but they didn’t quite get that same effect.”

What’s your biggest thrill so far? 

JF: Prince. Shooting his show for the very first time, and I hadn’t ever seen him live — that was a trip. And then meeting him was a trip. I was never more excited than going through my photos with him after a show. 

THE 1975, SEATTLE, BACKSTAGE “These guys are friends of mine. Matty (Healy, lead singer) is so eccentric. I asked him to get on the floor and told the other guys to get around him. His thumb is almost touching my lens. Portraits of bands can be boring sometimes. Just four people in a line. I really like the composition of this and I think it turned out pretty cool.”

Who are you dying to shoot? 

JF: Lady Gaga. I have shot her before but I want to do her portrait because it would be her vision, she’d bounce that off me, and then we’d get something amazing. 

GRIMES, COACHELLA FESTIVAL “This is one of my older shots and still one of my favourites. Grimes moves around a lot and she’s super in-the-moment. I also love her dancers. Usually I don’t like purple lights but they really work in this one. The colours are great. I think it’s symmetrically a nice photo.”

What’s it like being a photographer when everybody’s phone has a camera and they’re taking photos of bands? 

JF: It gives you a reason to push yourself more and to create something a little bit different. Anybody can pick up a camera and do stuff. I’ve seen bands re-post iPhone photos and I think, ‘Okay, that’s a good shot.’ And I just have to push myself harder. 

HALSEY “This photo almost didn’t happen. I was told we weren’t going to get a photo, just an interview. But I went along with the journalist anyway. It was really brown and gross backstage but I found a mural in a corner. I set up my camera and lights just in case. A video guy was there too and he said, ‘I think Jenn’s going to go first.’ I said, ‘Oh no, I’m not.’ But Halsey said, ‘Oh that’s cool, I don’t mind. We can do some photos.’ So I got this. It really pays to be prepared.”

What’s your advice to young photographers? 

JF: Don’t stop shooting. Keep shooting shows. Get to know the local bands and the people who work at your local venues. Get to know security, get to know promoters. People are going to know your name. They’re going to trust you and they’ll give you extra access. Also, be nice to people. You never know when you’re talking to somebody who could help you or could be influential. 

PALMA VIOLETS “I love this so much because of the fans. I’m in there with them because I wanted to get beside Chilli Jesson — the lead singer — and the fans. Look at the girl, the one with the green hair, being crushed. She’s just so happy. That used to be me as a fan. Now I get to capture it as a photographer instead.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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