fp_sherry rayn barnett

This month’s featured artist is Sherry Rayn Barnett. She is a widely published music photographer, specializing in live performance. She began her career in NYC shooting for the underground press, focusing on the folk, jazz and rock musicians of the 70’s. Her work has been seen in countless music magazines over the decades, including Rolling Stone, Creem, Guitar Player, Crawdaddy, Goldmine, Acoustic Guitar, and Fretboard Journal. Recent music biographies feature her photos … “Little Girl Blue – The Karen Carpenter Story”, “Joni Mitchell, In Her Own Words”, Etta James’ “Rage To Live” and Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell on You”. Clients have included C.F. Martin Guitars, Sony, Verve/Polygram, Warner Bros. and the famed UK based TV show, “Top of the Pops”. Iconic artists such as Charlie Haden, Nina Simone, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Etta James and The Manhattan Transfer have used her photography for promotion, CD’s, documentaries and books.

Sherry’s archives span nearly 40 years, documenting a “who’s who” of pop music from legends like Janis Joplin, BB King and Tina Turner, to contemporary favorites in rock, folk, jazz, blues and country. Currently based in LA, she can be found shooting music festivals and concert series, while licensing her archival work for books, magazines, documentaries, electronic media and private collections.

Sherry is still shooting the pictures that have contributed to the visual history of our lives.

We’ve asked Sherry some questions about her career and passion for music photography.

Read Sherry’s answers below:

1. Who would you like to photograph that you haven’t already?

The Beatles! Of course, that not being possible, I’d say Adele, Justin Timberlake, Rolling Stones, and Keith Urban … high caliber artists of diverse genres who have mastered their craft and give great performances based on talent, not just pyrotechnics.

2. What is your favorite camera to shoot with?

I’ve been a Nikon shooter from the start. I’ve gone from favorite film cameras to favorite full frame digital DSLR camera bodies. But as soon as I mention the current model I shoot with … another more advanced one will come along, and my “favorite” falls out of favor. That said, Nikon has consistently produced top of the line camera bodies which necessitate high quality Nikon “glass” as we photographers say … In other words, the lens quality has be be up to the same great standards as the camera body itself – as the camera is only half of what goes into getting the shot, technically speaking.

3. As a rock photographer, what is the best and worst thing about your job?

The best thing about shooting “live” music is access. Being around all types of music and being able to be up close and personal for 100’s of shows over the years is, without a doubt, a unique point of view. Having credentials to be where the action is and able to focus (no pun intended) in an unobstructed way, in tune with the emotional peaks of an artists’ performance, creates a connection much like a one-on-one experience. The feeling is much like always being front row center, the best place to be.

The worst thing? Lack of access in recent years due to safety issues, security, hardcore management, superstar egos and the photographers, i.e., paparazzi, who have abused the privilege of access. Prevalence of large venue and arena acts that restrict photography of shows to 1-3 songs or less, and “work for hire” contracts, which often require signing away rights to your own work – unless you are the official tour photographer – have made shooting large scale concerts far less desirable.

4. Do you have a favorite photograph that you’ve taken?

I don’t have a particular photograph that I’d consider my favorite, but I do have favorite shoots that have proven to be more important over the years due to their historic value. For example, my photograph of Nina Simone for the cover of her Verve/Polygram record, “Let It Be Me” ranks very high for me both as a photograph that I’m particularly proud of, and one that inspired her to personally hire me back for a private portrait session a few years later. She continued to use that photograph for all her publicity until she passed and I am honored. And some of my earliest work has proven to be the most iconic … such as up and coming singer/songwriters James Taylor and Joni Mitchell together onstage at a college concert. That particular image has become one of my most popular and most reproduced. Looking back, my very first assignment was photographing Ike & Tina Turner and the resulting images are still amongst my favorites, yet rarely seen! Ella Fitzgerald rehearsing for the Grammys with The Manhattan Transfer, k.d. Lang with Roy Orbison, Etta James choosing my photo her autobiography, David Bowie on “Top Of The Pops”, Joni Mitchell recording “Court and Spark”, Peter, Paul and Mary harmonizing backstage at The Music Center, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan back together onstage during the 80’s, Cyndi Lauper opening the original Hard Rock Cafe, Prince’s first LA show … so many special moments I feel fortunate to have captured.

Sherry Rayn Barnett

Sherry Rayn Barnett

5. When did you know that you wanted to be a photographer?

I grew up with my dad’s camera in my hands. My mom wrote songs and pitched them to early rock and roll artists – and my dad took me to rock shows in and around NYC. I wanted to bring the music home and was never without a camera … shooting low quality, blurry, but always exciting (to me) photos. I studied music but as a photographer, was self taught, determined to rely on my instincts. While attending The High School of Performing Arts (the “Fame” school), I got my first Nikon and have never put it down for too long!

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