Jessica Earnshaw, a photojournalist based in New York City, has been shooting professionally for five years. Her assignments range from news stories about kids, health and women, to commercial assignments from record labels and music PR firms. Her clients include NBC, Newsday, Cater News, Corbis Images, Universal Music, Tommy Boy Records, and The Wall Street Journal. The WSJ gave Earnshaw the opportunity to shoot this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival where she also spent some time with band Jamestown Revival, roaming the festival grounds on foot, and photographing from an airplane.
Photo District News: Had you attended the festival before? How did you prepare?
Jessica Earnshaw: This was my first time attending Coachella, and my first time photographing a music festival. I was on a PR list and had publicists reach out to set up photo shoots with their artists in the weeks leading up to the festival. I ended up setting up shoots with HAERTS, St. Lucia and Lights.
I wanted to find an angle when I was there, so I didn’t do too much research before hand. I Google Image-searched the festival, that’s about it. I knew I wanted an aerial shot so I looked up local flight schools. I found one in the Coachella Valley and asked the owner if he had a student pilot who could take me up, and I offered to pay the cost of fuel. The owner said he would see what he could do. He called the next day and said a friend of his would take me up first thing Sunday morning.
PDN: Do you have a favorite or most-challenging moment from this experience?
JE: My favorite moment was getting the aerial shots. I also received access to the Hippo Installation “Corporate Headquarters,” which was fun. This was an art installation in the middle of the festival. It was a three-story office building with one side covered in glass windows, where viewers could watch nine people dressed in suits wearing hippo masks frantically engaged in office activities. The artists Derek Doublin and Vanessa Bonet dressed me up like a ranger and I photographed the “corporate hippos” National Geographic-style, like I was part of the installation.
The most challenging thing was my cell phone. My battery was on the outs, and I was constantly searching for outlets.
PDN: A lot of the images from Coachella feature the band Jamestown Revival. What’s your relationship with the band?
JE: Jamestown Revival are incredibly genuine, and talented musicians from Magnolia, Texas. The band, now based in Austin, is a duo, made up of childhood friends Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance. As a photographer who has photographed many musicians (with a range of personalities), the most important thing to me is vibe. Documentary photography is an intimate thing, so it’s imperative that I feel trusted by the people I’m photographing, which allows me to get adventurous in my photography.
When I first met Jamestown Revival at SXSW earlier this year, I felt very comfortable with them. I was passing through Austin on my way home from a trip to Mexico and got a gig assisting Meredith Truax, the head in-house photographer for Universal Music Group. She’s also a friend of mine and invited me along on a bar crawl guided by Jamestown Revival; she was photographing them for Paste. We had such a great time that night, and I really liked the band.
A few weeks later I was going to LA for a different shoot, and asked Jonathan and Zack if they’d like behind-the-scenes photos from Coachella. They were enthusiastic about the idea. Before the festival, I photographed a show they played in San Diego and then I photographed them during a recording session they did in the Hollywood Hills. I wanted to have them in my Coachella images because I thought it would be an interesting way to see the festival, through the eyes of a band that were playing it for the first time.
PDN: Do you regularly seek out music festivals to shoot?
JE: I don’t often go to festivals (without assignments) because I dislike standing around in the heat and in crowds, however I loved it as a people watching exercise. There are so many visually interesting things happening—the cell phone plug stations (which were usually under canopies) were packed throughout the day; I saw a man dressed as a penis looking pretty casual about it; people carrying around watermelons, wearing big hats. I loved it. Since Coachella, I’ve definitely thought about pursuing this as a long-term project.
PDN: Do you consider yourself a “music” photographer?
JE: Music is a large part of what I do, but I don’t consider myself solely a music photographer. I’m also hugely drawn to stories that center on healthcare and social justice (Earnshaw was recently awarded the Rita & Alex Hillman Foundation Fellowship and will work with Maggie Steber on a project about aging in prisons).
PDN: How’d you become interested in shooting bands? Did you ever assist anyone?
JF: I started shooting bands when I lived in Vancouver, Canada. I was trying to raise money to go to ICP in New York (the school wasn’t accredited and I couldn’t get a student loan). I asked musicians to play my fundraising shows and in exchange I’d do photo-shoots for them. This is how the music photography started, but I’ve always loved and admired candid rock-and-roll photography—especially the photography from the ’70s. It has a wonderful rawness and honesty. I saw the “Who Shot Rock & Roll” exhibit at The Annenberg Space for Photography in LA back in 2012, and left floored.
I’ve never assisted a music photographer. Though I randomly met Bob Gruen at a charity auction I was photographing for Corbis Images a few years back and have since been fortunate enough to pick his rock and roll photographer brain, which has been priceless.
Related: Personal Work That Lands Assignments: Jessica Earnshaw (for PDN Subscribers only; login required)