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  • Writer's pictureRubber Monkey

An Interview with Film Photographer Kenzie Pigman

Kenzie Pigman is a film photographer based in Wellington, New Zealand. Her portfolio includes almost every currently working NZ artist from Fat Freddy's Drop to Benee and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Marlon Williams by Kenzie Pigman

A little bit about yourself?

I’m from California originally, I moved to Wellington about 3 or 4 years ago. I went on exchange in Christchurch for University and just fell in love with New Zealand and wanted to move back after I finished Uni in the states.

How’d you get into concert photography?

When I first moved to Wellington I didn’t take photos or anything, I just ended up meeting quite a few people in the music scene. I got a film camera probably a year after moving to New Zealand and just started taking photos of friends and stuff, and it just so happened that I always went to gigs with my friends because they were in the music scene. So I kind of just started taking photos at gigs, then I started getting better and better, then people started noticing that I was taking photos and it kind of just grew from there.

When I get into something, I get really obsessed with it, so it would stay up late at night until like 3am watching videos on YouTube of how to shoot film, what film stocks to use, literally like a crash course but constantly. For months that was all I thought about. It started off as an obsession that grew into something that people thought I was good at which is crazy.

Fat Freddy's Drop by Kenzie Pigman

What are some of the biggest challenges you have to deal with when shooting concerts?

There's a few, starting out it’s difficult because you kind of do everything for free in the beginning. Then transitioning from being a photographer that is just trying to get their name out there doing stuff for free, to someone who expects to be paid is quite a weird transition. It's difficult especially if you’re shooting for people you’ve shot for multiple times for free and all of a sudden you expect to be paid. You grow into forcing yourself to have those conversations, and I'm so much more comfortable about it now. You believe in yourself a lot more the more that you do it, and you see your worth. When I was starting out I was shooting gigs 3 or 4 times a week, on top of working full time - I don’t do that anymore, but it was necessary to be where I am now.

There are so many positives that outweigh all the negatives, like getting to know artists, taking photos of people that you’re really close with as friends and seeing them thrive on stage is such an amazing thing.

Do you prefer shooting larger stadium concerts or smaller venues?

Being where I am now, I much prefer larger gigs and festivals, as they provide a whole new and exciting arena of different lighting, angles, people and artists. As I said before, I was doing multiple gigs a week for around a year, so I struggle feeling inspired in those smaller venues these days because I know exactly what I’m supposed to do - it’s like muscle memory.

So I really enjoy doing bigger stuff like Benee at Michael Fowler later last year, and festivals. I love that stuff because it’s so new, it forces you to think outside of the box and think what you actually want to take photos of, the lighting, everything, it’s like being a new photographer again you know? Everything is a clean slate because it’s something you haven’t done before. The bigger the crowd, the bigger the place, the more variability and opportunity there is to take different types of photos. The biggest thing is not being restricted.

Why do you prefer film over digital photography?

With film you get 36 or 24 exposures, so it forces you to be really selective. When I'm photographing I wait till there’s a big boom in the song or you feel something is about to happen, a big moment. I wait for that and that's when I take the photo, whereas with digital you could just be taking photos that whole time, so I really like how it makes me more selective and makes me search for the right shot a lot more.

I also think there's more liveliness to a film photo that is just unmatched to anything you could get digitally, you can try and edit digital to look like film but it just isn’t the same. Any time I'm at a gig and I shoot a bit of digital but mostly film, I'll look at my digital because I'll obviously see them first and be like “Oh these are great!” then I get my film back and I'm like “Oh my god my digital is so trash compared to these”. Nothing against digital photographers whatsoever I think they’re extremely talented and not to mention the type of editing they do is insane.

What kind of film and camera gear do you use?

My film stock that I use for pretty much everything is Portra. Portra 160, 400, 800 obviously depending on the light, so if it's night time i’ll shoot 800, sometimes with flash, sometimes not. Also if it’s night time gig I'll use Cinestill which is a recycled cinematic roll, which is really cool because it has halation behind the lights, it’s really beautiful in the way it captures certain kinds of light but at the same time it doesn’t capture skin tone very well so Portra is definitely my ride or die. Portra 160 is absolutely stunning during the day, and Portra 400 is great for when it’s getting a bit darker but it’s not completely night time yet. I also love Black and White, Ilford HP5 is my Black and White stock, I used to be a Tri-X girl, then I started using HP5 and I would never change back because it’s just stunning.

Wax Mustang by Kenzie Pigman

For my gear, my main camera is a Contax G2 and I recently picked up a Nikon F100, which is one of the last film cameras that Nikon made before they started going digital, so any time people see me using it they think I'm shooting digital. I also always have a polaroid with me if I'm doing a gig or anything, I love shooting polaroid's because it gives you a tangible, real thing in the moment that isn’t digital. It feels like something with character.

My medium format camera is the Mamiya RB67, which is a massive work-horse of a camera, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s from the 80’s and it's fully modular, you can remove the lens, the viewfinder, the film back, everything, it’s almost like a little Lego of a camera but I only really use that for photoshoots because it’s so heavy, it probably weighs like 5-10kg. That’s what made me fall in love with medium format, but that’s not really something I use for gigs.

Who are some of your favorite artists that you’ve worked with?

I’m stoked to have worked with so many great artists - Benee, Marlon WIlliams, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Soaked Oats, Nic & Reuben, Courtney Barnett, Mild Orange - to name a few. I’m particularly proud of the work that I have done for Benee over the past couple of years. She makes it easy with her movement around the stage and epic fits. I’m blown away by Soaked Oats every performance - and they are some of the nicest boys ever. Marlon Williams feels like a teleportation in time - I would love to see him and Elvis on stage together (if that were possible).

Off stage, I’ve done some photoshoots that I am super proud of. I did a photoshoot with Mild Orange for all their tour press shots. We had the best day going around all of Wellington to heaps of different locations. The photos were exactly what we all wanted and I love seeing my photos pasted up on billboards around the country. I also did a photoshoot with Elliott Dawson and oh my god I'm so proud of those photos, I loved working with Elliott - he's an incredible artist and a good friend of mine. He knows exactly what he wants, that's something that's really cool when an artist has such a vision.

What are your favorite things to shoot outside of concerts?

It’s funny I used to shoot a lot more outside of gigs when I was starting out, but now that I see it as a work thing it’s unfortunate I don’t shoot as much in my personal life as I'd like to, but I do like snapping photos when I'm on trips. I plan on doing a portrait series of strangers when I’m back over in the states which I'm really excited about. I want to get more into capturing like, just a guy sitting in a gas station you know? When I see photos like that I feel really inspired.

I actually went to Antarctica with my Mom, before I was ever into photography. There were these 2 men that we met that we just became really good friends with, Peter and Simon. I borrowed one of Simon's cameras, he had thousands of dollars worth of camera gear, telephoto lenses, it was insane. So I took photos, and with that kind of kit they’re all just stunning, and I think that was really fun, the wildlife photography side of things. It's not something that I’m really into now but I do look back on those photos and go “Wow that was mean”.

Nic and Reuben by Kenzie Pigman

What other hobbies and interests do you pursue outside of photography?

I love chess! We had a big chess phase last lockdown, we learned how to play on an iPad, then we got a chessboard. We haven’t played in a while but I love a bit of chess, and Backgammon. I also knit, and I recently took a chainmail class actually, you know like medieval armor? You can also make jewelry with chainmail so I wanted to start making my own jewelry, so you learn chain links and that kind of thing which was actually so challenging, and I've been making a necklace since then.

What’s your most memorable experience from photographing?

I got my first film camera in May 2019, I started taking my camera to gigs the rest of that year, but my first paid gig was January 2020. After the first lockdown, that’s when things really escalated for me and I was taking things more seriously, and in the scheme of one week I shot Fat Freddy's Drop at Michael Fowler and then Benee at Shed6. So that was a really memorable thing for me, a very surreal “How have I just done this, I’m so confused.” I was barely a photographer like- I was a baby, but I had worked my ass off for months shooting so many gigs and that was a really great payoff. That was very surreal for me, when you’re starting out and you don’t back yourself as much you’re like “How am I even allowed to be here?” But then you deliver well and people love it and you’re like okay back yourself, back yourself, but it is very strange doing things like that for the first time.

Katchafire by Kenzie Pigman

What’s something you wish you knew when you started shooting film?

Well I guess, of course when I started shooting I wished that I was better immediately. But I think my learning process and my journey is really special so there’s nothing I would change about it other than, the more you back yourself the more other people will believe in you. I think it’s something for any photographer starting out now to know that if you demand what you’re worth people will recognize that and give it to you, but if you don’t say anything people will take advantage of you until otherwise. People want to cut costs, people don’t want to pay you if they don’t have to. Not everyone of course, but there are artists out there who won't say a thing about it knowing that you shoot film and knowing that you’ve paid for the film and paid to get it developed, and they won't say a thing unless you ask.

Why do you think film photography has made such a comeback?

It’s amazing that people are so interested in something that's analog and a bit historic, but at the same time it’s also skyrocketed prices of film stock upwards. I think it’s similar to what I said earlier about why I love it, there's something so special about getting film back and seeing how much life there is in each photo. I have friends that shoot film, they love how they completely forget what’s on a roll they shot because they’ll get it developed like a month later, and that's something that’s really special about film.


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