Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Interview I Did For A College Student's Paper In 2010

What does it mean to you to have been the last person to photograph Johnny Cash before he died?

Coston: I actually photographed the last shows he ever performed, two months before he passed away. They were also his last public appearances, and the only ones he did after June Carter Cash died. I know a couple of his family members and friends took photos (candids, pretty much) of Mr. Cash after I did. So I'm not the very last person, but I was there to document an amazing time near the end.

I'm very proud to have been there, especially since I was invited by the Carter Family to do so, and my photos were then used by Mr. Cash's people, and they still showed up in print. The last interview he did with Time Magazine (a month before he passed), featured my photo. For someone who first read about him and the Carter Family in a comic book while living in upstate NY when I was nine years old, it's a pretty amazing thing to have been a part of. (FYI, I'll be doing a show of the Cash photos in Charlotte in March and April.)

You are currently located in Charlotte, what is it like working in the city’s music scene?

Coston: The scene is good, and the venues in town have been pretty supportive over the years. People seem to know me for my photos, which is nice. I've never seen myself as a Charlotte photographer, to be honest. Early on, I learned to look just beyond your immediate circle, and search out other things in other places. For many years, I tended to work everywhere but Charlotte, as bands in other cities would hire me to shoot them. It's been nice to work more in Charlotte the last few years, but I've always thought of myself as a photographer that lives in Charlotte, as opposed to being a Charlotte photographer.

How often do you have to travel for work? How important is traveling to your career?
Coston: I travel as much as I can. Travels varies, depending on the gigs that come up, and how much work is going on in Charlotte at the time. Travel has been very important to my career. Very often, I went to the people I wanted to work with, and went from there. I often tend to be happier as a traveling photographer. Many of my favorite photographers were travelers, creating work as they went from place to place, and the romantic lore of the open road is something I still enjoy. 

How did you get started in photography and photographing musicians?

Coston:" I come from a film and video background, and occasionally still do video work. I was doing feature writing for a magazine in Charlotte, and the photographer was showing up less and less for my stories, so I started taking the photos myself. Within a week in September of 1996, I photographed the author Douglas Adams, and then photographed Farm Aid in SC. Around that time, I started shooting local bands, and all of them hired me for photos, because there were so few photographers in the scene at the time. And I figured out the rest as I went along.

In a digital age why do you still choose to shoot film?

Coston: Sad to say, I "went digital" about a month ago. While you do save a good deal of money on film, I was also ready to change the gear I was using, and the way I worked through the gear. That being said, I look forward to doing more B&W film photography, which I've been wanting to get back to for some time. B&W film still looks and feels like nothing else, and I've missed not shooting B&W on a regular basis.

The reasons I went with film for so long was that everyone was going digital crazy, and I felt that less was being focused on the quality of the work, and more on the "instant" nature of digital. You can look at the photo now? Great, but is it a better photo? I felt that my photos would look better on film, and I went with that. Especially in low-light concert settings. I still believe that, actually, and still often shoot film in those situations. One should always work through the medium they wish to work with, instead of being pushed into another because you feel like to have to. And I "jumped" on my own accord, and can jump back when I wish.

Exactly what role did you play in the creation of the Double Door Inn book? How does it feel to have been part of such an important piece of Charlotte’s history and the history of music?

Coston: I was the photographer, editor, and overall shepherd of the project. My friend, the late writer Debby Wallace, had the initial idea, and wrote the initial text. We both did the interviews for the book. I then edited and added to the text, and then Adam Roth and I worked on editing the photos, and shaping the book into what you see. I then was the go-to person for dealing with the publisher, and getting them to put the book out.

I'm very proud that we did the book, and that it's helped to draw awareness to the place. I always felt like somebody should do a book on the place, it just happened to be me that ended up putting it together.

What was the first band you ever photographed?

Coston: I took a photo with my dad's camera (the one I ended up using until recently) at my first ever concert, which was the Beach Boys at the NY State Fair, September 1983. My first show photos were of Joe Henry, at the now-defunct Sound Factory, near UNCC, in early 1996. The first big show that I ever photographed was Farm Aid, in September of 1996, and the first show I took under now-standard Big Show rules (first three songs, no flash) was U2 with Rage Against The Machine in May of 1997.

Do you ever take on interns or assistants? If so what qualities do you look for in an intern?

Coston: I haven't taken on interns, as I don't like to ask anyone to work for free. Coming out of the video field, everyone early on asks you to work for "experience," with the promise of maybe getting a paying job down the road. And I've never wanted to do that to people.

However, I did assist on video shoots for a short time before I got into photography, and I learned that the best assistants are ones that have things at the ready, and works with the photographer/videographer to get the job done. Assistants shouldn't get in the way, but be prepared to be another set of hands and eyes to the shoot.

If you could photograph anyone in music, past or present who would it be and why?

Coston: Beatles, Velvet Underground (White Light/White Heat era, especially), Benny Goodman in 1938, around the time of the Carnegie Hall concert, Frank Sinatra. Purely for the music, and the experience. I'm also a big fan of 1960s/early '70s garage rock, folk rock, and psychedelia, and while I've shot many of those bands in more recent times, I wish I could've seen them the first time around.

With the economy in the situation that it’s in, has your work been affected? If so, how has it been affected?

Coston: Yes. Bands are doing less stuff. Labels are relying more on free photos that other photographers send in, or post on blogs. The economy has had more of an effect on me not getting paid upfront for photos. I still shoot things, and sometimes get paid for them down the road, but even that's a little less sure. There's also less labels and magazines out there willing to pay for photos, as many of the mags I worked for in the past have folded.

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