Jonathan Williams on Photographing the Scene's Biggest Musicians

With festival season sadly drawing to a close, and summer coming to an end, photographs are our ways of holding on to some of the magic of the exuberance summer held. Whether you know who he is or not, you'll probably have seen the photographic work of Jonathan Williams doing the rounds covering the U.K.'s biggest festivals and gigs. Or maybe on your favourite artists' Instagram page

Photo: Dave at Reading Festival/Jonathan Williams

Jonathan is a multi-faceted creative who's creative skills limited to just photography. We were lucky enough to sit down with him and go through his favourite photos from festival season, his inspirations, creative approach and a bit more about the man behind the lens. 

Photo: Headie One backstage at Reading Festival/Jonathan Williams

What initially made you get in to photography?

I started doing photography in 2013 during my GCSE’s. The main reason I studied photography was because of my teacher. Before picking my options, I found out my art teacher (who I got along with really well) would also be my photography teacher. I had no idea how hard learning photography would be or what it would entail, I just wanted to have the same teacher for two classes. I ended up getting a good grade in my photography GCSE but stopped taking photos after secondary school. I went to a sixth form which didn’t offer any photography A-levels. By the time I started university in 2016 I was studying media and communications at BCU. I took a few photography modules during my course but forgot everything I learned in secondary school. I essentially had to learn everything from scratch. By the time I finished university in July 2019 I had re-learned all the basics and a lot more.

Photo: Dave at Reading Festival/Jonathan Williams

Is there anyone within photography who inspired you to get started/you still look up to now?

In terms of music photography, Ashley Verse and Jamie Drew were and still are my two main inspirations. Those were the photographers I seen capturing incredible images at concerts and festivals who inspired me to try music photography. I knew Jamie when I was still an illustrator, before I ever started taking photography seriously. At the time, he was the only active music photographer I knew in Birmingham. I found out about Ashley through a 2016 1xtra documentary he was featured in. I had seen the Drake photo he took at the Section Boy’s show but didn’t realise he was the one who took it until the documentary. I’m also inspired by my peers. Anytime I see a sick photo by Harry , Zek , Kevin or Meara it inspires me to capture something just as amazing. 

Photo: Pusha T at Parklife Festival/Jonathan Williams

Well the inspiration is certainly working as evidenced by your work. We know you're from Birmingham and studied there, serving as proof that creatives in the Midlands can achieve massive success. What have been the pros and cons of being a creative outside of London?

A pro would be the mind-set I’ve developed over the years. Being from outside of London encourages me to work hard and take opportunities when they present themselves. Because there aren’t as many creative jobs or opportunities in Birmingham in comparison to London, every opportunity I get Is the result of hard-work, networking and being a positive person people like to be around. In a sense, it makes getting opportunities more satisfying. A con of being a creative outside of London is the lack of opportunities. There are very little stable photography jobs in Birmingham. The jobs that are available usually consist of working for companies doing family or new-born photography. Or they require you to be skilled in photography, videography, graphic design and web-design in an effort to lower the cost and hire one person to do everything. The main reason I became a freelancer wasn’t because of choice but circumstances. I didn’t want to spend my time doing something I’m not passionate about. I would rather go out and find my own clients than work for a company doing something I have no interest in.

Photo: Octavian backstage at Reading Festival/Jonathan Williams

As a photographer do you have to change your approach to shooting in a high-octane gig versus if you were doing a portrait session?

I’m more limited in how I can photograph a gig in comparison to a portrait session. When I shoot concerts, I have no control over the lights. I can’t decide the brightness, positioning or colour unless I speak to the lighting technicians before-hand. Sometimes they’ll listen to your suggestions and change the lighting, however most times they’ll do whatever they think looks cool for the audience. When I shoot a portrait session, I have a lot more control. I can talk to the artists directly and show them the photos afterwards. I try to find a balance between shooting artists on stage and backstage. I don’t want to become one of those photographers who only shoots artists portraits backstage. 

Photo: Aitch backstage at Parklife/Jonathan Williams

We notice from your site that you're a multidisciplinary creative. Between photography, graphics, illustration and writing - what does each discipline give you in terms of fulfilment?

I think each discipline gives me the same sort of fulfilment. I get the same level of fulfilment when I take a great photo just like when I write an interesting article or produce a cool illustration. I don’t draw or write as much as I used to but it’s definitely something I still enjoy doing. At the moment photography’s my main creative outlet.

Photo: Slowthai performing at Reading Festival

Through your photography you've been up close and personal with a lot of stars that the majority of us will only see through a screen. Has anything surprised you about meeting musicians you like?

Anytime I meet a musician whose genuinely down to earth and humble it surprises me. It’s easy for an artist to have a big ego when they’re in the music industry but when they're down to earth, it’s always a relief. I feel more comfortable taking photos of them and starting conversations. It’s even better when they like the photos I’ve taken.

Photo: Solange performing at Parklife Festival/Jonathan Williams

If you could photography anyone that you've worked with already, who would it be?

I’d love to photograph Dave for a magazine cover or brand campaign. Having the opportunity to work with him on something would be incredible. I’ve only had the chance to photograph him at concerts and festivals.

Photo: Earl Sweatshirt backstage at Parklife Festival/Jonathan Williams

What can we look out for next from you?

Definitely, more photos. Festival season is finished but a lot of artists are starting their tours in September/October. I’m hoping to photograph as many shows as possible before the year ends. 

Photo: Nas performing at Parklife Festival/Jonathan Williams

Well we certainly look forward to seeing them. Thanks for speaking to us!

See more from Jonathan via his website and his Instagram


You may also like...

Photographer Jinsun Park explores the stresses of the South Korean education system through her new photos series and think-piece exclusively for Sludge Mag



Using Format