Meet Lisa Siciliano, Colorado’s finest concert photographer
A household name
If you’ve been to many of Colorado’s venerable music venues, you are stepping into hallowed territory.
There’s a good chance you’re also standing in some of the same spots that Boulder’s Lisa Siciliano has shot some of the most important concert images in the past two decades.
A former or current house photographer for Red Rocks Amphitheatre, The Boulder Theater, Bellco Theatre, Marquee Magazine, and several more, Lisa has patented the black and white shot.
Her impact is felt beyond Colorado, too. She has been hired by music producers and record companies worldwide and has been featured in publications across the globe.
You can view her stunning work on her website, at The Boulder Theater, and backstage at Red Rocks – if you happen to find yourself hanging out there.
Lisa took some time to answer questions about her work – a must read (and view) for anyone interested in learning about the craft, and fine art in general.
“Just like some painters prefer watercolor over oil, I prefer to work with film.”
The Colorado Sound: What was the moment /time that you knew photography was going to be your life’s work?
Lisa Siciliano: I didn’t necessarily have a moment. It all kind of just happened. But I did have a few shots that I took in the very, very beginning where I thought, “Hmmm, maybe I could be good at this.” Namely, at my third concert shoot ever I shot a photo of Marilyn Manson and it remains a favorite to this day.
What did you do before becoming a professional photographer?
I was a cocktail waitress at The Fox [Theatre], Boulder Theater and the Fillmore [Auditorium]. The Fox was the first job I got out here after college. I liked it but it wasn’t a life path or anything. I hated what I got my degree in and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life at that point. Photography didn’t start until my 30’s. It was all a big accident.
You’ve patented the art of black and white film. Why film?
I started with film because that is all that was available at the time. I created a certain look in that medium and wanted to continue with that look that is very film specific after digital came along. And, I found the only way to really do that was to keep shooting film. People take this to mean that I dislike digital photography and that is not the case at all. I think there are a plethora of really great digital rock photographers. But for me, just like some painters prefer watercolor over oil, I prefer to work with film. I particularly like the way the film picks up the stage light and the shadow play it creates on performers’ faces. The Iggy Pop shot is a great example of that.
Who has influenced your work?
Herman Leonard, the great jazz photographer; Danny Clinch, a modern day master; Baron Wolman; and my good friend Larry Hulst, who at 72 is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
How many concerts do you think you’ve shot?
Oh man, your guess is as good as mine. At least 500 I’d think. I could be way off!
Even though you shoot in film and can’t see it immediately, do you know immediately that you’ve gotten the shot?
Absolutely, one hundred percent. I always know.
One of the advantages of digital is its main disadvantage – an unlimited supply. How do you turn film’s disadvantage – a limited supply – into an advantage?
Having a limited supply makes me shoot so much better. I really can only take shots that matter. I am so much more conscious of framing and timing and deciding if the light is exactly right before I click. And say I bring two rolls, that’s 72 shots. Really, how many more do you need in three songs?
Another trick I learned somewhere along the way is never, ever shoot your last shot until the very last moment. This may mean I walk out of the pit with one shot left on my roll, but you just never know if you may need it.
What’s your favorite Colorado venue to shoot, and why?
Oh, that’s tough. The Pepsi Center is fun because of the adrenaline of getting escorted to the front of the stage at an arena show. Of course Red Rocks is amazing because it is outside and, well, it’s Red Rocks, but I think if I had to pick one it would be The Boulder Theater. The light is always great, the stage is accessible, the shows are intimate and the theater has always felt like home to me. There is just something to shooting a giant star like BB King in a setting like The Theater.
“For me a truly great shot only happens when myself, the light tech and the artist come together in that magic instant.”
Do you see a show differently than a fan?
For me a truly great shot only happens when myself, the light tech and the artist come together in that magic instant. If one of those people is out of sync then the shot goes from great to mediocre. So when I’m shooting as opposed to just watching as a fan I’m playing with that dynamic the whole time.
What’s the gig you shot that has given you absolute chills?
I got to shoot my 9-year-old daughter Isabella, playing at Red Rocks for Film on The Rocks. That was pretty freaking magic. Other than that, Neil Young playing “After The Gold Rush” as his opening song at Red Rocks. That was intense. The first time I got to shoot Slash and he was playing The Godfather theme right in front of me – that was another holy crap moment! Metallica, at Mile High Stadium, my first year shooting was a ton of adrenaline.
Generally, do your shots convey the emotion of the show, or do you find yourself discovering new emotions when you develop the film?
Interesting question. I usually see it how I hear it, if that makes sense.
What are your top five concerts that you’ve photographed?
Oh man, this one may be too hard to answer. Do you mean photographically speaking? If so, Grace Potter, BB King, Iggy Pop, Slash, Marilyn Manson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Roger Waters, and so many more. If you mean musically it would be different.
Which artists are you most looking forward to photographing this year?
Gary Clark Jr. I’ve never shot him before and he is really spectacular. David Byrne, Ben Harper, and hopefully some I don’t yet know about.
What larger projects are you currently working on?
I’m going to do a gallery tour of my work in Europe in the next two years. That’s in the works right now. Locally I’d like to do an in depth photo essay on the punk scene in Denver. I’m also collaborating on starting a new music publication that will have a focus on the social justice side of music.
Photographing shows sounds awesome but what’s the biggest challenge?
There are so many music photographers these days that is is much harder to get access than it was 20 years ago. I’d love to be able to just make art for the sake of making art. In the old days, even when I was starting out, you could just show up with your camera to many shows. But now you need to get in through a separate outlet. And then that outlet needs to get permission from the publicist. I would love to just show up and shoot but those days are over!
What advice do you have for photographers starting out?
Edit down your work!! Don’t show a bunch of mediocre shots. I’d like to see one amazing shot as opposed to 50 “meh” ones.
Be sure to view Lisa’s work on her website. Colorado sure is lucky to have her capturing images of our incredible music scene.