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Tom Maginnis of Buffalo Tom, shot during soundcheck in Ghent, Belgium in 2007

Shooting a photographic project – especially one that stretches over the years – is often a private affair. You shoot images which sit awaiting to be edited for weeks and months and years… the sense of accomplishment when they start seeing the light of day can be really rewarding.

Since 2004, I’ve been shooting my Soundcheck Sessions project in venues around the world. The idea, I think, is simple; shooting bands on black and white film, while they are soundchecking ahead of the night’s concert. There’s no flash and no posing; this is documentary-style shooting in empty, echoing venues.

After 25-odd bands and hundreds of rolls of film, I started exhibiting the project last year. Ten years seemed like a good point to take stock and start editing down shots for a collection that might one day make a book. After my debut show at the Zorki Photo Café in Cluj-Napoca, Romania last September and the Au Chat Noir café in Paris this March, my first London exhibition opened last Thursday at the LOMOgraphy Soho Gallery Store in central London.

The show is just a tip of the iceberg of the pics I’ve taken, all of them on black and white film (mostly the now defunct Fuji Neopan) and often pushed to ISO 6400. There’s some of my favourite pics from the last 10 years too; Lambchop’s William Tyler captured onstage at the Barbican in London a decade ago, a shadowy figure behind looping cables.

There’s a pic of The National’s singer Matt Berninger, captured at what might have been their last club show, in Luxembourg, in 2010, as their album ‘High Violet’ began catapulting them into stadium band territory. It was a rare treat to get to shoot them so close and personal.

I could have confined this project to London. The city I’ve lived in for the last 20 years, and which is blessed with many fine venues. But part of the fun of this has been travelling to other places. Over the years I’ve shot the mighty Lambchop in Zagreb and Istanbul; New Zealand’s peerless The Clean in New York; Kiwi indie legend David Kilgour during a sunlit soundcheck in Napier, New Zealand; and Crowded House ahead of playing their first-ever Russian gig in Moscow.

The Maccabees’ Hugo White at London’s Brixton Academy in 2009


The exhibition – which couldn’t have happened without the wonderful people at LOMOgraphy UK – is on until 12 July.

All the prints can be purchased as limited edition 16 x 12 handprints, printed at one of London’s best pro labs, Bayeux. If you’re interested, please email me stephendowling@yahoo.com.

David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights, on tour in Napier, New Zealand


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Stephen Dowling
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[…] Film photographer Stephen Dowling recently finished a ten-year project of shooting sound checks of bands all over the world. He’s shared a few photos on his blog. They’re great. Read Exhibition: Soundcheck Sessions LOMOgraphy Soho, London […]