(Johnny Cash and John Carter Cash, June 21, 2003. Photo copyright Coston)
Featured Guest is the area of my website where I interview various cool people I have crossed paths with over the years from artists to musicians, actors, authors and more. Tonight I caught up with world class ace photographer and author Daniel Coston my old friend. Daniel is a very cool, down to earth incredible photographer who has worked with such artists as Johnny Cash, Son Volt, Wilco, Big Star, Roky Erickson, Guided by Voices and countless great musicians. His photos have been featured in People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Us Weekly, TV Guide, Rolling Stone, FX, CMT, VH1 (TV networks), Mix, Spin, CMJ, Billboard, Blender, Maxim, Revolver, Playboy, Alt. Press, Stance, Acoustic Guitar, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Harp, Mojo, Q, Uncut (UK), Vanity Fair and others. Daniel is also the author of several books and working on new projects coming up. Always a gift to catch up with a super talented and kind friend, it's great to speak with Daniel and hear a little about his history and news. Big respect and appreciation to Daniel for the photography he brings the world as he captures scenes of music of many great artists and individuals across the world. - G
1.Hey Daniel, always a pleasure to catch up with you bro. Thanks for taking the time today. Your photography work is known far and wide. I remember the excellent photos you took what seems like decades ago. What first inspired you to begin photographing musicians and where did you start?
DANIEL: Thank you, Gid. You’ve always been a good subject. I was first impressed as a kid by album covers. Beatles albums, 60s psychedelic albums, and 50s/60s blues and jazz albums, in particular. I can still name all of the photogs that worked with the Beatles. Album covers, album artwork or promo pics were like a portal to this unknown world of music.
I have toyed with taking pictures as a kid, but my heart was more in video and filmmaking back then. In 1995, I started writing sports for a weekly paper in Matthews, so I started taking photos for them. At the same time, I started writing for Tangents Magazine, and taking photos of bands around Charlotte. Literally, the first several bands that I photographed all bought my photos, or hired me to do more. After photographing Farm Aid in 1996, with the Beach Boys, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Son Volt, Doug Sahm and so many others, I could feel something saying, “Go this way. See where this leads you.” The marriage of music and photos was exciting to me, and I really haven’t stopped since.
2.Thank you man, it's always been a gift to work with you. It's awesome to see all your work with so many great artists. When you were starting out were there photographers that inspired you with their work and why?
DANIEL: Robert Freeman’s work with the Beatles from 1963 to 1965. Stylisically, I’m closer to Ethan Russell’s work on Let It Be. More documentary style, with use of muted colors. Jim Marshall, Henry Diltz, and all those that worked with bands in the 1960s and 1970s. My interests tend to fall into the visual artists of that era, and further back. I love the work of Edward Steichen, and his ability to re-invent his work every 15 years still pushes to keep evolving, and look at every project (music, and non-music) as part of the larger tapestry of creating. In working on a recent exhibition of my photos from 1996 to 2001, I was struck by how much my work was influenced by more documentary-style photographers of the early 20th century. Edward Curtis, and Walker Evans, in particular.
3.What are some of your favorite concerts you worked on internationally? I remember when you went to Iceland. Where have your travels taken you with your photography?
DANIEL: Yes, I worked with a band in Iceland for two weeks in 2005. Fascinating country. I went to England in 2008 to photograph the Zombies playing Odessey & Oracle for the first time ever. The photos with Johnny Cash in Virginia in 2003. Traveling with the Down From The Mountain tour in 2002. Work in New York with the Left Banke. There was also Garagefest in NYC in 2004, which was 45 bands in one day. Stooges, Big Star, New York Dolls, and so many more. Photographing Arthur Lee & Love playing Forever Changes, in 2003. Various travels for Beach Boys and Brian Wilson shows. Two days with Les Paul in Nashville, in 2003. Being in Austin, TX for Roky Erickson’s first stage appearance in 10 years. I’m heading out to LA next week for the second time this year. There’s been plenty of whirlwind trips along the way, but they’ve all been a fun ride.
(Wilco, October 2002 photo copyright D.Coston)
4.Very cool man. Do you have certain familiar techniques and inspiration or do you alter your perspective depending on the subject and theme?
DANIEL: I tend to stay pretty basic with my camera gear. Stay mobile, and keep moving with the subject. I tend to work more on gut feelings, and what feels right, at the moment. When you’re working on your own all of the time, you learn to trust tourself and your instincts. More often than not, it proves to be the right thing to do. The rest of the ideas change with the subjects. Every person and moment is different, so I like to let those ideas shape the work.
5.Do you have a partiality for black and white over color photos?
DANIEL: I did, for a number of years. I still think that a lot of my best work has been taken on B&W film. Paring down the colors makes you think differently about the photo, and the impact of the subject becomes more direct. Since I went most digital six years ago, I mostly shoot color. I feel like shooting digitally in color, and then changing it to B&W is cheating, a bit. It changes how you shot the photo, and then present it. Sometimes, the photos tell you what should be in color, or B&W.
6. Yes for sure. I know in recent years you have been working on a few books. What is your writing history and do you have any news on the book front?
DANIEL: I have four, currently. North Carolina Musicians: Photographs And Conversations. I co-wrote a book on the NC Rock & Roll scene of the 1960s, entitled There Was A Time, which is now in its second edition. I also co-wrote two editions of the Double Door Inn book, and there will be a revamped third edition, which will come next year. I also have a photo journal book of my years photographing the Briarhoppers. I have another book done, which is more of a kids’ book, but also appeals to adults. I’m also starting work on a larger project on one of my favorite bands, which I’ll hopefully put together in the coming year.
Sounds really great brother.
(Roky Erickson, March 2004. Photo by D.Coston Copyright)
7.Where can readers keep up with your work and books?
DANIEL: My day-to-day blog, danielcoston.blogspot.com, covers my writing and photography work. You can also go my websites, danielcoston.com, and danielcoston.photoreflect.com to see more of my photos. I also keep a log of my day-to-day adventures on my Facebook page, and that details how crazy my schedule sometimes gets.
8.Do you have any defining photographs you feel sum up chapters of your work and life and why those in particular?
DANIEL: The Cash photos from 2003. It was an amazing experience, and the fact that John Carter Cash has said that many of his favorite photos of his dad from that final year are my photos is a tremendous honor. The work I did on the early Avett Brothers and Drive By Truckers albums. Some of my photos of Guided by Voices, and Wilco, which the band used in their recent best-of. I don’t have to be in the photo to see myself, or my emotions at the time. They’re all there in the photo, at least for me.
9.Any favorite albums or music in recent years that inspires you?
DANIEL: Favorite bands, in no particular order: Beatles, Monkees, Left Banke, Beach Boys, Zombies, Bee Gees (first three albums), Guided by Voices, 13th Floor Elevators, Jayhawks, Sonics, 60s era Procol Harum, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, and many more.
Favorite albums, in particular order-
Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
Guided by Voices, Alien Lanes
Zombies, Odessey & Oracle
Love, Forever Changes
Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
Neutral Milk Hotel, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Superdrag, In The Valley Of Dying Stars
Son Volt, Trace
Beatles, Abbey Road, or Revolver
Television, Marquee Moon
and many more. I’m currently listening to Judy Henske & Jerry Yester’s 1969 psych-folk album Farewell Aldebaran, the new Monkees album Good Times!(which is astoundingly good), and Robin Gibb’s Sing Slowly Sisters (amazing dark orchestral pop album that was recored in 1970, and unreleased up until last year).
10. Great stuff. Any last words or news for people to check out?
DANIEL: I have three, count ‘em, three exhibitions of my work that you can see in the coming weeks. My ongoing retrospective at the Charlotte Museum Of History, an exhibit on the Milestone Club at the Levine Museum Of The New South until October 16th, and then a three-week exhibition of my early photos at C3 Lab, starting September 24th. Life goes by too quickly, so create as much of you can, and don’t hold yourself back from life.
True words and excellent advice. Really awesome Daniel. Congrats on all your projects and amazing work. Thank you for taking the time tonight and all the excellent photos you have taken over the years. Please stay in touch and let us know your news. Take care my friend, G