The inaugural new So.co Music Photographer of the Year Awards kicked off early last month and has gained mass popularity among music photographers and industry fanatics worldwide. With a judging panel that includes photographer Scarlet Page and McFly bass player, Dougie Poynter.
The Awards has announced that David Hogan is the recipient of the prestigious ‘So.co Legend of the Year Award’ for his incredible photographic legacy and contributions over the last 40-plus years towards music and press photography, and creating the high standard it has reached today.
Music Photography is often an under-appreciated genre within the creative industry, especially so when it comes to recognizing achievements in the form of competitions and awards. But thankfully - with the introduction of the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards launched just last year, and now the inaugural So.co Music Photographer of the Year Awards - music photographers are finally the ones in the limelight, highlighting their artistry and devotion to the craft.
I had the opportunity to interview the brilliant (and super chatty!) Dave Hogan, or 'Hogie' as he is affectionately known by most, on what it meant to be the recipient of such a prominent title as So.co's first-ever Legend of the Year Award in 2023.
With a forty-year career as one of the biggest names in the music and press industry, Dave has toured with the Rolling Stones multiple times, and worked closely with the likes of Boy George, Madonna, U2, David Bowie, and Taylor Swift to name just a few, photographing every event from the BAFTAs to The Brits, and achieving worldwide distribution with some of the world's most iconic images.
Dave Hogan: the interview
The interview begins as Dave virtually shows me around his home studio with high wooden beams and a fancy desk setup. He’s so full of energy, and his passion for the craft already shines through in the first few minutes of speaking with him.
We get into talking about one of Dave's most famous images he's ever captured, of Madonna and Britney Spears stealing a kiss on stage in 2003. Dave recalls:
"I remember it really well because actually, it was the day I proposed to my second wife, we’re divorced now, but still really good friends. Anyway, we were going to New York and I had access to watch the dress rehearsals.
"On that particular day, I’d managed to get plum, right in the center, and I knew something was going to happen. I Didn't know what, and that’s the thing - you get tipped off a little bit, like okay, she’s gonna do something special, well everything with Madonna is something special, but you’ve got to be alert."
"What happened was Madonna was doing her bit, Britney Spears was there, and Christina Aguilera. You’ve got three really quite major female artists that are doing their sort of walking down the runway, almost as a bridal sequence, and Madonna gets to the end of the walkway and the first person she kisses is Britney, and as she turns her head, she kisses Christina on the other side."
"My camera had buffered, and then I think most of the other photographer's cameras had buffered. So the picture was Britney and Madonna, but I’m sure Christina’s PR would be going “Didn’t she kiss you as well?”
"That split moment is a technical difficulty, as in the old days before burst mode came in, you couldn’t just press the button and shoot fifty shots, it was like [b-zzing, b-shinng] as it would be buffering. So that moment was immortalized with Madona and it was probably one of the most talked about pictures I think I’d done in years."
"I mean there were a couple of other people who got it, I wasn’t the only person but because I got it in The Sun, which was almost like the shot window to the world, other people would then call up, but there were probably four or five other photographers who got the shot too - but it’s about who delivers it quickly on the wire, and what exposure you get from doing that."
Photographers all after the same iconic shots, like a pack of lions feasting on the same prey, appears to be a common theme in Press photography - except it's gotten much easier in the digital age with time being the crucial factor, explains Dave:
"It’s like Chris Rock getting slapped by Will Smith, there’s a bank of photographers that are on 600mm lenses. Hopefully, you’re going to be alert to actually get that magic moment, and everybody will get it from a certain angle. If you’re working through AP or Reuters or whatever, and you get it, then it’s gone around the world instantly, you know?"
The first time that Dave photographed Madonna was when Boy George introduced him to her in a nightclub in 1983, during the time when she was starring in the movie Desperately Seeking Susan.
"I was in this New York nightclub with him [Boy George] and there was this famous quote. He understood photography, understood the power of having somebody on side with him, and he had a birthday party at one of the clubs where there were beds - and we were all having afternoon tea. And that was one of those times where he was quite good with words. So he'd say, "I'd rather have a cup of tea than sex". Then, you know, you've instantly got a great headline with a good picture that goes with it."
"So he [Boy George] was introducing me to people. And he just said this woman [Madonna] is going to be big, you need to photograph her. So I did. And I certainly don't think it got used at the time because it wasn't the right time. But from that moment on, when somebody that you trust and respect, and you know, people like Simon Cowell or whatever, says This band is gonna be big, you just do what you can do. Right? And it may not be for six months, but you know that if you have that caliber of management and PR around you, then they will deliver. And so that's the philosophy I've always had."
This was all during a time without any social media or major digital technology, and as Dave insightfully explains, you had to put yourself out there and offer something special to earn those big opportunities.
"The only way you could get your band talked about was by flying the journalist and the photographer to Los Angeles, to New York to whatever. Now, everybody's got an iPhone. Everybody's on Twitter, social media, so I had the glory days, because, you know, it was like, you know, if you had a camera, you were invited there, because you could give them what they wanted."
"It wasn't the case that you went to New York, and would just party, create the pictures, and go out. It involved doing the job, and I'd open up a photographic lab to process the film, and be wiring pictures all night. Then when the office opened in the morning, there was a good set of pictures ready for them to use. And the lucky thing was, nobody else would spend that money to do it. So you would always be the first with them."
"I'd go to a five-star hotel that would be paid for by the record company. It was nice to be there, but I'd have a pair of crocodile clips and I'd be trying to get my wire machine through the technology so that I could actually get a picture and the wire aligned back to London without it cutting off. So technology was the one thing that would cause me stress. Taking a picture is a piece of [ censored], you know? It was dead easy. But transmitting that picture back was the hard part. You could be the world's greatest photographer, but if you missed the deadline that's it."
Speaking of stress, Dave understands that things might be easier now in the world of technology, but in other areas, music photography is an increasingly difficult profession for the next generation to get into or make a living from.
"I really try not to be an old fart, because there's a lot of really great, great talented photographers out there, that can outshoot me. And I know that they can outshoot me. I'm just very lucky that I get my VIP access position. I so love the young up-and-coming photographers, because I just watch them and I think that was me, that was me probably 20/30 years ago. And it's great that people are so passionate about what they do."
I myself started photographing gigs at the age of 14 and had to sneak in my bridge camera to venues by hiding it under my armpit in a baggy jumper, and ten years later as I describe to Dave, it's still just as difficult for new music photographers, having to contribute on a volunteer basis for free to music press in exchange for photo passes just to get a foot in the door.
"People used to say to me, How'd you get in there? So well, a lot of the time magazines and local papers, they haven't got the budget, haven’t got this or that. But it's great if you're enthusiastic and you offer something new to it, don't go there with the first thing going, "how much am I going to get paid?" Because they've got no budget, there is no budget anymore. It's the opportunities that arise when you make your own opportunities."
"Suddenly you see the band, the band like that picture, and then the band may say, 'Oh, could you come and do some more stuff for us?'. But if you haven’t bothered getting out of bed or going down there and giving it a go, you're always going to be sitting there. And I'm a great believer in, you know, giving people a chance given these things. And it's really important to give the next generation the same chance that I was given."
"If you do a photography course, nowadays, and you can barely get under a couple of 100 quid for the shift, plus you've still got to have 10 grand's worth of camera gear, and you've got to have a computer, you've got to have probably transport or, you know, there's certain things you've got to have nowadays before you can even submit a picture. It's all changed."
"You've got to adapt, and they're [the media] adapting in their way. So you either whinge and moan, and the last thing anybody wants is another whingey Moany photographer, because there's enough of them out there. Every day, I wake up, and I'm excited, just to visually see things, whether I snap it on my iPhone, or I'm photographing Madonna and Britney, or Rolling Stones, I love it. I think it's because I'm dyslexic. It's almost like my snapshot diving."
Dave's son is a lawyer, and has just had his first child, a baby girl! As a new grandfather, Dave resents the idea of being "an old fart", as he calls it, and hopes to embrace new technology as much as possible.
"Because I'm dyslexic, I don't really follow A to B to C instructions. And I don't think a lot of creative photographers that I know do either. There's some people that will have read the manual. And we all go to film premieres, and we'll just ask certain people, 'what does this do?' We know that they will have read it, you know, but I'm not going to change the way I am now, I love to be up to date with what's going on but I have to have somebody show me, and then I’ll understand it."
"I was talking to him [Dave's son] about having a career where it takes you away, and it takes you around the world. And he just said dad, it's what you did. And I was going, Yeah, well, you're the same with your lawyer career, you know, nobody gets into great positions by finishing at five o'clock every night. You've got to give a little bit extra. And you've got to be passionate about things. And if you're passionate, you know, the other things will come along with it. That's what I believe in."
Wondering what gear Dave typically shoots with? He's a Nikon guy.
"When I work a big event, I'll have three cameras with me. There's one around me neck, one down here one there," he says pointing to his chest and shoulder. "And even though I'm shooting on my main camera, which is the [Nikon] D6 I'll have a second D6, and then I'll have a Nikon Z six or whatever."
"I'll make sure I've got a few frames on each camera, just in case because you know, a card could corrupt or this could go wrong, you don't know technology sometimes, something could go wrong. And it doesn't matter. Nobody's gonna go, 'Oh, that's okay', they're just gonna think you're [censored].
On receiving the news of being So.co's first ever Legend of the Year for 2023, Dave said he was speechless.
"It is the greatest recognition of going out night after night, and doing things that I love. But if somebody comes to you and says, we're gonna give you an award for this, that's what's so special. Honestly, it is the best award that's ever happened to me in my life."
"I've won a few awards back in the 90s, but to be honoured by the first So.co Legend Award, other than having three kids, it is the best experience I've ever had because it validates those times where you've had to let somebody down. Or you've made them a last minute call saying that you can't be there, because that's what I've done."
"For 40 years. I've put this job first. Saying 'I'll make it up later', and it's difficult, but that's why I'm still doing it. And I still get so excited about things that are coming up. I love all aspects of taking pictures, and a recognition of this kind is the best that could ever happen this year."
Just before the Zoom interview drew to a close, Dave offered some fantastic last minute advice for newcomers to the genre of music photography, and his final words of wisdom were:
"Persevere. Ask. Go to your local paper. Go and suggest things. Because everybody wants content nowadays, and if you're providing content, then you'll get used. And then suddenly, out of the blue of all those things you did such as the odd concert, the odd gig. or the odd picture, somebody will say 'can we hire you for this?'".
"But they're not going to hire you until you got the experience. So it's a cat and mouse thing. Get out there. Take pictures. And if you can't, you know, if you can't get into a big concert, then go to your local concerts."
"Strive for the best, you know, because you will get better. Take lots of pictures, and then I'd be ruthless in your editing before showing 2000 Pictures to people who are gonna get bored after the first 10. Get your mates to choose your best 10 pictures out of that, and then somebody else, and suddenly you've got a great set of pictures."
He also suggested that all photographers in the pit should have a group hug at the end of every festival, and his love for new and emerging photographers and level of respect he has for the younger generations was a breath of fresh air.
Be sure to visit Dave's website for more information on his fantastic portfolio and extensive career, and keep up to date with the So.co Music Photographer of the Year Awards which will be announcing its final winners on March 27, 2023, at an awards ceremony in London.
• You may also want to take a look at the best camera settings for live music photography, as well as 5 essential tips for editing live music photos, by expert Christie Goodwin, and be sure to get your live music images ready for the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards in 2023.