'You draw your own doors' - an interview with Ed Mason

Ed Mason isn’t a name you’re probably familiar with. You may have seen some of his all-access coverage of a Charles Bradley show in Q Magazine or perhaps an abject photograph on a band t-shirt that you swear you were there when it was taken, deja vu. Mason is a music photographer living in Hertfordshire but based in London. This is technically Mason’s First Light, but like many photographers, he has been on the scene for a number of years. We took up a small corner of Marylebone to talk about music, subcultures, and art over coffee.

Even though the green pastures of Hertfordshire might be enough for some, the burning impetus to go in search of youth and culture we wouldn't find in our hometowns can be too big a burden to carry, so we migrate to where the culture is embroiling. Ed spent most of his genesis within the London DIY hardcore punk and metal scenes in the early 2000s, where at the age of 16 his teenage angst got the better of him and joined a punk band straight out of school.

'It was more of lifestyle, people hanging out and happenings in the van, it was that year I knew I wanted to do this full time'

“I fell in love with that whole concept of people from all over the country coming together for a tiny show,” he expressed. Somewhere down that same line, he joined the Hardcore band Last Witness, playing bass on their 2010 tour. This would prove to be the anthesis of his photographic career as it took over his creative impulses.

“It’s what set me off in terms of photography, it was the first tour I had been on where I didn't have a digital camera. I had my Pentax P30 and was taking film photographs for the whole duration - not really of the show - it was more of lifestyle, people hanging out and happenings in the van, it was that year I knew I wanted to do this full time.”

The pains of being pure of heart meant money, of course, was tight during this time, as it is for most photographers starting out. “Especially in the music industry, as people are willing to do it all for free,” he explained.

Mason briefly set out how a “trade-off” between bands and photographers is fairly common and is a means to an end in terms of promotion for both parties, “ride the wave” as he put it. It does, however, become monotonous and starts to wane on the purse strings when you are busting your balls to shoot shows and aren’t getting anything in return. This can mark the end of the road for some photographers. Mason however, had other ways to render it worth his time.

“I would try and get a bit of money here and there through putting my photos on t-shirts. Bands like Brutality Will Prevail, Last Witness, and More Than Life did one. Code Orange Kids recently did one. I love that band,” he said.

Working for Q Magazine

It was through Creative Commission that Mason was picked up by Q Magazine, this has catapulted his career into the mainstream media and has given him “a real confidence boost,” he explained.  His first gig was Run the Jewels at the infamous - firstly jazz/blues and later punk - venue, The 100 Club.

“It was going to be nuts, a tiny club with a big group. It's like shooting a hardcore show. That's what I wanted to do, shoot a Hip Hop show with lots of high energy,” he explained. What was tantamount to his journey was to come after, real piece of music history, a documentation of a rising star. Mason was commissioned to cover soul singer Charles Bradley at the Forum  two months ago.

“For him, he is overwhelmed every night that thousands of people turn out to watch him sing his songs. He's probably one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. I got to spend some time with him backstage and he took me through his outfits for the night and his set. We were getting some backstage portraits and it’s in a moment like that you could push an artist to try and squeeze as many photos out of him as possible but really it was about grabbing a few pictures in his natural state and allowing him to be comfortable.”

As Mason was about to leave Charles Bradley grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “look man don't worry about it, you take as many photos as you want, just be yourself.” I'm quite sure that Mason has always been himself, but a great accolade from the ‘The World (Is Going up In Flames)’ singer nonetheless.

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Going it alone

There are also other incongruous ways Mason has been able to work with other successful artists. Mason quit his job in December of last year to be a freelance photographer; something he assured me he had to have a “solid full go at”.

He was walking his dog back home with his friend and they were talking about how he could get work. His friend suggested he should email the Metal band Architects from Brighton, as he’d been on tour with them two years ago. When he got home he had an email from them asking if he’d like to go on tour with them. “It was one of them most surreal moments,” he said. He explained that the “stepping stones” he had took up until that point had made this no coincidence, “these things fall into place, you draw your own doors,” he expressed.

'These things fall into place, you draw your own doors'

One of Mason’s favourite photo’s he has took on the road is of Architects. There’s one of Sam - their front man - that holds particular nostalgia. Mason took it in Germany, where Sam is just stepping back off his riser and everyone in the crowd has their hands up. “He is turning around and looking at the floor with a blank expression. I like the juxtaposition between the crowd going nuts and he is just taking a breather from a sing-along part, but he looks very calm in that moment,” he concluded.

Although Mason is predominantly occupied with taking photos of subjects on the stage, his genuine artistic affinity exists off the stage, the real ‘human’ aspect to the industry. When the lights are down low and the screaming masses have gone home, Mason captures the essence of artists at their most relaxed state. We sometimes forget to acknowledge that great artists are people too, who go through the same rigmarole that you and I do on a daily basis. It is through this window into their lives that Mason’s ambitions as a photographer and as an artist - truly communicates.

Click here to find out more about Ed Mason