Protagonists is an interview series about life, identity and pursuing passions…

Jess Gleeson is an esteemed photographer who’s snapped countless music festivals and bands throughout the country. Her work has featured in publications such as Rolling Stone, Frankie and many others.

(Feature image credit: Georgia Moloney)


How did you get started in photography? And why music?

I started by just taking a point & shoot Canon Powershot to my first gig (Panic! At The Disco) and spent far too much time looking through the dumb little screen, which is when I kind of realised that I was really into the idea.

I spent ages going through Flickr accounts of live music photos of artists I was obsessed with and it wouldn’t leave my head from then.

What’s your equipment of choice?

Canon all the way! Canon 5D MK III and 6D for bodies. My lenses are the holy trinity ‒ 24-70mm 2.8 Canon, 70-200mm 2.8 Canon, 16-35mm 2.8 Canon.

Favourite bands?

Currently… Methyl Ethel, Cashmere Cat, LCD Soundsystem, Polish Club, Halfnoise, Purity Ring, #1 Dads, That Poppy, Fazerdaze, NoMBe, Middle Kids, Lido, Dorsal Fins, Northeast Party House, D.D Dumbo.

All time… *NSYNC, Paramore, Phoenix, Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Rós, Montaigne, Arcade Fire, Big Scary, Gang Of Youths, Panic! At The Disco, Carly Rae Jepsen.

gang-of-youths
Credit: Jess Gleeson

You basically didn’t go to high school due to anxiety ‒ how did that manifest itself? How do you manage it now?

A lot of personal insecurities and a lot of naivety about how the world worked. I was also really ill for a while so that included a lot of days off ‒ with how kids can be, it wasn’t a good mixture. I was on antidepressants for about six months, then gradually forgot to take them and didn’t feel the need to jump back on.

A part of me hates that that was the majority of my teenagehood but another part of me doesn’t mind at all because it moulded me into the person I am, and I’m moderately alright with who I am now which is neat!

Anxiety for me is a huge matter of acknowledgement ‒ acknowledging your surroundings, what’s the cause of the anxiety, what I need for resolution etc. It’s all step-by-step. It’s easy to get so wound up in your anxiety that you can’t really see everything for what it is.

montaigne
Credit: Jess Gleeson

Talk me through your favourite venues and festivals?

Oxford Art Factory ‒ Kindest staff, good sound, nice room, one of the last of its kind in Sydney unfortunately.

Metro Theatre ‒ A good venue generally speaking! If you’ve been there, you’ll understand.

The Tivoli ‒ A GORGEOUS venue that isn’t too oversized but doesn’t feel squished at all either. Good middle ground.

preatures
Credit: Jess Gleeson

Splendour In The Grass ‒ This is practically My Dream Getaway. Three days of bands, people’s genuine excitement and being able to see friends from different states all in one place. Like a mini Christmas, really.

Groovin’ The Moo ‒ If you’ve been to GTM, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that it’s such a kind festival. It has the nicest vibe and they’re so thoughtful in what they book. I am very here for it.

Yours & Owls ‒ Y&O has been building itself up from the very start. I can’t help but admire that tenacity and how it’s slowly developed into such a massive deal with such strong foundations. I talk about this thing like someone’s built an ark and I’m not saying they built an ark but really it’s like a musical ark.

Sounds Of The Suburbs ‒ The whole festival is in a laneway. Maybe it needs to be extended out just a bit further ‒ maybe a street ‒ and be a little more prepared for the rain. But overall it’s a genius idea in how chill it is and the lineup curation is ace. It’s sick too because you don’t have to walk real far to see the different stages.

The Secret Garden ‒ Anyone that doesn’t love this festival is a liar. It’s so exciting and entertaining and there’s never a boring moment. If you ever do find yourself bored, you’re probably coming down from a high or you aren’t looking in the right places. TSG has like a hundred different little hidden adventures and things to be entertained by which is what you hope for in a festival that takes you away from everything mundane in the city/town areas you probably reside in. I’m really hoping they get me in to do a DJ set next year.

Halsey
Credit: Jess Gleeson

What kind of moments are you trying to capture at each gig?

The things that people might not notice in the performance and the obvious emotions from the artists when you can see they’re overwhelmed/excited/really damn into whatever it is they’re doing.

What’s your policy on people snapping on their phones at shows? What’s acceptable etiquette?

I think it’s fine to get a little video for your Snapchat/Instagram and it’s cute to get a photo for posting later or memory purposes. But to spend your entire time trying to get an amazing shot on your phone when you’re halfway up the venue feels a bit nonsensical.

Speaking from personal experience, you barely remember the show when you’re watching it through a phone. It’s also a tad awful for everyone behind you when your phone becomes the screen for the gig they’ve already paid money to see, y’know, in real life. Be respectful to the others around you is my main point.

jess-gleeson
Credit: Tim Keown

You’re not a tall lady. How do you go about getting the shots you need jostling in amongst other photographers?

I am not! People are usually quite courteous and respectful in pit situations to begin with and you kind of acknowledge your own height and the height of the stage and work around it.


You can keep up with Jess’ work here or find her on Instagram @gleesonjess / @chickensaltqueen.

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