Music and photography have remained inseparable for Los Angeles photographer Nathaniel Wood. During college, whenever a band he liked came to town, he would quickly email the manager, the publicist, the tour manager, or anyone on their website for a chance to shoot the concert. He wanted to be in the thick of it, close to the action, away from the crowds. He needed to see a closer side of his favorite musicians. Photography granted him that.
From there, the range of Nathaniel Wood continued to grow. Nathaniel Wood never stopped exploring and eventually landed jobs with the New Yorker, VICE, Rolling Stone, and SPIN — basically, all the plush, cool, cigarette-smoke-through-the-nose clients every photographer wants or respects. Still, one thing has remained unchanged since the start of Nathaniel Wood: the documentary feel to his images, the way they put you there. They’re perfect examples of why you should shoot what you love.
In this interview, Nathaniel Wood talks about how he got his start in photography and how music helped shaped it, explains his documentary aesthetic, and plugs LA’s Tacos Villa Corona — this humble editor’s favorite burrito joint.
I really like how kinetic your photography is. How did you get your start? How would you describe your work?
I started out doing video but that whole process took so long. I realized I could make something cool in a lot less time with photography. I always looked at both mediums in a documentary sort of way. Even though my photos are way different now from when I started shooting, I feel that they still have that documentary quality.
When did you become confident of your abilities? Were you ever unsure of your talents?
Absolutely. I’m still unsure sometimes, but I think that’s a good feeling to have because it keeps you on your toes and makes you think more about the work you are producing.
You have a great ability to capture bracingly honest moments. The second-to-last image in Marshall for Vice is a great example (above). How are you able to consistently capture these moments?
With photos like that, it just boils down to being in the right place at the right time. Also, being prepared for that moment helps a great deal. For the Marshall job I was given the direction to take photos like that. Behind the scenes and in the moment. Getting that direction definitely helped shape the type of photos I captured.
Does being in the thick of it hinder your objectivity? How do you keep a critical distance from what you’re shooting? It seems like you’re truly engaged with what’s around you.
That’s how I get those types of photos—by being in the thick of things.
You also capture a lot of action. When out shooting, what guides your camera? How do you know when these moments are going to happen?
It all stems from being in the right place at the right time. But I have trained myself to be more aware of what’s going on. I definitely notice so many more moments now compared to when I started shooting.
How much does popular opinion of these celebrities inform how you photograph them?
It doesn’t. I don’t think about anything like that. I just try to take a cool photo.
You’ve worked with many other high profile clients. How did you secure your first one?
The first and best one would have to be when I toured with OK Go for six weeks. I had only been in LA a few months when I met the bassist, Tim Nordwind, through some friends. I told him if they ever needed a photographer to give me a call. A week later, they asked if I wanted to go out on tour. I got super lucky. They are the best group of dudes.
From browsing your portfolio, it becomes obvious that you love music. What draws you to capturing musicians, concerts, and the crowds that surround them?
That’s just where photography started for me. When I was in college and a band was coming to town that I liked, I would email the manager/publicist/tour manager/anyone on their website or Myspace and ask for a photo pass. It usually worked and that’s what started my love of shooting music. After I realized the type of access I could get shooting photos—that was it for me. Being close to the action is so much better than being in the crowd.
You’re based in Los Angeles. What do you think are the best advantages to working here? Any gripes?
The weather and the breakfast burritos at Tacos Villa Corona. No gripes at all.