Music Photographer Angelina Castillo Tells Incredible Stories

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All images by Angelina Castillo. Used with permission.

Photographer Angelina Castillo may be familiar to some of you. She had a series of photos go viral recently which featured “Sad Dads” at One Direction concerts. While the internet may have enjoyed that series, what’s even more incredible about her is all the stories that she has to tell as a music photographer.

She hails from Texas and began taking photos at a young age because she didn’t want to pay to get into concerts. When adulthood beckoned, Angelina moved to upstate New York to attend Ithaca College. While there, she tells us that she “studied things totally irrelevant to real life, met some very wonderful people, and realized how little she liked snow.”

In 2012, she moved to Nashville and started shooting photos for Third Man Records. Angelina was recently chosen by the Impossibly Project as a photographer to experiment with the company’s new special edition film that they designed in collaboration with Jack White’s music label. And while she created some very cool photos with it, you’ll want to hear more about the industry from her perspective.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you first got into photography.

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Angelina: I was born and raised in Austin Texas, and honestly I started photographing live music just so I could get into shows for free. Growing up I wanted to attend way more shows than I could afford on a lifeguarding paycheck, and I realized sometime in late high-school that I could get local bands to list me if I sent them some halfway-decent photos the next day.

Phoblographer: What got you into music and concert photography?

Angelina: Like I said, I’ve been into music photography since I picked up a camera. Concerts look a lot cooler than most of what goes on in life, and it’s always been a fun challenge for me to try and capture the vibes and energy of a live show in a 2 dimensional image.

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Phoblographer: Photographers in the music world have had a problem with getting paid for years and as the music industry has evolved, so too have the photographers needed to adapt. What trends have you noticed and how have you tried to stay on top of them?

Angelina: The most noticeable and meaningful trend is that, due to such rapid and financially accessible advances in photo-tech, it’s now pretty damn easy for the average person to make a decent image that rivals what us career photographers produce on the daily. Especially when shooting live music, if you want to stick out from the crowd you have to produce shots that make people feel that their very mortal soul is mid-rapture.

I have buddies who started shooting music industry stuff on film in the 80s, 90s, and earlier who talk about being the ONLY person to have photos of some big event, like a Rolling Stones gig or something. I’ve always been envious about that inherent marketability that rarity got them. Being the only person to have photos of an event is unheard of nowadays, and that supersaturation from other photographers and fans alike is what makes it hard to charge a “live-able” amount for music photos. Why pay a career photographer $350 for the event and one-time licensing when they could pay Timmy from the front row $20 to re-post the pic he tweeted?

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I guess I try to stay on top of these trends by producing photos that make people feel that their very mortal soul is mid-rapture. Gotta edge out Timmy from the front row, ya know?

Phoblographer: You use Tumblr a lot for marketing and showcasing your images. Has your Tumblr been responsible for getting you more work? What’s your strategy for posting content?

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Angelina: I love Tumblr as a more casual portfolio. It’s a great place to show your favorite images, but also the process and the fun mis-steps that go into making my favorite images. A lot of times I feel like my blog much more accurately represents what you get when you hire me. Sometimes it’s weird, but it’s only when you’re not afraid to try the weird stuff that you get really beautiful and unique stuff.

Usually my gigs come more from word-of-mouth than social media. There was a period, however, where I got a BUNCH of offers of work from tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Last summer I had a photo set of “Sad Dads” at a One Direction concert go viral. It was the top post on Reddit, featured on the Today Show, Cosmo, Buzzfeed, TIME… basically every news source your parents pay attention to.

I had people from all over the world asking me for photos. It was very flattering and hilarious, but I had to politely decline most of them. Sorry, Forni from Iceland. I really did want to take pet portraits of your salamanders. Holler if you/they are ever in Nashville.

Phoblographer: To you personally, what makes for an awesome and absolutely kick ass image that you’d want to include in your portfolio? And with that said, what goes through your mind during the shooting, culling and editing process to ensure that you get more keeper images?

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Angelina: I try to capture moments that are more unique and candid, even if they are not the “perfect” presentation of the subject that you might see in press shots and other promo material. I had a quick backstage portrait session with Loretta Lynn around the very beginning of my career. I’ve got dozens of photos of her posing and smiling, but to me they pale in comparison the one photo of her wiping some glamorous little sweat drops from her brow after she got offstage.

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Another of my main goals is for my photo to make you feel the way the show, or the artist, makes you feel. If I’m shooting Trash Talk, I want my photo to make you feel like you want to punch someone and then help them up so that they can punch you. Shooting Willie Nelson, I want my photos to make you feel like you are on the front porch with your buddies on a cool night, stoned out of your skull, looking’ at nice things. Shooting Jack White, if you do not feel like you just bowled a 300 game at The Garden Bowl with a megababe of your chosen gender on your arm while Beefheart blasts over the PA, I am not doing my job right.

Culling is, quite honestly, my least favorite part of the process. Even the ones that are truly rough, I feel an attachment to, because I made them, you know? Even my ugliest babies I don’t want to leave for the wolves.

Phoblographer: When the Impossible Project wanted to work with you guys, what first went through your head? It seems like you’ve got some experience with Instant film photography already.

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Angelina: I LOVE instant film and use it for almost every shoot I do, either as b-roll or the main format. Every time I see a classic stock discontinued, it tears away a little piece of my soul (fp-3000B’s demise took at least 1/4 of the entire remaining portion of soul).

To have the company I work for and love so much team up with the awesome folks at Impossible Project to launch a whole NEW film stock is mind-boggling, and, as a photographer, the most exciting thing we have ever done (don’t tell the musicians). It’s like they’re a group of kids planting saplings in a recently felled forest and they just asked us to help them water their little trees. Makes me happy beyond words.

Phoblographer: Where do you think Instant film belongs in the music photography world? Lots of work that we see is digital but there are lots of incredible instant film images too.

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Angelina: Instant film belongs anywhere you want to put it. I’ve used land cameras to shoot punk shows, and taken photos for album covers 30 year expired polaroid film. Wherever you use it, I guarantee it will look nothing like anything that people are shooting with DSLRs. I love my full-frame Nikons/Canons/Sonys etc, but it’s really hard to make your images stand out in a field where everyone else is using basically the same equipment.

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When you are shooting instant film, people are EXCITED for you to take their photo in a way that they never are with digital. First of all, everyone looks great on film. It’s a fact. Your skin will look like a sun-kissed baby’s butt in a Rembrandt. Secondly, instant results! It’s exciting! I was once in a bar here in Nashville to shoot an impromptu punk show and saw Thurston Moore hanging out by the pool tables. I asked if I could take his photo with my 360 Land Camera, and he kindly obliged. We chatted until the photo developed, and after I peeled it his face lit up and he said “Oh man that’s SO COOL! Wow. Hey where where’s the 8 ball? Can you take another one and I’ll pull a face this time?”

Phoblographer: Tell us the story of your favorite image that you’ve shot.

Angelina: I have no idea what my favorite photo is (don’t make me Sophie’s Choice it) so can I go with favorite story? Ok cool.

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A few months ago, Jim Jarmusch came by Third Man with his super sick band Squrl to record a live album in our venue. The guy is one of my favorite ever directors and I greatly admire his work, but I was leaving on a 2 month tour in our Rolling Record Store the next morning at 7am and was unable to even watch the show.

So ok, set the stage. Something I try to do for all of our live shows at Third Man Records is to make a correspondent live darkroom print. Basically, shoot an artist before the show, develop 5 prints in the darkroom while they perform, and sell 3 to customers as they exit the show, leaving 1 for the artist and 1 for Third Man.

So I squeezed out some prints for Jim and his crew in the heat of frantic packing. The next day I get a text from my coworker saying “Jim was super impressed with your prints”. I was psyched but forgot about it pretty soon after getting distracted by tour stuff.

A couple of weeks later we were in Iowa City working in the Rolling Record Store at Mission Creek music festival. I’m looking down a long queue of people waiting to buy vinyl, and who do I see waiting at the end of the line but Jim Jarmusch and his Squrl bandmate Carter Logan. I have them come inside our little mobile shop. It’s kinda blurry but all the while we’re talking, Jim and Carter are gushing all about the darkroom prints I made for them “I’ve never seen anything like it!” “That live darkroom print is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen a photographer pull off” and, from Jim (this one stuck out in my mind) “Your work is really incredible. I thought it might be when we met but you’re never sure. But it is.”

I’ve had the honor and pleasure to work with so many people I admire, but I’ve been inspired by Jim J’s films since I have given a shit about art. To have someone who has directly inspired me seek me out in a different city weeks later to say that they think my work is “really incredible” left me floating.

At this point I told Jim truthfully that my solo portrait of him at TMR hadn’t come out because my Polaroid 360 Land was out of film (doh!). He said “well we gotta redo it then.” So we did. Here’s that.

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