A portrait of Moby by Rahav Segev: Having been born [in Israel] and spending all those years there – that aspect of my personality, I wouldn’t trade for anything.It’s an unusually balmy evening for early April in Midtown Manhattan. Under the glowing red neon marquee of Radio City Music Hall, lanky teenagers clad in fashionable jeans and t-shirts are already beginning to gather for the sold-out opening performance of Maroon 5, this year’s Grammy Award recipients for Best New Artist.
The New York Times has slated this performance for a concert review, and they’ve assigned veteran rock photographer Rahav Segev to provide some intense visuals to illustrate the article.
Before the concert, Rahav speaks with ISRAEL21c about his life and a career. One that has taken him from a childhood in Israel, to the fast-paced routine of a hungry New York freelance photographer and on to a short list of go-to photographers in today’s music industry.
Rahav was born in Jerusalem and spent his early childhood in Israel. He split his time between Israel and America after his parents divorced. His high school years were spent in Israeli schools. He returned to America for college, and later studied photography at the famous Parsons School of Design.
He got his first big break from the New York Times in 1990. Since then, his work has appeared on the covers of Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Guitar Player, and others. He’s been published inside magazines such as Blender, Vibe ,Time, Newsweek, People and Us and he’s shot numerous album covers.
While a music photographer’s work may be glamorous, the thirty-nine-year-old describes his as a pressure-laden profession that requires skill, imagination, determination and relentless self-marketing in order to succeed. It is also a life that he embraces with the love and passion of an artist that has found his true calling.
One of the greatest challenges for any photographer is working with subjects in motion in low-light conditions, which is precisely the sort of situation typically found on stage during a rock performance. Through endless experimentation and sheer determination, he has turned this huge obstacle into his greatest asset. He explains the challenge and his technique:
“There is a common rule in concert photography called ‘three songs, no flash’. In other words, you often only get the first three songs to get your shots, and you can’t use a flash. You have to use whatever light is available on stage.”
“I enjoy using ambient light. It’s probably a big part of why I succeed at live concert photography. A lot of the time it’s all you have to work with. When I can use a flash, I love to mix it with what’s out there already, which I think creates beautiful shots… I like the randomness that happens sometimes too, creating blur with slow shutter speeds and mixing light sources to create a dramatic effect.”
Rahav does not work in music photography exclusively. He estimates that about 70 percent of his work is music related. Recently he has been accepting more assignments in the realm of fashion shoots. However, he routinely turns down job offers that do not involve photographing people. For him, people are what makes photography consistently interesting.
“I love the spontaneity you have when you work with people. It’s edgy. It’s dangerous. You never know what’s going to happen. You don’t know how [your subject] is going to react to you and you’re going to react to them. I love being in the moment with people you’re shooting, joking around and breaking the ice and when it starts to work and you and they come up with something great it’s an awesome experience. I love the interaction that you have with that person. You can’t have that with a bottle of cologne at a still life shoot.”
Great photography requires preparation and organization, and Rahav recalls the toughest shoots were the ones which left him scant time to take photos or were missing important props or other elements.
“There was a time Rolling Stone sent me to shoot P.J. Harvey, and by the time we got to meet her, we had literally two minutes to take pictures and come up with something interesting – and it was in her dressing room, which is not usually an interesting setting, but I just went with it and in the end it turned out great.”
Another time, Rahav was shooting a non-music assignment for a motorcycle magazine, Iron Horse that involved real bikers, as well as sexy models. The shoot became a nightmare.
“First, the make-up artist cancelled on the day of the shoot. Then the clothes didn’t arrive. Then the lone biker who had showed up said that maybe his friends weren’t coming… After all this insanity and much drinking, we pieced together a shoot using what we had on hand and it turned out to be great, much better than it looked like it would turn out at the beginning of the day.”
The musical acts Rahav has shot are too numerous to list, but include U2, Madonna, Prince, Phish, J. Lo, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey and Robert Plant to name a few. It takes a lot to make a music photographer star-struck, but Rahav mentions his recent shoot of Plant as one of the peak experiences of his career.
“It was one of those moments where you’re standing there holding the camera and you just can’t believe you’re here doing this.”
Rahav admits that he hasn’t yet become a household name in the business, though he sees himself as part of an ‘underground’ of quality photographers. In keeping with that theme he’s planning to open a basement gallery in the East Village that will feature his work “as well as others that I dig.”
The name of the gallery? ‘Naim.’
“It will be pronounced like ‘name’ but have that double meaning with the Hebrew word ‘naim’, which means pleasurable or enjoyable.”
That Rahav chose a Hebrew word for his gallery’s name is no accident.
“I’m definitely an Israeli,” Rahav says. “I identify myself as an Israeli…Having been born there and spending all those years there – that aspect of my personality, I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
If Rahav has a dual identity, it is specifically as a New Yorker as opposed to more generally an American. He tried living in Los Angeles, with its many professional advantages, but he returned to the Big Apple after two years. Like many New Yorkers, he was deeply affected by the events of September 11, 2001, but he also experienced it through the eyes of a photographer.
“I could see the Twin Towers from my roof, one of the towers was already down. I watched the other one fall and I just didn’t want to shoot it. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“I went down to Ground Zero the next day because I felt I had to. Even though they had shut everything down and it was closed off, I snuck in with my cameras and I volunteered down there for two days. I had to go down there and see it with my own eyes because I couldn’t get my mind around it any other way. While I was down there I did take photographs.”
And what did he do with the photographs?
“Absolutely nothing,” says Rahav, “They are sitting in my files. I’ve made contact sheets, but that’s it.”
Rahav has a deep emotional attachment to photography, and he describes how he wants his body of work to be remembered in visceral terms.
“I hope that I get to the point where my photos will be thought of as images that can connect you to what was happening when they were shot and that move people on an emotional level in the same way the some of my favorite photographers do for me.”