Who: Marco Manzi, photographer
Marco Manzi is an italian photographer based in Helsinki. He started photographing in 2008 and is now well known in the finnish heavy metal scene, photographing bands, gigs and festivals. His work has also been featured in several magazines and publications internationally. Over the years Marco has shot several world-wide famous rock and heavy metal bands, such as Guns’n’Roses, Judas Priest, Rob Zombie, Black Sabbath and Twisted Sister. We had the pleasure to do an interview with him. So let’s begin!
1. You are originally from Italy. How did you end up in Finland and when did you come here? Do you feel you have found your inner Finn now after living here for a while?
Long story short: I fell for this country immediately when visiting on holiday right after high school. The nature, quiet, and the vibrant music scene were all a huge drive for me. Also I felt like it was the right time for a big change in my life, so a few years later I took the chance after I graduated from university to explore new possibilities.
I could have continued in Milan, where I also had just been offered a job. I still remember how nervous I was that evening, when I called the company to tell them that I decided to turn down their offer and move to Finland to continue my studies instead. That was over ten years ago and I am still here, so in retrospect I would say it was the right decision!
As for the second part of your question: I won’t deny that it was a bit difficult to adjust at the beginning – especially the first three, maybe four months – as people in Southern Europe are traditionally more social, chatty and open than most Finns, but with time I can say I easily began to assimilate into the local culture, and nowadays in many aspects I feel more finnish at heart, even though I am still proud of where I come from.
2. Do you think finnish people are shy? Have you adapted any coping skills for the finnish winter?
Uhmm, I am not sure if “shy” is the right word here, I would say “reserved”, more private, at least in my opinion. Of course there are exceptions, but I believe the culture as well as the climate and the geographical position also made Finland rather isolated, historically speaking. However I think that has been changing quite a bit in the recent years, when you look at the younger generations, in particular in the Helsinki area, where people have the chance to have more international encounters.
Personally I never really found coping with Winter to be an issue, I have lived for over twenty years surrounded by the Alps, so snow and the occasional freezing cold are something I was already very familiar with. I honestly prefer that to having +40 degrees or so in summertime, as in winter you can always wear more layers, while the opposite is a bit more complicated…
3. How did you end up being a photographer? Is there a certain thing that fascinates you with photographing?
I definitely have to thank my brother for that, but I am also lucky to have met many great people who believed in me over the years, and encouraged me to pursue this passion. As a teenager I used to play around a little with my parents’ film camera, but at the time I never imagined that would turn into such a big part of my life. Then, when I was sixteen, I made my entrance into the world of music journalism – at the time I started reviewing records, doing interviews with bands, and occasionally going to review gigs.
A few years into that, and one day I found myself having to take photos on my own in a festival in Germany. My brother borrowed me his camera, and once he saw the results he really encouraged me and pushed me to buy my own gear and start doing that more often. So, suddenly I found myself with my then brand-new Canon EOS 350D and a couple of lenses, and a whole new world opened up to me. Then I moved to Finland. It helped also that at the time I was mostly studying, so I spent a huge chunk of my free time between visiting new places, hanging out somewhere in the forest, or going to metal and rock concerts. Sometimes even two or three gigs in the same evening.
I immediately got hooked, and started learning more about photography, sometimes with courses, sometimes from other people, and of course through lots and lots of practice. Back then I was shooting mostly gigs and landscapes, then when I started to build up my gear a little, I began to explore other kinds of photography, and started doing for example also the occasional weddings, portraits, and band promos. Each of these have different requirements and different skills and it’s great to be able to challenge yourself every now and then with one new thing or another.
In live photography you have zero control over what’s happening on the stage, lights are constantly changing, the subjects are moving all the time in (mostly) unpredictable ways – unless, that is, you know the band well enough – and being able to catch a glimpse of the atmosphere and the emotions that are flowing from a particular moment for me is almost like magic. I also want to stress how important the audience is for me in this case, as the way people respond to the band’s performance makes a big part of what is the resulting atmosphere. I have seen fans going completely wild, others crying, others just standing there in adoration of the band. It’s so unpredictable and yet fascinating to witness people’s reaction.
I started shooting concerts from the perspective of being a metal fan myself, and as such, if I can look at a photo, not just mine but any photo, and say something like “I wish I was at that gig, it looks amazing!” or if I was present, recall how I felt back then at the gig, then I think that is a good shot, and my job is done. It doesn’t matter if the quality is not great, it’s more about what you get from that image.
When it comes to portraits instead the situation is quite the opposite, as in general you are the one controlling the entire scene, working with a certain vision in mind, and it’s the challenge of ultimately giving life to that vision that makes it worthwhile.
To sum it up, I see photography as this big creative outlet that allows me to express myself and show other people how I see the world through my lens. And as long as I feel I am able to do that, I will not stop.
4. Why do you like to shoot especially metal bands?
I grew up listening to all kinds of music, but in my early teens metal, in its many shapes and forms, really grew on me. Music has since been a huge part of my life, so it felt only natural for me that someday I would end up combining two of my biggest passions, metal music and photography, together.
I can think however about at least two more reasons as for why I mostly shoot metal bands: first, I guess it’s partly the energy and as I said before the atmosphere, that somehow I find more interesting. And also in terms of how I can connect much more to that kind of music. Besides, when it comes especially to extreme metal bands, they tend to put together way more interesting shows also visually – more of a ritual if you want to put it that way – and when a band can properly combine the visual aspect of their show with the music, it is far more appealing to me.
Lately I also came to think that thanks to listening to this kind of music and going to so many metal shows, I have met some amazing people, not just musicians but other photographers, concert organizers, fans, or any other figures in the music industry. Some are really hard-working people and you cannot ignore the amount of effort and passion they put into what they do for the love of music. So I want to do my part also to support those who make it possible to have these gigs in the first place.
5. What are your most favourite artists in this genre and why?
This is a very difficult question to answer. There are certain bands I grew up listening to and carry with me all my life, some bands I have listened to the most through difficult times, others through good times. And over the years I discovered many many more. The beauty of it is that I still have the chance to do that all the time!
So I don’t really want to make a boring list of names, but without thinking too much about it and just dropping a few: recently I have listened to quite a lot for example bands from Saxon to Sodom, with all sorts of stuff in between: ZZ Top, Bathory, King Dude, Demilich or even Sargeist come to mind. But in the end I would say practically every day I end up listening to different bands, so it really depends on what I feel like at the moment.
6. Do you have a special factor in your photos, that makes them recognizably your work?
You tell me! I am very much the first critic of my own work, and I do think that over time I might have developed a certain “style” of my own, but ultimately I leave the viewers to be the judges of that. Especially with live photos, I am hardly ever really 100% satisfied to be honest.
One thing I quickly learned however is not to look at what other people do, or not to compare your work to what others do, otherwise you can easily end up thinking stuff like “damn that shot is great! I wish I would be able to take photos like that too”. It’s good to acknowledge the talent of other people of course, and there are many skilled photographers out there all in their own right, but you don’t have to measure up to anyone but yourself, and you need to follow your own instinct and do what you think works for you. If it turns out that people like it, that’s all great, but don’t take photos to be better than someone else, take photos that you can be happy with.
7. What gear do you use?
At the moment I have two main camera bodies, Canon EOS 5D mkIV and its previous version. In concerts I mostly use a range of 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses or for smaller venues 50mm and 85mm lenses. I never use flash in concerts unless explicitly requested. Outside of concert photography it depends on what I am working on, but I have – or can get my hands on – enough equipment to cover most of my needs.
8. What tips would you give to a photographer who is just beginning his or her career?
Go out there and take photos. Try new things and new techniques. Put yourself out there and always try to improve your skills. As I already said, it’s OK to be inspired by other people’s work, but follow your own vision and no one else’s.
Slowly work on building a strong portfolio that you can then use to showcase your talent. When you have the passion for it and you keep doing what you like, all the hard work will some day pay off. Also it should go without saying: be thoughtful and respectful towards other photographers. We are all in the same boat, so let’s try to get along during the ride.
9. What advice would you give for bands in photoshoots?
A band’s image can be a huge part of its success. They say the “clothes make the man”, you know. In a sense that applies also to the appearance of a band. You see a photo of a band you have never heard of, and it is so easy to end up thinking whether you want to listen to them or not based on that.
Also in a gig, we process the visual information before the auditory one, and we are lead to think a show was successful or not according to that as well. Then again this does matter a lot less if the music is good enough. I remember Scott Ian saying this about the time he first got his hands on Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades”, as he looked at the artwork and put the record on: “Who the hell are these three Mexicans and how do they play so fast?”.
When it comes to photo shoots, there are bands who have a clear idea in mind of who they are, and what they want to look like, but more often than not there will be bands who have a concept in mind but that concept is still sort of blurred in their head. It’s then up to the photographer to work together with them on this vision and ultimately bring it to life.
Don’t approach this as something like “we just need some cool looking photos of us” or 99% of the time that will not lead anywhere. When working with a band I take an effort to listen to their music, to try to understand them better, their genre, their style… and I talk to them beforehand, discuss about the concept they want to work on, their requirements and possible constraints, and so on. I then start drafting out ideas and see where we go from there. But there are many things that factor in.
Everyone of course will have their own idea of what the final result should look like. So my main advice is: talk to the photographer, and take the time to plan things well in advance. It’s not just about taking some pictures, but there is a lot of work behind it, before, and after the photo session as well. People don’t always realize that good work takes effort, and good planning is very important.
10. What kind of photo shoots do you find most enjoyable and why? Festival, promotional or gig photography?
Let’s see… Festivals I find definitely to be the most fun, but also the most hectic. But they can be very rewarding, especially when you have the time to properly go around among the fans, inside the venue, or in the camping area, or wherever the people are hanging, really. Festival visitors tend to let themselves go the most, and that gives you the chance to see all sort of crazy things. It can be at times more interesting to take photos of the audience than the bands themselves!
When it comes to promotional shoots, I like when there is a challenge. I also need to feel something from it. Unless you are under specific restrictions from the band or the label, you have the control of it all, and it is up to you to make sure you get out of it something, that you and your client can be happy with. That can be also pretty exciting.
Lastly, when we talk about “normal” gigs, it’s more about the feeling and atmosphere of the night. I said this before, but to me it’s a combination of how the band performs, how the audience responds to that, and how the two elements merge and react, almost as if they draw energy from one another. Of course as a music fan sometimes I also get swayed by that kind of energy. Being able to show this in my shots, when it happens, that’s one of the things I love the most about shooting gigs.
Thank you guys for contacting me to have this interview. And a huge thanks also to everyone that has supported me and all the people who have enjoyed and appreciated my work up until now, and who will hopefully do so also in the future!