My name’s Shanti but I usually go by LTTL and I have been a band photographer for about 10 years. I started off as a fan of a Canadian live band photographer, my friend Dani, who inspired me to take a camera to my next gig to take photos myself. It was through my friends at that time that I decided to take my photography more seriously and my quick snaps turned into more well planned out shots. I studied hard during this time. I’d grab all the music magazines I could and just studied the live photographs hard so I knew what editors were looking to publish.
At first I was taking photos of the bands I loved at the time: I Killed the Prom Queen, the late From Autumn to Ashes, The Hot Lies, the band my brother played bass for : Irrelevant, After the Fall, Gyroscope, etc. You get it. It was a time when my clothes turned from v-neck sweaters and cuffed jeans to skinny jeans, band t-shirts, Macbeth shoes and a long sweepy fringe. Yeah. I was emo.
When I studied at Wollongong TAFE I started to photograph hardcore bands in both Wollogong and Sydney. By accident I walked into gigs where such bands were playing as The Lost Gospel, Evermore and Brian Estepa. I remember looking at Phil Jamieson with a mixture of confusion and anger in my I Killed the Prom Queen hoodie when a hardcore band I wanted to see at The Oxford Tavern obviously were not playing that night. But I did end up seeing The Lost Gospel again when I had a more open mind to different genres.
I befriended such bands as The Hot Lies, Trial Kennedy and After the Fall and so got on guest lists and a few media passes, and I got exposed to more of the Sydney emo scene. I started to take photos for Faster Louder and took photos of a number of emo and indie bands. Lost Through the Lens was beginning to get well known in the punk/rock/emo scene. One year though I got really active in the indie scene who hate anyone who’s not wearing what they wear, listening to what they listen to, taking the same sort of drugs they do – it was a more pretentious version of the fashioncore emo scene. But I took photos of some great bands during that time and going to Purple Sneakers and get as drunk as I could so I could tolerate the hip hop and r’n’b they were playing for some reason, was a great way to spend my early 20s. It was a great place to pick up too. There were the Hot Damn! nights too and I became a pretty good social photographer.
When I became a house photographer at Roadhouse Music (formerly The Yallah Woolshed) after being caught for posing as the house photographer there, my first shoot and test to see if I had what it took to become the house photographer, was Dallas Crane and The Cops. I hardly knew anything about them. I knew about Dallas Crane – those pesky emo kids said that were dirty old men – and I thought it wouldn’t be a bad test shoot. I was more hopeful to take photos of You Am I to get my photography more exposure. I hardly knew anything about them too.
Not long after I became the house photographer for Roadhouse Music and looking back I couldn’t have known how much being there has shaped my taste in music. Roadhouse put on the emo and hardcore bands I liked like Kisschasy, The Hot Lies, The Getaway Plan, I Killed the Prom Queen and supports by my friends in local hardcore bands like Maryjane Kelly, Kohere, the more emo Self-Titled and more. But they also had me taking photos of The Black Keys, Paul Kelly, Limbeck and those were some really relaxed gigs for me. I enjoyed nights when I could just relax after snapping my quota of shots for the Roadhouse and just kick back with a beer from my free bar pass and stand with the boss and watch some blues band. There was a time when I began to think to myself, ‘I’ll probably start listening to this type of music when I get older, like mid to late 30s.’ I actually started much earlier than that, around 23 or 24 and at 28 I am seriously in love with You Am I, Dallas Crane, The Ape – I can’t list anymore – there’s just too many. I listen to those bands now and love them now. That’s all you really need to know.
OK, so what year are we up to now? 2008? Oh good, this is where everything came apart. Although I was a great live band photographer with this intense drive and hope to be on my way to become a professional and I was getting media access to some pretty huge gigs, international tours too – there have been a few hiccoughs along the way and situations that made me begin to stagnate and even lose confidence in myself.
First, I was always under extreme stress at these gigs. My stomach would churn, I’d get annoyed with drunk punters and feel like punching out security. I never did because didn’t want to get arrested. They treated us photographers like animals so I did the best thing I could think of – play dumb. ‘You only get to shoot for 3 songs’ they said. My reply, ‘Oh, what, really – sorry.’ I don’t do that anymore. I’m all profeshunal like now.
Then came my Asperger’s diagnosis and the stress melted away. I felt like I understood why I was so stressed out and I became pretty spacey, and stopped feeling socially anxious. I had my answer – I was autistic – and I was fine with that. I felt dumber than other people with Asperger’s which led to my diagnosis of ADHD and I was prescribed Ritalin. A year before this I was put on an anti-depressant for severe mood issues but then exposure to strobe lights resulted in a huge public meltdown, then I was pulled on stage by Davey Lane and a couple days later got to meet and hang out with You Am I.
I had to adjust to the Ritalin so I took some time off going to gigs. When all the early side effects were over I felt like I could see clearly for the first time. In my years on Ritalin I have overstuffed my bookshelf with books on physics, science fiction and art lessons. I taught myself advanced math and high school physics. My photography and editing skills were also getting better. I would go to about 5 gigs a week and then collapse and then I decided, ‘best not do that again.’
I was no longer with Faster Louder but with The Dwarf and I didn’t get as much access to gigs as before and so to keep myself preoccupied I started to write a science fiction novel after the success of my two or three Doctor Who fanfictions. I like science fiction.
The next barrier to my live band photography would come in the form of PTSD which I won’t go into because, triggers. I moved to Sydney in late 2011. The first band I saw was You Am I at Annandale Hotel which was so close to my home I felt like this was the beginning a new perfect life. But 6 months later the trauma happened and it resulted in me being locked in my house for two years. I would fear for the safety of my nephews and get anxious over my family members going out at night.
Eventually, I had to leave the house to see two bands I couldn’t say no to. And I said ‘no’ to seeing Refused live. Those were Thursday and Funeral For a Friend. But the first gig I had to go to alone was Davey Lane when he supported Bob Evans. I was constantly scared for my own safety and had paranoid delusions about those around me but I still went, said ‘hi’ to Davey and got some nice photos.
The next time I saw Davey I had become manic. I was there with friends so felt more at ease at this gig. I just happened to see a musician from my past, Patrick Bourke, who I knew before all this insanity happened. I didn’t want him to see me as this speedily talking, impulsive and arrogant mess, so after a seriously long depression I decided to give up Ritalin. I didn’t last a day. So, it took some time to give up Ritalin. I was still taking high doses when I first saw The Ape which was an angry at everyone, PTSD-triggered, manic dysphoric night for me. Actually, all throughout 2013 I was so high and manic at gigs that I could barely see or walk, but I still took some great photos – actually, my best ever. So, I tried to give up Ritalin again, and failed. When not on it I couldn’t even feed myself. There were many more attempts and failures and even after I collapsed a night after being on a low dose of Ritalin and a couple of beers which made me think this stuff could kill me – the way I landed made me think I could have snapped my neck and my glasses which broke almost stabbed me in the eye – I still did not give it up. It took an intervention from my sister to make me give it up for good. There were a few weeks where I struggled with the withdrawals but then I returned to my usual foggy, forgetful, under organised ADHD self.
The hurdle to get over was intense anxiety over having to get to venues in unknown areas of town, thank you very much autism, and the usual fear of my safety as residue of my PTSD, and basic everyday social phobia. I had many meltdowns, depressive episodes often accompanied with repetitive highly vivid suicidal thoughts and brief spells of mania, despite being off Ritalin for many months.
It’s been really difficult for me to continue my live band photography and even think about going pro, but I’ve faced the fears and survived depression and my own feelings about dying, and I’ve come out on the other side with a lot of pretty pictures that I like to share with people. I had become reserved to the fact that without a music website to send me to gigs I might only ever get to photograph You Am I, Davey Lane, Dallas Crane, The Ape, etc – not that there is anything wrong with that. But I’m an emo kid at heart and missing out on taking photos of AFI, Jimmy Eat World, Panic at the Disco, Taking Back Sunday and The Used was really heartbreaking. Then, in an impulsive moment I asked the re-born Dwarf website to send me to Anberlin’s last ever Sydney show and didn’t think I’d get it, because it was only a week away and The Dwarf had just returned, but I was approved and I got to take photos in UNSW Roundhouse for the first time and hang out with other media photographers, mostly females who regularly take photos of emo/punk/hardcore bands. We could be best friends!
So this me. I’ve been a band photographer for ten years and it’s not all been smooth sailing. I’m epileptic so strobe lights are a worry for me or seeing any psychedelic band live. I have Asperger’s syndrome and have confidence issues, which gets worse when I realise I have the worst concentration issues in the room. Thanks ADHD. And now I have mood issues, most likely bipolar. I’m back on anti-depressants which keep the depression and anxiety at bay until the mania crashes and I just mope around the house for a bit. I’m being open about this because there’s been a push in the media to raise more awareness about mental health issues and actually talk about them. I’m not ashamed to have any of my mental health problems. I may be frustrated with them, but not ashamed. So, I hope you overlook all that and just know me as that mad emo child who takes photos of your favourite band.
Like my photos? Maybe you’d like to follow Lost Through the Lens on Facebook.