“Sometimes you have to break rules to get the shot,” says Christie Goodwin. Once, while working as the house photographer at the Royal Albert Hall, she’d been informed that night’s performer, a certain Iggy Pop, didn’t like to see photographers. Obeying orders, she stayed invisible – until Iggy decided to launch himself into the crowd, that is.
“I know that place inside out, I knew where I had to be for the shot I wanted. It was a split-second decision,” she remembers. "I got the shot exactly – Iggy rolling on his back on the hands of the crowd, his arms reaching up.” Seconds later she found herself face-to-face with the singer as he was carried forward, “but I had my camera behind my back.” That balance of discretion and gumption is typical of Goodwin, a music photographer with the guts to point her lens where others don’t.
With the camera I see and experience the world with more courage.
“Early on in my career I decided not to think about whether [a picture is] sellable. I try to switch off my brain and feel the rhythm of the music, the fashion, the emotions,” she says. “Artists aren’t looking for ordinary shots, they want to feel the experience they give the audience in the pictures. They’re creative people and you have to capture that in the frame.”
Surprisingly, Goodwin is a shy person by nature, but when she discovered photography aged 12, everything changed. “The first time I looked through the viewfinder, I realised that with the camera I could see and experience the world with more courage than I had,” she says. “To this day I feel naked without a camera.” She bought her first Canon 30 years ago and hasn’t looked back. And, to ensure she never misses an opportunity, while shooting she carries two Canon EOS 5D Mark III bodies, one with a 24-70mm lens and the other with a 70-200mm lens.
In the mid-1980s, Goodwin enrolled for a photography degree at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. “It was an eye-opening education – they break you to build you up again,” she says. In response to a monthly assignment, she’d hand in her work and receive four pages of often painfully blunt feedback. A year in she considered quitting but one of her tutors, spotting her talent, convinced her to stay. “I’m grateful for it now, although the [habit of] criticism has very much stuck with me – I’m my own worst critic. Give me any picture I’ve taken and I can give you a list of things wrong with it.”
On graduating she worked first in fashion and then as a newswire photographer, only dedicating herself full-time to music in 2005. “I never realised that music photography could be a job. It was always something I did in my spare time, as a hobby. I loved music and went to lots of concerts, to festivals – always with my camera because I never leave the house without it – but I never made the connection… I thought you had to do boring stuff to make a living.”
There are more male photographers than female but they don’t intimidate me.
Goodwin’s break came when, unknown to her, someone sent her work to Status Quo manager Simon Porter. When he phoned to offer her a commission, Goodwin assumed it was a prank and hung up. Fortunately, he was understanding, and before she knew it she was shooting the band. “I was thrown in at the deep end but I think that’s the way to learn. I didn’t have instructions, I didn’t know how other people did it, because I didn’t research that – I just went in and was myself.”
It paid off. Today she’s in-demand, shooting tours for Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, PJ Harvey, Kylie, Taylor Swift and Joe Bonamassa. Each tour offers immense creative opportunities and from each she’s learnt something different. “The first show I shoot on a tour I’m like a headless chicken running around trying to capture it all. The day after, I focus and make a checklist."
Though she enjoys all aspects of her work, Goodwin feels most at home in the pit. “When the music starts, the adrenaline starts pumping. Every live show has a rhythm. The first three songs are the worst: the artist has to get into it, the band, even the crowd. Then, as the concert really gets going, everybody gets excited and there’s a lot of love going between the crowd, the artist and the band. You’re in the middle of that and the energy radiates off you and guides you to take the pictures.”
Like elsewhere in the image industry, music photography is overwhelmingly male-dominated, but Goodwin has refused to let this hold her back. “There are always more male photographers than female but they don’t intimidate me,” she says. Quite the contrary. She remembers shooting from the opposite side of the pit to other photographers, in order to capture something original. It caused much confusion among her colleagues and led to one coming over to ask her what on earth she was doing.
“There are a few male photographers who I’ve shared the pit with who I know have looked down on me, but I’ve never had a client say they wouldn’t hire me because I’m a woman.” Success comes down to talent “and talent has no gender,” she adds. But it’s also about courage – “the courage to share your vision, the courage to be criticised, the courage to learn, to explore creativity beyond what’s expected of you” – and Goodwin isn’t short on bravery.