Known by many as “the Lunatic of the Lens”, photographer ANTHONY MEHLHAFF is crushing the LA music scene with his epic and unique style. Creating insanely gripping and vivid imagery with his technique, Anthony’s photos will make you hear the music, just as if you were right there at the show. On top of that, watching this man at work during a live show is equally as thrilling as watching the band play — you will see him right in the middle of a mosh pit, swinging his lens around, capturing the finest details of every performance.
We got to chat with Anthony about his ridiculously awesome body of work..
How did you get your start as a music photographer? What, if anything, inspired you?
Well I wasn’t inspired really… I started as a camera operator, and my buddy Mauricio who owns a digital magazine called “Switch Mag MX” hit me up on Facebook. It’s funny, we actually met on the set of “Bad Girls Club”, but that’s another story for another time. We met working on this shitty reality show and he asked me if I wanted to shoot Danzig months later.
So I said “are you freaking kidding me?!?!” — it turned out that I wasn’t going to shoot just Danzig, it was Danzig’s entire music festival, “Blackest of The Black,” which was a two-day fest consisting of nothing but hard-core, rock and black-metal bands. This was the first time I ever photographed any live music, and I got to shoot “Suicidal Tendencies”, “Corrosion of Conformity”, “Ghoul”, (which was one of my personal favorites) and of course Danzig and many, many more..
How did your Hollywood dream begin?
I had first come to L.A. actually out of jealousy and ego. A friend of mine was moving out of our little town of Lodi, CA, (not to be confused with Lodi, New Jersey, birth place of The Misfits,) but the, “Stuck in Lodi,” Lodi. (Or at least as we Lodians like to call it).
But it was mostly my love, Amy (and perhaps some friendly hometown cops) who got me out here, got me through film school and still supports me in my creative endeavors and in life. She’s the best, fuck all the rest. Ha, for real-z’s though. She a shiny, rare, gem stone, with a heart of gold and amber is the color of her energy. Ha, stupid, but true… but if you knew her ya’d know.
The Danzig thing was actually pretty weird and a lot of dumb luck and silver tongue action because I didn’t know how any of the festival photography shit worked — The basics, even.. you know — where you’re supposed to go, when you’re allowed to shoot, how you get your passes, any of that. So when it came time to shoot Danzig, “the lady in charge” didn’t think I was on the list, but somehow she let me in. I talked my way into it, and I was able to shoot a Danzig pic that is still one of my favorite images.
Some of the best experiences come out of showing up and acting like you belong..
So I met a couple of guys there, including the guy who runs a Danzig fan site, (well, the Danzig site) and it turns out he’s actually Danzig’s buddy but he was looking at me like I was some kind of freak. All wild-eyed and happy as I waited to shoot a guy that is ultra rare to photograph without sneaking a snipe.
This one shot and experience kind of sunk its claws into me. I’ve been hooked ever since. Actually my buddy Mauricio who runs and owns Switch has got me into tons of shows and he was the first person that I guess you could say inspired me and was always trying to get my stuff seen by more people and talking me up and tagging photos of me and really trying to promote me. He’s the man. Music Man, Mauricio.
So I’ve only been doing this a little over a year probably a year and a few months and that was since Blackest of the Black festival. I haven’t been doing it very long but I love this shit, I just need to find out how to make some money at it. Haha. (Crying inside.)
Which are your favorite bands to shoot?
My favorite bands of course are always thrash metal and punk or hardcore, just because they’re doing something I like. I like to shoot black metal as well. Anybody that’s going to put on a show is who I wanna photograph. If fans are jumping into the crowd, I’m all about it. If they have a gimmick or costumes, I’m a sucker for that. If everybody’s wearing the same shit, if there’s a fog machine, if there’s blood, if there’s bubbles, if there’s guts, any shit like that or even if I can just go and shoot however I want with no rules — those are the type of bands and shows I like to shoot.
To be more specific, a couple of bands that I really like to shoot are:
“Ghoul”, “Ghoul” is on my list.
“GWAR”, I love, “GWAR”, they’re always on my list.
This local LA band called “The Manx”- I’m becoming friends with most of the band members and they’re all really talented and they put on one hell of a show.
“Surfbort” is like one of my favorites, I’ve seen them about 5 times,
“Melted Bodies” is a lot of fun to see.
One of my all time favorites is “Municipal Waste” I never ever try and miss those guys because the fans and the band go crazy.
I’ll never miss “Midnight” ever again – they’re fucking phenomenal and I broke my flash last time I was shooting them so I didn’t get any shots.
“Cro-mags” were a lot of fun.
“Andrew W.K.” was one of my favorite ever and
“BABYMETAL”. I went and saw them with my kid and wife. They wouldn’t approve me for a photo pass, but I shot anyways and you’re not supposed to, but they were a lot of fun.
young LA bands “Speed of Light” and “Dumbfucks” are a lot of fun.
“Slayer” rules. Fucking Slayer!
Is there any artist you would love to photograph, but haven’t?
Celeste XXX was on my list – she has a new band called “Princet” I’m not as much a fan, but I was hoping to shoot Celeste XXX. I don’t know of any big bands, but probably Metallica just because I’m a big fan of thrash metal and those first 3 albums are legendary and it would complete my big 4 check list but that stage set up is weird.
Hologram Roy Orbison just because I love that dudes music. If they ever have hologram Johnny Cash, not because the photos would be the best but because I probably wouldn’t be able to afford tickets and the dude is legend and beyond. Shit, add Freddie, Tupac, Biggie, Hank I, Lemmy, Petty, Bowie, Elvis and Screaming Jaye Hawkins to my hologram list. Fuck you, I know it’s a bit stupid, but shit! Butt-shit!
As far as other bands that I like to shoot, I really like to do festivals because you get tons of bands in one place, and it’s a challenge to be able to shoot all the bands. I like that.. I accept that challenge. “Manson,” because he’s so hard to shoot and he only gives you one song to get a pic in. I missed being able to shoot “System of a Down” when I went to Aftershock this year, (I didn’t get approved) so I’d like to shoot them but only because I’m a fan. Any band that’s going to put on a show, like a real fucking banger of a show, I wanna photograph. For some reason I like Post Malone I might want to get a Post Malone, a Posty, Lil post-it. Maybe a Queen B, not Lil Kim, but the current, “Queen B,” just cause. I wanna see if I can re-create that famous super bowl pic.
OZZY is also on the list mainly because he and Black Sabbath spawned all this shit. Elton John, KISS, Willie Nelson, Rammstein, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Cancerslug, Dead Kennedys, O.G. Misfits, Rage (when they come back.). Rotting Christ.
What’s the best moment you’ve ever captured?
This is a tough one for me because it’s constantly changing what my favorite image is — I think that’s kind of what you got to do if you want to keep going in the photograph game. These days, it’s a world of ‘swipe, swipe, swipe’ — but I have to be inspired to take the next one.
It’s always about getting the next shot, so I don’t know what my favorite is, but I mean honestly the Danzig shot is the one that inspired me to get more. I was really excited when I got this Andrew W.K. shot, and it looked like Jesus on the crucifix. It cracked me up, and I put a little light halo on him, and it’s one of my favorite shots because I’m not religious by any means, but thinking of Andrew W.K. as Jesus Christ kind of cracks me up and I hope when I die that if there’s a heaven or hell Andrew W.K. is there and it’s a fucking party. I want to fucking party with AWK in hell. Haha.
Was there ever moment that you thought you captured but came out to be complete shit?
What a great question.. usually you know when you capture it, but I do miss tons of shots. You see them out of the corner of your eye. I shoot at the smaller shows with the flash and moving the camera very sporadic. Like hyper-active, high on bath-salts style and sometimes you don’t know if you got it. It’s the best way of shooting to have fun, be involved and create some wild images in venues that usually have little to zero lights. I try to make every shot look different — if my shot looks like every other shot, then I feel like it’s shit.
What’s your ideal gear setup? How do you achieve that “look” ?
I shoot on a Sony A7S2 and I shoot mainly with manual lenses — old Nikons with the cheapest adapter you could find. So I got a Nikon 50 mm f1.4 from the 70’s that’s pretty beat up and has a couple scratches, and then I shoot a ton of fisheye on my Nikon 2.8mm old lens from the 80’s which is really fucked up but it goes in the pit with me. I think the lenses are older than me, last time I looked them up. I like to shoot long exposure. I also shoot on a Sony 70-200mm f4, but usually only at festivals when the stage is higher and farther away.
I like to shoot flash with long exposure so I freeze the image and then I turn the camera in a lot of ways depending on where lights are and sometimes based on randomness and experimenting. Sometimes I do two second exposures and just try to see what I get. It’s a sort of light painting and sometimes you get some amazing images, but most of the time you get shit! Ha.. it’s fun either way.
I like to have my shutter up usually around 1/320 of a second. I’d rather have a faster shutter and compensate with higher ISO so I can get to 1/320 or 1/240 so I can freeze the motion. I don’t like to have a really slow shutter unless I’m using the flash just because usually it seems like I get garbage whenever there’s movement, which is all the time.
There is one trade secret on my Sony — I have 1.4x and 2x magnifier dialed in on a custom button so I can punch in on critical focus. With fast manual lenses, it’s really fucking crucial because when you have that super shallow depth of field, focusing on the nose and not the eyes can ruin the shot. Sometimes the image is strong regardless if you miss the focus a bit. My little punch in magnifier trick actually came in handy at the Judas Priest show. I showed another fellow Sony user that little trick and it helped him out because he was having problems with his auto focus and I’m sure he’s been doing this a lot longer than me, but I was able to help him in that instance.
We all rise up together!
Friendly photographers are the best. There are so many miserable button clickers.. their shots are great, but their personalities are that of dog vomit under the tree on Christmas morning. Just gross. I also know some real festival motherfuckers that I love to see in that pit.
Do you only shoot concerts, or other types of subjects as well?
I shoot all types of shit, really. I’ll shoot anything besides porn, weddings and religious bullshit, unless I can distort the images.
Thanks, Anthony! I will hit you up when we are ready to do a distorted porn shoot.