Friday 23 August 2019

'People think touring is more exciting than it is' - Lucy Foster on a life as a music photographer

Lucy Foster found her way into music photography, and is now almost constantly on tour with her cousin Dermot Kennedy, says Emily Hourican

Lucy Foster. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Lucy Foster. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

'Once I found out it was a thing, I wanted to do it." This is how 28-year-old Lucy Foster describes discovering the world of music photography - photographing artists, gigs, going on tour, covering festivals. "I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I just wanted to," she says.

Looking back to the moment, three or four years ago, that she made her decision, she says: "Yes, I think I had a lot of faith! But I knew if I kept shooting, counting the small progressions I made, that I would get there somehow."

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At the time, Lucy had just come back from three years away, two teaching English in South Korea and one in Australia. Why South Korea? "I did social science in UCD, basically because when I was finishing school I didn't know what I wanted to do, and that was very broad and general. In my final year of college I did a TEFL course because I knew I wanted to travel.

"I was looking up various places, and that job came with an apartment. I was 21, the thought of apartment-hunting in, say, Japan was daunting. I knew nothing about South Korea but a girl I knew in school was there. So I messaged her and she said it was amazing, and I went and it was."

By the time she came home, Lucy knew what she wanted to do music photography, but had no real idea of how. "I didn't know anyone in the industry, and I didn't want to study, because I was already 24. But I felt if I had a base in Dublin, where I knew the smaller venues like the Grand Social and Whelan's, and just completely attacked it…"

Which is exactly what she did. "I moved back into mum's house and I was working for a school in China, teaching English online, and I would go to gigs in the evening.

"I'd look up who was playing in Whelan's, Grand Social, The Workman's Club and just mail everyone and ask if I could photograph them. I was trying to get a portfolio, so I wasn't asking to be paid. I'd try the smaller bands, who I thought might like photos.

"That was my apprenticeship. Through that I made contacts. I did that for a couple of months, then I started mailing around to the websites and magazines that cover gigs. I did that for a year. Then in the second year, I got a bit more known."

Her approach was very structured. Each success was noted and built on. "I kept myself sane along the way with the little victories - going from shooting festivals for free to the next year when I was on the photo team."

Which doesn't mean it was always easy. "I would keep my head right," she says, "but you can still have a bad day and think 'maybe I shouldn't do this, I'm no good at this…' But that forces you to re-evaluate what you're doing and why you're doing it, and that's not a bad thing."

During this time, Lucy worked with artists including Stormzy, Skepta, Tinie Tempah, The Weeknd, St Vincent and Dua Lipa. However, probably her best work has been with Dublin singer-songwriter Dermot Kennedy, whose upward trajectory in the last 18 months has been phenomenal. Dermot is Lucy's cousin.

"Dermot is six months younger than me so we were always the two getting into trouble and breaking stuff," she says. "Our families went on holidays to Rosslare every year for 11 years. We loved it. The year our parents tried to suggest we go somewhere warmer, we said 'no way!' As we got older, we stopped doing the holidays, but we still all see each other a lot.

"Dermot and I have always been very close. That's a nice part of it. Because once all this started kicking off, he's never at home any more, so even just that now we get to hang out and see each other is great."

So how did working together come about? "In early January last year I had got fed up; the December had been so quiet. Dermot had a week in London - they had rehearsals for the tour set up, and he had a place to stay, so I just decided to go over. I crashed on the floor in his Airbnb. I ended up photographing Dermot's rehearsals, because his musical director wanted photos. And Dermot's team suddenly thought 'we should be documenting this…' So they asked me to join the tour the day they left for it, and I joined four or five days later. So yes, it came from that connection with Dermot, but the label were the ones to hire me."

Since then, Lucy has been almost constantly on tour. "Since January last year we've done the world tour three times now," she says. "I'd work every day there's a show, and then the travel days are days off, but there's always something to do. I started doing video as well, so that takes up a lot more time because there's editing."

So what's it like on tour? Any rock star behaviour? "Not in our crew. No TVs out the window or guitars being smashed. Dermot's drummer is someone he met in college so he's an old friend too, and I think that family-and-friend vibe trickles down - the whole crew are all very close."

That said, it's clearly an intense kind of lifestyle. "You're living out of a suitcase, in a bus, with all boys. It's like having 11 brothers! There's a really great openness in the group.

"On one of the tours last year, I had one of those moments of thinking 'these aren't good enough. Maybe I'm not cut out for this', but in the group, everyone is very aware of how taxing it all is and everyone is very open and will talk about how they feel. That makes a huge difference out on the road, knowing you have all these people and they have your back and you have theirs."

Does the day-to-day nature of her career, the impermanence, worry her? "That stuff has never been a major factor for me. Which is maybe not a very good thing," she laughs.

"I remember when I was still living in South Korea and our school closed early one day, and I walked home and you know that lovely feeling when it's the middle of the day and no one's around? I remember thinking, 'I just love this. I want a job where I can do this'. I think the potential of what I could do and what I could craft for myself was more exciting than the fear of 'should I settle?' And it has been.

"I've gone to so many places I never would have gone to, and met people I never would have met. That's my favourite bit about this. We have fun, but I think people think it's way more exciting than it is."

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