An Interview with Don Lawver
With a galaxy of stories and knowledge to share about his time photographing and the people he met along the way, we decided to sit down with Don to reflect on his career. After an exciting launch of his collection at the Google Fiber space in downtown Raleigh, radio and television interviews, with an app in the works that will showcase his photographs in an interactive fashion, and with long-term plans to write a book, Don Lawver continues to surprise us with what he has done and with his ambitions moving forward.
You’ve been around so much and photographed so many people do you feel a sense of familiarity seeing the musicians on stage?
Actually when I first started photographing I think I was just more in awe since I was starting out. As things became repetitive I not only got to meet the musicians, be familiar with them, follow them. When you have a performer that is so incredible like Mick Jagger or Robert Plant in front of you, a few feet away where you could almost touch them, you do carry that with you because you’ll never forget those moments. So, when you see it in the future and you see those people you always feel a slight connection. For me, having them photographed and being able to keep a photograph is vital because it’ll always be with me. When they pass, or something happens to them tragic it’s rough – you just feel a sense of loss.
Is there anyone you didn’t get a chance to photograph during your career?
Oh yes. There were people that were supposed to show up, I mean, I had everything happen to me in the world just people that I was going to photograph then something went wrong… A plane crash, there are car wrecks, you know. For example: Eurythmics - three times I went to photograph them and something happened.
One of the hardest ones for me was the day I was on the way to photograph Michael Jackson in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and he had decided he wasn’t going to tour due to a drug problem. So those are the ones that got away that I actually had a chance to photograph. Then there are the ones out there that never toured. There’s a lot of artists like Bryan Ferry where you were lucky to see him once in ten years. When I photographed Barbara Streisand in Madison Square Garden it took 27 years for her to come back and perform there again.
As many years as you’ve been photographing do you still have the passion? And there are artists out there that you see on TV that you feel you’d like to add to your collection?
I not only still have the passion but it’s hard to watch The Grammys and things because these people come out in the most elaborate outfits. For specific shows like The Grammys, The Oscars, or whatever, looking at it as a photographer all you see are photographs but you can’t get to it. But yes, I definitely have the passion still and I have a personal list: everything from Ed Sheeran, Adele, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga. There are some really big performers that came out post my photographing period that I would definitely like to target and get as well.
Was there anything specific you sought to portray in your photography (besides the musicians on stage) and how (if at all) did that change over the years?
When I first started to shoot I was enamored with the artists – I was young. So, I probably visually didn’t have as much perspective. As I started to shoot more I saw the stage, I saw the lights more, I studied stuff more in-depth; if there was a background piece on the stage I tried to get photographs with them.
Speaking of Tom Petty just passing one of my favorite photos that I took of Tom Petty was he had an opium den, and it’s spread out and he stood right in front of it and it had glass stained windows. That photo just portrays so much and brings so much life to the stage… not just the artist but the live concert.
What were/are some of your first photographic interests? That is, your inspirations or influences.
My first influences were definitely rock, so, I always tell the story of what was a transformative experience for me at 16 years old: going to a Led Zeppelin concert. So, I started photographing rock because I liked it a lot. I like to shoot all the musicians. I’ve noticed on the web and in different places a lot of people get stuck on the lead singer but the band is important – they make up the music for that artist to be that big. So, there are a lot of moving pieces on stage – when you have limited time you have to make sure to take care of business while you can.
What is the difference in shooting something moving on the stage versus shootings something still?
You had to have a pretty good eye but you also had to be listening to the music because that told where everybody was moving sometimes. If you knew the music really well and knew a lead was coming in, you knew someone was going to step up to do their lead when you weren’t even looking at them. Someone like Jagger, or Tyler, or these artists they move around the stage – you had to try to hit them ahead of time sometimes as well as about 30% of it being luck. Sometimes you just nailed it. With digital cameras you can shoot, you know, 500 photos in a minute but with analog it was different. Like I said music has to do with the way they dance, move, everything. If you went in the pit and you didn’t have a sense of music I think sometimes you’d miss some shots because you didn’t know a lead was coming or something and it was on the other end of the stage.
What do you want your collection to do for the world?
I want the work that I’ve done to stand as a legacy for the music business, for photographers, for people across the world who take their first photograph. I think music is the largest thing in the world. And so many people get joy from music! So it’s a legacy, an inspiration, it’s all of the above. I want it to be in a museum where it will stand for years to come.
Don's truly phenomenal art can be viewed more extensively on his website where musicians such as Bon Jovi, Elton John, Prince, Cher, and the recently passed Tom Petty (may he rest in peace) pose on stage in striking fashion, guitars flashing, with drum-sets and stage-lights dazzling. If you haven't done so already, head on over to 1XRUN to see Don's showcased Nirvana prints that will be available for only a few more days and would make the perfect gift(s) for rockstar-lovers this upcoming season of holidays.