By Audrey Hertel
Aug. 14, 2019
Photographer James Dean fiddles with his blue t-shirt as he sits in a paisley chair in a nook in the Mill at Telegraph. Going on just outside the busy Lincoln coffee shop is the Telegraph Summer Concert series where singer-songwriter Andrea von Kampen is humming songs from her album “Old Country.”
Dean reminisces about taking photos of the singers first gigs. And as a well-known music photographer, he’s seen many of Lincoln’s favorite musicians’ first shows. But being an established music photographer in the music scene didn’t come in the blink of an eye.
“I’ve had a camera in my hands for probably about 18 or 19 years,” he said.
When Dean was around the age of 12, his mom gave him a point and shoot camera, but he couldn’t recall what kind.
“It gave me something to create,” he said sporting a Froggy Fresh snapback styled like a Krispy Kreme logo.
Dean said he didn’t learn much about photography until his early 20s when he got into film photography — a style that helped him understand the settings of a camera and what they truly do.
“Film cameras, well if you’ve got a newer one, help you a little bit, but otherwise, you’ve got to make all the decisions,” he said regarding properly capturing a photo on film.
Dean is a self-taught photographer who learned everything he knows about photography with the help of books, other photographers who gave him tips along the way and of course, the internet.
“God bless the internet,” he said with wide eyes and a smile.
Dean began his venture into music photography around 2009 with the pairing of a film camera and a house show. And thanks to a friend, he was able to borrow a digital camera on and off in 2012 to shoot more live music.
After gaining experience in concert photography and following the music journalism of Hear Nebraska, Dean decided to reach out to Andy Norman in 2015, a co-founder of the publication, and ask to shoot for it.
“I was literally just like, ‘Hey, Andy, it’s finally nice to meet you. I would really love to shoot shows for you, but just don’t have a camera,’” Dean said. “And his response was like, ‘We’ve got cameras for you. Why don’t we just have you shoot stuff?’”
While working at the publication, Dean would shoot around three to four concerts a week. According to Dean, taking photos for HN helped him grow as a photographer and allowed him to network with people he wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise.
“I’m glad that I did it because it taught me a lot and made a lot of connections,” he said. “I know people all over the world just through being friendly and meeting bands.”
Other than shooting for Hear Nebraska, Dean has taken photos for bands, festivals and non-profits like KZUM. His talent and drive have taken him to festivals like Lincoln Calling, MAHA, Maximum Ames Music Festival and Hullabaloo.
With that being said, Dean has shot many musicians, and he isn’t stopping now. He even has a music photography bucket list, and Dean, being a huge Queens of the Stone Age fan, has the california rockers at the very top.
“It’s still my favorite band of all time,” he said as he pointed to his three-week-old Queens of the Stone Age tattoo on his arm.
Because Dean has shot so many concerts, he has a lot of knowledge regarding the technical side of music photography, and he’s always willing to share what he’s learned with those around him — even if it’s during a show.
“I’ve been in photo pits, and I usually try to be that nurturing-dad type, like if I see somebody with a camera, and I can see the settings on it, and they’re shooting it at one fortieth of a second, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, let me look at your camera,’” he said as he mimics changing the settings on a camera. “‘Okay, shoot like that.’”
Although he is well-known for his expertise in music photography, he’s not limited to it. Scrolling through his instagram that has over 3,000 followers, one can spot a few nature shots like shorelines of the Platte River with orange tones from the morning sunrise, intimate portraits, wedding photos, or lit up cityscapes.
Just like there’s not a confine to what Dean shoots, there isn’t a limit to where he will allow his photography to take him.
Dean said he loves to travel and wants his photos to take him across the world, and he still gets excited about the whole ‘flying on a plane’ part.
“I’m one of those people that gets to fly so infrequently that it’s still like, ‘Ooh, I get to go a thousand miles in four hours,’” he said as he simulated the awe that rushes over him while being on a plane. “Yes. I love it. I want to do that.”
And James has the same excitement about travelling as he does for creating the best work he can for the people who hire him. For Dean, being hired to take photos for someone is more than just a job, but the ability to capture a moment in time for people to go back and relive.
“I want to, especially for my clients, I want to capture her moments for them, be the artists themselves or an 18-year-old kid that’s graduated from high school or a bride or two women who just got engaged,” he said. “I want them to have images that they cherish.”
Audrey Hertel is a multimedia intern with KZUM.