Smile Politely

Look through the lens with Eric Frahm

If you go to many shows by local musicians — or even if you go to an occasional one — you probably know of Eric Frahm. He’s the guy who makes it out to an astonishing number of gigs and takes professional quality photos of whoever is on stage. 

I became aware of Frahm about a year ago when I began attending and performing at shows set up by the Champaign/Urbana Singer-Songwriter Collective. I’d see Frahm at many of the regular weekly gigs at Clark Bar. He’d sit just enjoying the music then every hour or so get up and take a few shots. I’d see these images later on when he posted them on Facebook. They’d look amazing — clean and cool — and I’d get a little thrill that I’d been present at whatever event they were taken at. 

Frahm, who lives in Pesotum, takes photos of subjects other than music as well. You can check out his work on his website. He responded to my questions by email.

Smile Politely: How long have you been photographing the local music scene and how did you get into doing so in the first place? 

Eric Frahm: About four years. It was winter time and I had just upgraded to a better digital camera. It was dark when I went to work and dark when I got home, so I decided to start taking photos at night. I’ve always loved music, and especially live music, so I decided to try my hand at concert photography. I enjoy the challenge of capturing just the right moments and sharing them. Concert photography allows me to do that.

SP: Which is stronger — your love of music or of photography?   

Frahm: I could live without photography if I had to, but I couldn’t live without music.

SP: What’s your day job?

Frahm: I have worked in retail sales most of my life. I enjoy observing people and interacting with them. I am currently semi-retired but still working part time in the grocery business.

SP: When I’ve seen you at shows, you only take a few shots of a given act. You’ll just be watching the show for a while like anyone else then you’ll get up to take a picture. How do you choose those moments? 

Frahm: I try not to be too intrusive and take a lot of shots. Also, I don’t want my presence to elicit poses. I prefer to capture honest and natural moments. I enjoy the music and absorb the visual aspect of the musicians — where they stand, body language, movements, background, emotion, etc. Then I try to “capture the moment” as best I can with as few photos as reasonable.

SP: When someone is looking at one of your photographs of a band or musician, how necessary is it for them to be familiar with their particular music to get something from the picture?  

Frahm: I hope to capture enough action and emotion so that the type of music is unimportant for the visual enjoyment of the photo and the emotions expressed. When people look at my photos I hope that I have conveyed the feelings and emotions that I had while listening and observing these performances.

SP: Where do display your work?

Frahm: Mostly I just share my photos on Facebook. Last spring I had a show at the Indi Go Gallery. I wanted to have some of my photos printed so they were more tangible and not just living in the digital world.

SP: Are you able to enjoy a show if you’re not photographing it? 

Frahm: Absolutely! The music is first and foremost for me. I like to capture the essence of a certain musician or group with my photos. Once I have done that, I like to go back to their performance and just listen. I don’t ever want the musicians to feel like I am there just for the photos. I love the music! On the other hand there are genres of music that I respect but they aren’t my cup of tea. In those rare cases I do enjoy the photography more than the music.

SP: You photograph a diversity of musicians. Do you approach photographing performers from different genres the same way or are you looking for different things in say a rock show versus a jazz show? 

Frahm: There are definitely different visual aspects to capture with different genres.  I try to capture a jazz singer’s facial expression whereas in a rock show I might try to capture a musician jumping off a platform, etc. 

SP: Any specific plans for your future work or are you just taking things as they come? 

Frahm: In the spring I hope to get out and do more landscape photos, but I won’t stop going to the live music performances. Someday I would like to put together a photo book of local musicians.

SP: About how many shows a month do you make it out to? 

Frahm: It varies from one a week to as many as five or six in a week. 

SP: Any other thoughts about music and photography in general?

Frahm: I truly love the abundance of talented musicians in this area. I try to experience them all. Many years ago when I was going to the U of I and working full time I did not have time to experience the live music scene. I intend to make up for that lost time. Photography will always be a part of me whether I am taking photos of live music, my grandchildren, or a sunset.

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