West Coast Photographer Spotlight: Dan Gonyea | Interview by Natalee Coloman
It was one of the first shows Paramore played in Boston, and Dan Gonyea had to switch from the usual color settings on his camera to black and white. He was worried that due to the heavy use of red light onstage, he couldn’t produce quality photos. Vocalist Hayley Williams was leaning toward the crowd right next to Gonyea’s camera. Just as he was about to take his shot, someone’s point-and-shoot digital camera in the front row let off a bright red light. The miraculous synchronization created the perfect image.
Gonyea established his career as a photographer under the moniker Future Breed in 2005, roughly a year prior to taking the photo of Williams, which was picked up as a pull-out two-page spread in Alternative Press. However, Gonyea did not expect that very photo would launch his career with record labels and magazines. Now, he has relocated from the East Coast to Seattle and is widely recognized for his work.
Before really digging into the scene as a professional photographer, Gonyea went to extraordinary lengths to take photos at shows. One of his most memorable moments was on his 15th birthday when he duct-taped disposable cameras to his inner thighs for his first time at Van’s Warped Tour. Gonyea has always been into the alternative scene, listening to bands such as Green Day, Circle Jerks, Nirvana, and Void. His brothers would bring home mixtapes from friends, and Gonyea was happy to be a part of the music discovery. “I was younger, so I would hear whatever they were listening to all the time,” Gonyea says. “I was the second grader who liked the Circle Jerks.”
In 2001, Gonyea got to go to his first hardcore show. As he started to become more involved with the scene, he found himself snapping pictures at every event. It was at a friend’s metal show in New Hampshire where Gonyea got his first official photography gig, making a deal with the The Bomb Shelter’s management to shoot regularly in exchange for entrance to the venue. This deal kick-started his career, landing him spots shooting for bands such as Against Me! and Murder By Death. “By the end of 2005, I was going to a show almost every weekend,” he reflects. “Every one of those trips was about an hour-plus drive, but I just loved it and couldn’t get enough.”
While it is easy for Gonyea to recall his mainstream career-breaking photo of Williams, he finds it more difficult to pick out a favorite from the hardcore scene. One memory that sticks out is Guns Up!’s last show in Boston. “There was a moment where I got literally everyone in the crowd’s arms up, screaming at once, and people were just like, ‘Holy shit, this photo is Boston hardcore right now,’” Gonyea recalls. “It ended up being on t-shirts, and it was a really cool moment to have people react that way when I just knew the song and knew people would chant there.”
He says capturing it took a desperate jump, camera in tow, trying to get a good angle while miraculously staying in focus. “A lot of my shots I feel best about end up being from last shows, because the crowds are so energetic and emotional,” Gonyea shares. “One thing I try to pull out in my photography is emotion from people.”
Some of Gonyea’s favorite spots to shoot included the ICC and The Jackson/Mann youth center in Boston, The Democracy Center in Cambridge, and the Cambridge Elks Lodge—also known as Hardcore Stadium. “There’s something charming about setting up your own PA and playing on the floor,” Gonyea admits. “Maybe the place has a bar ‘cause it’s an American Legion Hall, but overall, it just feels extremely DIY.”
Gonyea’s career in photography has replicated that DIY feel, both through his self-teaching mechanisms with the camera and keeping his final photos unedited. “I had this opinion that what comes out of the camera is the raw shot, and hardcore is a raw music, so I didn’t touch up the photos at all,” he elaborates. “ I wanted to actually get better at shooting. I was going to get the lighting, focus, and framing right in the actual shot.”
Following that philosophy led Gonyea to nail the skills required for his career. He’s trained himself so well that he knows exactly which buttons to press, knobs to turn, and settings to use—all without thinking. “I’m sure if you looked at me shooting, you’d have no idea what was going on with my hands, because I’m changing stuff all the time,” he adds.
Gonyea has loosened his strict philosophical theories about editing photos, but still chooses to limit his processing to a minimum. He still strongly believes in sharing stories and connecting with people, and he uses both of his careers—as a software engineer and as a photographer—to do so. He says on the photographer side, it’s a bit difficult to see the story initially, however, it starts to unravel as he looks back at photos from past shows. “A lot of times, it’s old friends who are no longer with us and seeing that evolution of them from when they started going to shows,” Gonyea explains. “It’s cool to have those memories to go back.”
Gonyea hopes to master his photography to the point where he doesn’t have to worry about anything besides being at a show, capturing it, and spending time with friends. Not many know how stressful taking photos at a concert can feel for a photographer—especially when they believe they need to shoot every two minutes without taking a break to chat with others. Gonyea now thinks it’s just as important to make time to sing along to his favorite songs, learn lyrics to new records, even grab the mic. “Maybe it’s OK if I set my camera down for half a set and hear how [the band] are playing for the night,” he admits. “Just because you shoot photos doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of the show too.”