Houston's Best Music Photographers: Violeta Alvarez

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Back in June Rocks Off brought you Houston's ten best music photographers, as selected by a small panel of insiders and professionals. Now we'd like you readers to choose the best. Before voting opens, though, here's a little more about our finalists, in alphabetical order -- and a lot more of their spectacular photography. Best of luck to all ten.

Rocks Off: Tell us a little more about yourself. If photography is not your primary line of work, please mention what is; if so, how long have you been doing it professionally? Violeta Alvarez: As a child, my mother worked as a nanny for a family in Houston who treated me as their own and became my godparents. They were art collectors who exposed me to a world of art that I might have never discovered. My mom was also an amateur photographer and I remember helping her develop film in our bathroom, and it was around this time I also began to discover drawing.

In the early '90s, when I was only 17, I was already hanging out at Emo's. This place, founded by Eric "Emo" Hartman, became my living room. It exposed me to up and coming bands, like Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, the Supersuckers, etc. I photographed friends, local musicians and several touring bands that came through to Houston.

At 18, I began working at Justice Records, a label where I took my first professional photos of musicians such as Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Jesse Dayton, Kermit Ruffins and the Reverend Horton Heat.

Later with the support of my family, I studied at Parsons New School of Design in New York, which allowed me to further develop my craft. As a student, I had the valuable experience to intern with well-respected photographers like Danny Clinch and David LaChappelle. This afforded me insight and knowledge into the commercial world of photography.

As I evolved in my career, I've had the good fortune to have my works published in major publications such as Rolling Stone, SPIN, New York magazine and MTV, among others. While in NYC, I also spent many years photographing the Lower East Side music scene. Upon my return back home, I noticed many evolving changes in Houston's cultural landscape, which allowed me to work as a freelance photographer by capturing the local and touring music scene as well as portrait work for corporate clients.

Currently, I am also working on personal project, which involves The Innocence Project of Texas. This work is a series of environmental portraits that examines the lives of exonerates whose lives were profoundly changed by the Texas legal system.

What inspired you to become a music photographer? At age 5, I had my own record player, so after school I often entertained myself with my teenage god-sister's vinyl collection. Rock and roll music became a happy escape for me, but I was also intrigued and mesmerized by the album covers and interior art of bands like KISS, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith.

As a teenager, the exposure to music photography in Rolling Stone magazine led me to further explore the field myself as a teenager.

Do you prefer concerts or portraits? Why? I feel there is an opportunity to capture raw, authentic emotion in both concert and portrait settings. As a concert photographer, the musician-fan relationship evokes spontaneous emotions from the musician, which allows me to capture electrifying moments that are unique to the show. As a portrait photographer, the setting offers an intimate dialogue with the subject, which allows a more in-depth and personal portrait of the musician. I have had great experiences in both settings.

What is your favorite camera(s) to use at concerts? How long have you had it/them? Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 7D, but these days I'm using 7D.

What would be your ideal camera to shoot live music? Canon 5D Mark III.

Do you prefer shooting at small clubs, larger venues or outdoor festivals? Why? Larger venues like the Woodlands Pavilion and the Toyota Center allow access to photograph well-known, mainstream acts, but this often limits access to the performers. At smaller clubs and festivals, there is more access to the bands and their audience, which offers a wider opportunity to capture an experience, vibe and energy.

Story continues on the next page.

What is your best/hairiest photo-pit story? Slayer at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2013 [above]. It was the last night of the festival and they were the last band to play. Every photographer was anxious to shoot Slayer, but not everyone made it to the photo pit that night. In the pit, we were all tightly packed against each other and security was worried about us getting crushed when Slayer hit the stage. The barricade was about to collapse from the crowd pushing and shoving us towards the front of the stage.

When they finally came on, my inner body and eardrums were vibrating and about to explode from their music, but I was so caught up in the moment of getting my shots that I ignored the fact that I was getting kicked in the head and being trampled by stage divers. Luckily I got out safely and I was still able to hear, but super-pumped that I was able to experience a killer show.

How often do you make eye contact with the performers? Has anyone ever called you out onstage? Sometimes, when I do make eye contact and establish a connection with a performer they seem to make a conscious effort to acknowledge my lens while they play, but I have not ever been called out during a performance.

What to you is the most rewarding aspect of being a music photographer? In my eyes, music photography has the power to forever preserve cultural moments and create an experience for others to better understand and appreciate their passion for music. I find true satisfaction and respect in the prospect of helping future music lovers understand the music of my lifetime.

Hopefully, I'm able to accomplish this in the same way I was inspired by the photographers who captured images of Janis Joplin, the Clash and the Rolling Stones. These images were extremely influential and helped deepen my understanding of the music and culture that came before me.

Come back tomorrow, when Rocks Off will introduce you to finalist No. 2, David Block.


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