The Business of Photography: An Interview with Alison Toon

'm old enough to remember life before smartphones. These days, just about everyone in the industrialized world is carrying around portable minicomputers. We post more than 350 million photos every day on Facebook alone.

I imagine that life as a professional photographer has changed considerably in the last ten years. I was curious about that, so I recently sat down with one. Alison Toon has forgotten more about photography than most of us will never know. Over the course of her career, she has captured some really gorgeous shots of some remarkable bands. I sent her some questions and she responded.

PS: How did you get your start in photography?

AT: I remember being fascinated by my dad's camera, which was in a leather case and had all sorts of dials. And then going to Germany on a school trip with my Kodak Brownie, returning home and then being asked, "Why are you in none of the photos?" I always wanted to be on the working side of the camera, but it wasn't until I saw a photo that someone had snapped of my baby daughter with an SLR that I knew what a real camera could do. That's a long time ago now. You don't want to know how many boxes and hard drives of photos I have. It's scary.

I started in concert photography specifically when I was writing for one of the first online music publications, back in the days when we were all still using Listserv (remember that?). I was asked if I could add a few photos to a review, I said sure, and that was the beginning. I still write reviews but it's the photography that's the focus. Sorry for the pun.

PS: What are some of your favorite shots and why?

AT: I shot Peter Hammill performing at the Entrepôt in Grenoble, France, 1994, in a really, really dark room (it was a converted warehouse). This was on film that I had to persuade someone to "push" in development for me, to try to find the picture. It's horribly grainy, it's still under-exposed, but it's my first real shot of a musician whose music has influenced my life.

I shot Nick Astacio of the band Lionfight at the Ace of Spades in Sacramento. Again, it was an extreme low-light situation, and I had totally the wrong camera and lens in my hand. I just love the way it captures his energy and passion for the music.

Then there's the moment when the crowd jumped up into a standing, stomping, cheering ovation during the Marillion Weekend in Wolverhampton, UK, in 2013. It was an incredible moment just after Marillion performed their album, Brave, in its entirety. It's the first of my photos to have been used for a magazine cover.

Next, I remember the crowd shot from the pit, just before Five Finger Death Punch came on stage at Aftershock festival in Sacramento, 2014. It was the moment when I stepped up on the barrier, and realised just how many people there were, and how much energy twenty-or-so-thousand people can bring.

Every time I look back through my images I find another memory. Right now, I'm looking at festival photos, and can't wait to get back out there in the dust, the heat, the crowded photo pit, and the flying crowdsurfers.

PS: Talk to me about piracy and photo theft. It is as rampant as I imagine?

AT: The whole music world is going through a paradigm shift -- whether it's the music itself, journalism, or photography. Music: streaming services pay very little to musicians, though it's very encouraging, I think, to see a regeneration of interest in vinyl. Publications request photos and/or articles in exchange for "credit or exposure". We have a generation (or more) of young people who think "copyright" means "I can copy, right?." It's a world going through a lot of churn and change.

Once a photo is on the Internet, people find a way to copy it. They won't end up with a quality that they can print poster-size, but how many people buy posters today, rather than just glancing at their phone? I try to protect my images while allowing them to be seen.

It's funny how you can recognize your own shots, months later, without any identifying watermark, or embedded in a meme. Then you have to track down who published the image: ask them to purchase a license and/or credit the photographer, even insist that they remove the image and all trace of it. I had to do that when one of my shots was reposted on a gossip site, where people were making vicious and personal attacks on a country singer/reality star. And I recently saw one of my shots used on a bootleg vinyl of a concert. Part of me wanted to have them desist immediately. Part of me wanted to order a copy for the novelty. But it was music piracy, and that is totally wrong.