If you’ve been to a Blueprint show, you’ve probably seen his bouncy head of hair running around, snapping your photo and capturing all of those amazing moments you’ve come to know & love us for! Well THUMP did a great piece profiling our beloved & extremely talented photographer Pooya Nabei Photography, read the feature by our own Ziad Ramley below:
Pooya Nabei’s signature locks have been a familiar sight for anyone attending shows in Vancouver for over seven years now. We chose Pooya as the subject for our latest edition of CLUBSCAPE for two key reasons:
1. First and foremost, he’s indisputably the top events photographer in Western Canada, whether it’s nightclubs, concert halls, or stadiums.
2. Unlike many others who excel in the electronic industry, event photography isn’t his main focus—fashion is. Differences between the two sides of his professional career have been a source of curiosity since he first appeared on our radar.
One sunny day, we linked up with Pooya at his studio to find out about his entry into the industry, horror stories from shows long past, and where he’s taking himself.
THUMP: How did you first get into photography?
Pooya: I must have been 22 or 23 at the time, but I was really good at photography in high school. I was studying engineering at the time at CAP College and thought I’d try it out, so I got myself my first digital camera, a Canon 20D. Digital photography wasn’t even in at that time; there was no 5D, 6D, or any of that. So, I got the camera and took a fashion course.
When you go to school, you never actually have time to actually take pictures though. I had just started out clubbing and ended up emailing Clubzone.com after seeing their photo galleries and saying “hey, I’ll do this for free.” They ended up paying me $50 a night and that’s how it all started.
Have you always been into electronic music?
Shooting so many shows has really helped me learn to love and appreciate music. When I started in 2001 Blueprint used to do this event called Get Together, it was a Christmas/New Years party that I paid $100 to get in to. I hated it because it was all deep house and techno and I wasn’t into it at the time. Then the next year I was being paid to shoot the same event [laughs]. The experience with shooting at shows has helped me appreciate all genres of music, but electronic in particular.
And how did you get involved with Blueprint?
At the time, it wasn’t like today when anyone can be a photographer. There were only really two good nightlife photographers: one was Quana Parker and the other one was myself. He left Vancouver for a year and recommended me to the founder, Alvaro Prol, while he was away. That was in 2007 and I’ve been working with them ever since.
I remember when I first started going to their shows in 2009 I recognized you by your hair.
[Laughs] everybody does. It’s my trademark, I guess.
Are there any types of events that you especially like or dislike shooting? I know it can be tiring shooting club nights, but do you feel more excited shooting events like Contact Festival?
I like photographing the artists themselves first and foremost; I don’t like photographing the audience as much. I’ve done it over and over again and it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the people, I’ve made a lot of great relationships that way, but it takes the focus away from the artist or the night. I get excited for anything like Contact—or even events at The Commodore or PNE Forum—where I can photograph an artist I’ve never shot before. There are only so many times you can photograph Steve Aoki throwing a cake in somebody’s face, you know?
The last time Morgan Page was in Vancouver, they contacted you to shoot a special project for him—how did that come together?
A few years ago, they wanted to make an iPad sticker and chose one of my photos of him at The Commodore. They asked me how much I wanted and I told them not to worry about it. When he came back to Vancouver on his 3D tour, they hired me to be with him during the day and photograph the stage during setup, and then shoot the show and aftermath. I definitely enjoyed that for its variety. A lot of the time someone at Blueprint will refer me to an artist’s management, but in this case I already had a relationship with them.
What do you do when you’re not doing nightlife photography?
I’m a fashion and advertising photographer. The biggest project that I’ve worked on recently is the new Vancouver Trump Tower; it’s the second-largest billboard in Vancouver (130ft x 20ft). (Editor’s Note: this photo won first place in Applied Arts Mag’s yearly awards in the ‘Photo Manipulation—Single’ category)
With the big table! That was you?
Yeah, [laughs], that was the biggest project I’ve ever worked on, there were around 20 to 30 people on that set and I was the youngest guy. It felt pretty great. I worked for Leone Spring/Summer 2013 and that was really my big break; it led the way to a couple of other big campaigns that I’m working on now.
Do you have an agent or do people come to you directly?
I was signed with an agent at THEYrep two months ago actually.
What’s your setup?
Do you think that being known in the nightlife scene has had a feedback effect on your professional career?
In terms of getting gigs, not at all to be honest, but it was a huge support for me to be in the photography industry in terms of finances and experience. Being a photographer is an expensive profession and you need to take lots and lots of photos to be a good photographer. I mean, shooting nightlife a lot can have negative effects if you’re shooting the same thing over and over again and getting burnt out, but it helps you take pictures and be on your toes all the time.
What do you think of EDM photographers like RUKES that exist only to photographs shows?
I think guys like him are fantastic. I see myself on par with RUKES for sure; I shot Contact Festival with him and I liked my photos as much as I liked his. He’s a great shooter, but frankly I don’t know how he does it all the time. I feel like it’s the same shots over and over: crowd shot from the front, crowd shot from behind, and they’re fantastic, but I personally like to create my own images. At the end of the day though, guys like RUKES are still astonishing photographers for the industry. They’re obviously drawn to music the same way that I am to fashion and I respect that.
What would you say the worst part about shooting shows is?
It’s just the hours. You know, it really depends on your mood. Sometimes you’ll feeling cozy and sleeping early or having a good time with your girl and then you have to go to work for an hour. It’s fine normally, but sometimes it’s just…
Do you have any horror stories?
Lady Gaga tried to break my camera at Richards on Richards. It was one of her first performances and she just went for my camera. Shawn Desmond’s bodyguard threatened to break my camera on my face too, [laughs]. Then at Life In Color I was afraid of getting paint on my lens or camera.
What’s your end goal in photography?
You’re always as good as you are right now. Since day one, I’ve been working towards something and I’m still working towards something—I won’t stop until the day I die. Working towards being a better photographer constantly. I’ve been working at it for six or seven years, and in that time I’ve accomplished quite a lot.
Check out Pooya’s gallery here.
– Ziad Ramley