Guest Blog: Entertainment Photographer Mary Caroline Russell
I’ve always loved music. I grew up dancing on hardwood floors to my parents’ records. Socks slipping around, arms waving, head shaking. There is some kind of magic in it. Some spark that happens. It starts in your ears and moves its way through your bloodstream and finally makes a home somewhere in your chest. It is a beautiful, untamable thing, and I knew early on that I needed music in my life for the long run.
My name is Mary Caroline Russell, and I am an entertainment photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been shooting music for nearly ten years now, and although I know a lot more now than when I started, it still feels like I have just scratched the surface of everything there is to learn.
I got started where I was: Beaumont, Texas population 113,468, with what I had: a disposable camera. Exhibit A
Fast forward to today. Through a lot of local shows in dingy motel ballrooms, I upgraded from the disposable camera, and fell in love with photography. I hoped that if I went to work for a label, that maybe when I was forty they might let me take a few photos on the side as a perk. THAT was my grand dream hah! Through a few crossed wires, life circumstances, and disappointments, my plan to move to Nashville turned into more time in Beaumont, a short stint in Portland, and finally landing in Atlanta. A few weeks before I moved to Atlanta, I met my friend Michael who found out I wanted to shoot shows and offered to help.
When I got to Atlanta I sent him a list of shows in hopes any-one of them would work out. He ended up getting me into every show on that list! The first show I shot in Atlanta was Paramore at the Tabernacle.
I borrowed a camera and probably shot 3,000 photos within the first three songs. I was so excited. I stayed up all night & skipped my first class to edit the images. It was such a thrill. After posting the photos, people assumed I was a professional and started hiring me. It seemed rude to correct them.
What followed for the next 10 years was a whirlwind. I have been able to circle the globe taking photos, shoot some of my favorite bands, be in Alabama shooting Lynard Skynard while they sang “Sweet Home Alabama” (that was a fun one), and be surrounded by some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. Here are a few of my favorite moments & stories from along the way:
Nikki Lane played an opening slot at Shaky Knees in Atlanta a few years ago, and I had set up to take a few portraits backstage when she finished up her set. Right before I snapped this photo she took a swig of her beer and said “Oh hey Danny!” I looked to my left and Danny Clinch was taking the same portraits. I snapped a few more and glanced back over, Danny was still there. To say I was excited would be an understatement. Danny Clinch is one of my all time favorite photographers. For him to casually appear next to me was not something I was prepared for, but it did make for one of my favorite memories.
It was my second night out with The Muddy Magnolias on tour supporting Gary Clark Jr. I was still getting to know everyone, and I never want to be intrusive. I was standing behind a curtain peeking through watching the set. The band had walked off stage and Gary was playing solo for a few songs. I could just see a sliver, but I was soaking up every note. Gary’s bass player came around the corner and said, “What are you doing back here?” then grabbed me by the hand and pulled me through the curtain right about the time Gary was walking side stage, I pulled my camera up to my face and snapped one shot.
I grew up on Alan Jackson’s music. I shot his Nashville show on his 25th anniversary tour. This is him walking on stage to start the show, next to him is my friend Nathan with about 1000 papers clipped to his lanyard because he is very important. One of my favorite memories of this show was; as I was shooting, I noticed someone walk up side stage wearing a massive cowboy hat. I looked over and it was Brad Paisley. He was sitting on a road case with his arms resting on the stage singing every word to Alan’s songs.
This was the first day of the Outcry Tour. I walked past the doorway and noticed how perfectly everything was composed. I hadn’t met Taya (pictured above) yet, but I also didn’t want to introduce myself and ruin what was happening so effortlessly. I walked down the hall and back, second guessed if the awkwardness was too much to bear. I decided the photo was too good to pass up so I walked by, kneeled down (you know, to add to the awkwardness), snapped the photo and said, “Sorry to snipe you, you just looked so cool.” It felt 100% uncomfortable for the next 5 seconds, but absolutely worth it for the shot.
The Muddy Magnolias tour had been going on for a while. We were traveling in a van & trying to keep up with bus routing which means late nights and early mornings and a lot of motels. A lot of motels. We were somewhere in Iowa and pulled up to the Days Inn. It was a particularly bad set up. So we came up with a plan: fake an asthma attack, get a refund, pool our per diem, & book the nicest room in town. And it worked. This was just before heading to the show. We slept well.
I think what I have learned over the last few years is persistence, hustle, and gratitude can carry you a long way. Comparison robs you of your own voice, joy, & community. The grind is way more fun when you can celebrate others along the way, so don’t get caught up in somebody else’s “greener” grass. Find your voice, develop it, get comfortable with it. Enjoy the process. Lastly, voice you’re dreams because you never know who will be around and willing to help.
Thank you for this opportunity Brad & the Kelby team, truly honored.
For the gear heads this is what I shoot with most of the time :
Canon 5D MK IV, 35mm f/1.4L II , 16-35mm f/2.8L , Sigma 15mm