Kylie Sahb is an award-winning photographer who has combined her love of music with her passion for photography. She is the Founder and owner of The Rocker Rag music magazine where she reports on what’s hot and what’s rock around the globe. Kylie has had an impressive career, and her images have her in hot demand as a wedding photographer as well as a music photographer covering band press releases, gigs and tours. Some of her music photographs will appear this year in the Number One | Gudinski – an Exhibition in celebration of Michael Gudinski’s legacy, held by the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in partnership with Mushroom Group. We chat with Kylie about living her dream and how music feeds her soul.
How did you get into photography?
I was always interested in photography and remember wanting to play with Dad’s camera but was never allowed to because it was the “good’ camera. Then as I finished high school, I studied a diploma of Make-up artistry. Whilst I wanted to get into movies and special effects, a friend was opening up a photographic studio and needed a full-time make-up artist, so I jumped aboard. It was the 90’s and the age of ‘Glamour” photography- soft lens and tulle for miles! It was here though that my love of photography grew. I became the office all-rounder as well. The studio assistant, helped with sales, greeting clients etc. It was here that I learned how to pose clients, learned the complexity of lighting and exposure and even learned the dark room side as there was no digital back then. I learned so much with on-the-job training but didn’t realise just how much until I started shooting myself and I found it felt so natural to pose people. I still think that I am so lucky to have that previous on the job training and still to this day that training has been invaluable.
How did The Rocker Rag come about and what inspired it?
I remember seeing U2 10 years ago in Melbourne. I saw these people walking across the stage with camera in hand and stood at the front area of the stage, or ‘The Pit’ as it’s known. They took photos of the band for first three songs and left. I said to my partner at the time “I am going to do that” and here we are years later!
By Lord it was hard to break into the industry though! I didn’t know anyone, couldn’t ask for advice from anyone as I didn’t know anyone. I was in my late 30’s and was just at a dead end. But there were two key people that helped me get there. I came across an unreal woman – Jackie Jetson who was in a closed Facebook group when we were studying for our Diplomas in Photography. Jackie had just sold some photos for a Live Music DVD cover for a huge band. I think it was Black Sabbath from memory. I messaged her and asked her how she got started and she gave me the information on how to get started, giving me contact details to become a contributor to just one of many Melbourne online music magazines. Sadly, that magazine is now defunct.
Fast forward a few months and my first live gig was Dan Sultan and Benny Walker at the Zoo sessions. It was March 2015 – I was on cloud nine, not only because I was photographing two incredibly talent indigenous singers that I loved, but I felt ‘the rush’ for the first time. I started to contribute to more and more magazines but then things started to dry out. It was more about who was fastest to reply on the ‘gigs available email’ and so the work started drying up and started thinking about giving up for the first time.
I then met the lovely David Harris at a Tash Sultana gig and he really encouraged me not to give up. I kept hearing him say to me ’Check out my website. check out my website.” So I did and I thought to myself I can do that. One week later, The Rocker Rag was born. Through the contacts I had already made in the industry and help from other magazine editors, it has been a pretty good transition. I have a small team of contributors but never wanted it to be too big. I never wanted my photographers to feel that they need to be “quick on the return email” and it’s a great little team. This platform gives us the opportunity to photograph and review gigs and I even get to interview some musical legends too which I love. I have spoken to some amazingly talented musos and will forever be super grateful for Jackie and David’s help.
Did you always want to be a music photographer?
I love music. I have always loved it. I was right into playing when I was younger. I play a lot of instruments in an extraordinarily mediocre way, but when I was about 14 or 15, I had a really bad experience singing on stage and from that moment I have had incredible stage fright. So, since I can’t be the talent, I wanted to photograph it, so I am still immersed in it. Whilst I have always had photography in my life, the music photography side really came about after the U2 gig. From then on, it’s been like an addiction. I need it, I crave it.
When the pandemic happened, we gig photographers were lost. We lost our natural high, our drug, the rush. It’s like we all had withdrawals. It seriously is a natural high photographing live music. You are limited with time – the first three songs with no flash so you need to know how to really work your camera and you need to capture the best photos within that time. The adrenaline rush is exhilarating. There is nothing like it. And then you get to relive it all over again when you get home and start to edit; hoping you have THAT shot. The hero shot. That golden ticket.
What’s been the highlight so far of your photography career?
It’s hard to put it down to just one. Probably three big highlights come to mind though. The first one, was the first gig I got access to when I created The Rocker Rag and it just happened to be a favourite of mine. Robert Plant – The Led Zeppelin legend. I was so nervous just being in his company that I had to remind myself to breathe. It was like a dream came true and it certainly was a “I did this on my own and nailed it” moment. Being able to photograph him on my own merits, that was pretty awesome.
The second one is seeing my photography on merchandise for artists. The biggest deal for me has to be the photo I took of the band Rose Tattoo, that now appears on their marketing and t-shirts, and I have sold many prints to their dedicated fans.
The final big moment for me and there is a bit of an emotional back story to this, but it was finally being able to photograph Aussie legend Jimmy Barnes. I have now photographed him a few times, but he was the first musician I saw in concert and still so angry at my Aunty and Uncle for not taking me to see Cold Chisel’s Last Stand in the 80’s. Mind you I was about 10 at the time! But being able to finally capture him was a my-heart-is-full moment.
Secret Squirrel – I was so overcome with emotion, there may have been a few tears, but of course I was super professional, took the photos, remembered to actually breathe and watched the rest of the show from the side lines in awe!
Who are your major influences?
There are a few actually.
Firstly, there is Katarina Benzova. She is phenomenal. She is the touring photographer for Guns and Roses, but I came to know her more for her work with The Dead Daisies. I am a huge Jon Stevens fan and when he created the supergroup, she went along for the ride as their photographer. Her work is predominately black and white and is superb. She does a lot of work within the industry but is also known for her charity work and auctioning her work to help causes such as the Animal Asia Campaign and the Nelson Mandela: The Legacy of Hope Foundation.
Another photographer that is inspiring is Melbourne local Michelle Grace Hunder. Michelle is predominantly a hip-hop photographer but has been instrumental in sharing information and helping newcomers to the industry. She is more than willing to share experiences, advice and just helped me with pricing etc when I first started. Its these little things especially since I started when I was in my late 30s that have left an impression with me. It was hard to get any assistance, but Michelle was instrumental in me continuing in the industry. And her work. Just wow. Her work says everything.
There are also two other Melbourne photographers – First is Nate Hill, whose work is simply sublime. He combines his photography and his stunning graphic design and produces these stunning pieces of artwork which have been seen on many an album cover and in fact one of my walls at home is a little Nate Hill gallery. I now can call Nate a friend and am proud to have him as a contributor to not only The Rocker Rag, but lucky me (and wedding clients) as is he is also my trusty second photographer for my wedding bookings.
Finally, there is Jaz Meadows. His unique live portraiture is out of this world. He is also known to capture the “pit view” where he captures photographers when we are shooting. He shoots in black and white, and his captures always tell a story. I am truly lucky to have these people by my side and always willing to help and most importantly laugh with.
Who would you most like to work with?
There are so many artists that I would love to work with. Jimmy Barnes, Jeff Martin and The Tea Party, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, but the ultimate would have to be the nicest guy in rock, Dave Grohl and the Foo fighters. I’m such a huge Foo Fighters fan, it would be a dream come true to do a world tour with them. It is so much harder for women in this industry to break into touring. Music photography is very male dominant, but slowly more women are getting to tour with these big bands which is awesome to see. One day I will tour with them! One day. I will never stop that dream.
What’s your impression of the Aussie music scene?
The Aussie music industry is phenomenal. They are the first industry to donate their time and resources to help people. Look at all the fundraising gigs that have happened over the last few years for flood and fire relief. The industry is always there to help, donate their time and resources but it’s been disappointing to see the lack of government support that they got during this Covid Pandemic. The Arts were one of the last to receive any financial assistance. The music industry are givers – not just musicians, but the whole music industry – from roadies, to sound and lighting techs to venues. They will always give their time, and talent to help causes. It’s a passion and that’s just what they do. Industries like these are far and few between. We must continue to support live music and venues and it’s times like these that the helpers need our continued help.
I have met some unreal people within the industry. From Musician’s to photographers and we are like a family. We stand together. From the covid shutdowns with the whole industry decimated in that time, we always support and guide each other.
No one can understand the rush you get from photographing live music like other music photographers. It’s a bond. You do need a thick skin in this industry and if you can’t accept rejection, you won’t last long. We all try to help each other. Be nice and people will love working with you but that relates to any industry, not just the music industry.
What has music brought to your life?
It makes my soul happy. It doesn’t matter if you are in a good or bad mood, there is music for every occasion. Music is a memory maker and is just a way of life. It’s my everything. My life would be very still and boring without music. It’s a part of my make up.
Music has also given me the opportunity to photograph some amazing talent. From emerging bands to some of the world’s biggest performers. I have created some amazing friendships, some amazing memories and have had the opportunities to meet some crazily talented people. When it comes down to it, it has given me the platform to really be me; not me as a mother, partner or friend. And as clichéd as it may sound, I am living my dream as a music photographer. It’s pretty awesome to realise that and I do need to pinch myself sometimes.