Charlie Hardy is a photographer. At 26, he's travelled overseas to shoot bands and festivals. He's had his work shown in major music mediums, from Rolling Stone to Monster Children.
And he still calls Newcastle home. And he always works with music at his fingertips.
"I grew up playing drums," he says over a coffee (he drinks hot chocolate) on a street-side table at Bank Corner. "I more play guitar nowadays. I love it. It's nice to know it's there.
"You can walk past it, pick it up. Send an email, turn over, pick up a guitar. It's those little things ..."
Hardy grew up in New Lambton (his first concert: his mum took him to see The Offspring at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre when he was about five years old), and attended Hunter School for the Performing Arts in Broadmeadow.
Were you always connected to music?
"Definitely," he says. "I grew up doing music and art. When I was younger, I hoped to write music, and play. When I picked up photography as an art form, I decided to document bands. I think it all ties down to growing up playing music."
The new exhibition at Newcastle Art Gallery, We Can Be Heroes: backstage pass, opens on Saturday and celebrates the world of four Australian music photographers and their images of rock'n'roll, both on the stage and down the corridors, in the back rooms, and posing for cameras.
The four photographers are Luke Kellett, from Newcastle, the principal of Headjam creative agency who has maintained a separate career and passion as a music photographer for more than 15 years; Charlie Hardy, who's been seriously photographing bands at festivals and on tour in Australia and around the world since he was 18; Maclay Heriot, a Sydney-based photographer with a huge portfolio of music work; and Sophie Howarth, who shot the Big Day Out every year from 1992 and was the event's official photographer from 2003 to 2011.
The We Can Be Heroes show features almost 400 images.
It can really just cut down the moment. It's literally really black and white. It takes away any other emotion or mood that colour could do. It's so honest.Charlie Hardy on black and white film
"The install will be quite outrageous," says Kellett, who played a key role in curating the show. "I think it will be the biggest show the gallery has seen."
And while the show has shots of superstars, like Silverchair, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Gang Of Youths, Powderfinger, Violent Soho, and Boy and Bear, there's an assortment of not-so-famous musos in there, too, Kellett says.
One could say it comes down to the energy and honesty of the work.
"I think it's a show for all people," Kellett says. "I think it will be really accessible. For the volume, for the stories that it's telling. People won't know everybody."
Kellett's contributions focus on three narratives, from three tours:
# Hiatus Kaiyote in Japan in 2019, with a performance at the massive Fuji Rock Festival.
# Grinspoon, from a 2019 tour, including shots from their show at Newcastle Entertainment Centre.
# A combination of work from a decade ago, from the Bohemian Masquerade Ball tour, with Mojo Juju and the Snake Oil Merchants, Kira Piru and a host of others.
Like Charlie Hardy, Kellett's interest in music photography got off to an early start based on personal relationships.
"I got really fortunate when I was 16 in the UK," he says. "A number of my friends got signed to high profile labels ... I was never a great musician. My contribution to my friendship circle was to document it with a camera. If I didn't have those relationships, I wouldn't have ended up forging 15 years within the music industry."
Of the thousands of images he's shot, when asked, Kellett says his favourite is a series of nine images shot on his "point and shoot" camera of Mojo Juju and the Snake Oil Merchants at Woodford Folk Festival on the stroke of midnight.
"There's an energy in those I wouldn't be able to capture anymore," he says. "I don't party like I used to. It has an element of immersion I'm really proud of. It captures an element of the energy by the band.
"They were a legendary live band."
Charlie Hardy's images in the show are special in the sense they've all been taken in the last 12 months. He was extremely busy at the beginning of 2020, shooting a handful of festivals as well as bands. When asked to participate, he submitted a series that included The Preatures, The Jungle Giants, DMA's, The Chats and Flight To Dubai.
Hardy focused his lenses on Flight To Dubai early - they were mates. And one band member, Beau Hardy, is his brother. "I grew up with the guys," he says. "We all went to school together."
The band eventually moved to Sydney, and has been doing the hard yards of live performance to build a reputation and hone their skills.
"I've been lucky enough," Hardy says. "Over time I've been documenting and photographing them. It hasn't felt any different. We've always been friends. In a way, I'm comfortable. They accept me for who I am when I come along and take photos, whether it's practising or playing live. I suppose, in a way, me photographing them over the years has helped me in the way that I interact with artists and bands nowadays."
Both Kellett and Hardy sing the praises of working in black and white film. Hardy counts Kellett as a mentor in music photography, which extends to darkroom advice, too.
Black and white photography has long been dominant in capturing live music, in part because early digital cameras could not handle low lighting or rapid changes in light settings.
"Aesthetically, there is so much crazy lighting, digital struggles to reveal a feeling," Kellett says. "I think black and white really lends to delivering an audience."
Hardy confesses black and white film was his first choice because he couldn't afford anything else. But he says he's glad he stuck with it. "It's great to know everything ties into one piece," he says.
Hardy on black and white: "It can really just cut down the moment. It's literally really black and white. It takes away any other emotion or mood that colour could do. It's so honest. It almost has its own emotion."
Lately, Hardy has also been shooting motion film. "I tried it with modern cameras, like DSLRs ... but I wasn't happy or satisfied," he says. "It didn't feel like it was me. And then I bought a 1960s Bolex 16mm camera. I've been shooting on that with a couple of bands. And that's been awesome. In way, it's like a new-found love or passion."
Hardy hopes he can get back out on the road soon shooting bands. Who's on his hit list? "Anyone and everyone," he says. "They all have stories to tell. I'd love to document it and tell it."
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