How amazing would it be to have the opportunity to follow your favorite rock band around the world on tour and take photos of them? What would be even cooler is to take those photos and turn them into a photo book published by Rizzoli New York Publications. Nalinee Darmrong did just that! At the age of 17, she went on tour with The Smiths, one of the most influential alternative rock bands of the 80’s fronted by Morrissey. Nalinee ended up putting all of her photos into a book appropriately titled, The Smiths. Born in Bethesda, MD, she now currently resides in Washington DC and is a house photographer for several clubs in the DC area. Recently, I was able to ask her questions about her amazing career:
Where did you attend high school and college?
Holton-Arms School for high school, University of Maryland, College Park for college.
How did you get into rock photography?
Ironically, The Smiths were the first band I ever shot consistently after high school. I took a couple of high school photography courses, shot a few pix of shows at the old 9:30 Club on 9:30 F Street. I was very lucky, at the right place at the right time (between high school and college) to shoot The Smiths for such an extended period of time. They were amazing, and I will forever be grateful that they granted me the access to take most of the photos that are now part of my first photo book, The Smiths (Rizzoli publishers).
How did you get into rock music?
I’ve always been into music, as far as I can remember. There was always music in the home when I was growing up. I love all music, but rock music especially, because it speaks to me the most. I’ve been in 5+ bands over the years, and The Smiths’ guitarist, Johnny Marr, is the reason I had the courage to pick up a guitar and see what I could do. He is one of my ultimate guitar icons. and an amazing human being as well.
How did you end up touring with The Smiths? Are you a big fan?
My good friend Tony made me a cassette tape of the music and got me my first ticket to a Smiths show (Washington DC) as a graduation present in 1985. Another friend got me a ticket to the next show (Philadelphia). A bunch of friends and me talked to Johnny Marr after the DC show, and he put us all on the guest list for the 2 shows in New York (following Philadelphia). Everything seemed to happen organically, and not forced in any way. I grew to love the band the more I saw their live shows – incredibly energetic and crowd-inclusive – that’s what sold me for the long haul on why The Smiths were so great, and are still great to this day.
What was the experience like?
Magical! I was 17 going on 18, shooting candid pix of an amazing band, and traveling for the first time on my own (without my parents) and discovering the world.
What are you planning on doing next?
I’m currently one of the house photographers for the 9:30 Club, U Street Music Hall, Lincoln Theatre, Echostage, and Merriweather Post Pavilion. I will continue to do that while focusing on my book and selling photo prints.
What was the coolest place your job has taken you?
Though photographing The Smiths wasn’t exactly ‘my job,’ the coolest place I went to was The Shetland Isles in Scotland. It was a very small community, and everyone had to travel by ferry to get there. I saw some Shetland ponies, and learned about their rich Viking culture. Everyone who was there for the show felt special, honored, and humbled to see a Smiths show in such a remote locale.
What other bands do you really enjoy?
Too many to name…the great thing about being a hired music photographer is that you get to see bands you wouldn’t normally see and get turned on to all different kinds of music. I love that!
What inspires you?
My son, Rama, he’s 7, and I love seeing the world through his eyes. He’s an amazing individual.
As a photographer, what do you feel makes a good picture?
It’s not the medium (DSLR, point and shoot, cell phone, etc.), it’s the eye. It’s taking the time to see and frame a photo in your mind before you tap the button. Bill Crandall, a mentor and good friend of mine, calls this ‘intention.’ I’ve never forgotten this valuable advice.
What is the best photo you have ever taken? Why?
One of my faves is Joan Jett at RFK Stadium, July 4th, 2015. It was the first stadium gig I was hired to shoot photos for. Joan Jett was one of the first female rock pioneers, and it was amazing to get this shot. I’ll treasure it always. I got a lot of experience from my good friend, James Canty, for getting me into Coachella 2013 with a photo pass for all 3 days. I learned A LOT. One word: sand.
If you weren’t a rock photographer, what would you be?
Probably a musician. It’s funny, I always thought that that’s what my career would be, but photography was always so much more natural to me. There hasn’t been a week in my whole life where I haven’t taken a picture. I just didn’t think that anyone would ever want to see my photos. I’m so humbled and grateful that I was wrong!
You can get Nalinee’s photo book, The Smiths, in stores now or online at Amazon (The Smiths ). I would like to thank Nalinee for taking the time to answer my questions, and for giving me advice on how she got into the industry. I would also appreciate any feedback, as this is my first blog post!