Music and portrait photographer Tom Oldham has spent the last five years traveling extensively around the UK photographing some of the world's biggest bands and it's all to raise money for War Child, a charity that protects children living in the world's most dangerous war zones.
Oldham photographs live acts moments before they go on stage and then again immediately as they finish their show. ON/OFF is a remarkable collection of music portraits giving an unseen insight into live music.
Beth Ditto photographed at Lovebox on 17th July 2011.
He has shot some of the world's biggest and best names in music – including Muse, Arctic Monkeys, Elbow, Prodigy, Tinie Tempah, Plan B, Ed Sheeran, M.I.A., Rudimental, Primal Scream plus many more.
The project has been shot at venues across the UK, curated by Ed Bartlett at The Future Tense, all to raise money for War Child.
Tom Oldham gives his inspiration and insight into the ON/OFF Photo Book.
Where did the ON OFF idea come from?
What do you think these photos tell us about live music?
I shoot loads of music portraits for various magazines and I wanted to capture a live music project that tied in portraiture, to really show the energy exchange that occurs around a performance. To combine these dynamic elements in a really consistent way so music fans could see in the simplest form what a band really looks like before and after a show.
The style and tone is deliberately stripped back, removing location, colour and any distraction from the honesty of the two shots. It's also a nod to Annie Leibovitz's early days Rolling Stone work, which I admire.
Which shoot are you most pleased with the results of?
These shots are true I never shouted any direction, the artists would just return to the spot in front of my light where they had stood prior to walking on stage, and act how they felt. It's supposed to be loose and free and straight and therefore an honest reflection of the show, their performance and the vibe between the band.
Shooting the gig itself is commonly a rehearsed performance and I wanted a more genuine record of the tension and release in the incredibly private seconds before and after a show. Hopefully you agree this was achieved.
What's the best story or anecdote you earned from the nights of hard work?
Weirdly the final shoot for the project featuring Rudimental at the Roundhouse felt like a real moment. They're wonderful fellas and were really happy to be photographed for War Child - they have nothing to hide and only love to give.They look brilliant and are really living inside the moment, this is their time. It's all in the shots.
Which act surprised you most?
So many stories. Liam Gallagher managed three frames before saying 'FOOK THIS' and walking off, that's him leaving frame you can see. The mighty Prodigy were amazing - it was quite terrifying waiting backstage awaiting the after shot, listening to their booming set. I had 17 seconds before they were ushered off site.
Tom the singer from Pulled Apart By Horses puked, then walked into our after shot. I could tell you something about every one of these, they're all really special to me.
Who were the loveliest?
And definitely Janelle Monae. She was astonishing, I still think she is the most wonderful live artist and it was a delight to shoot her for the project. Janelle really understands what's required photographically and it shows.
Did any artist have to go above and beyond to make this work?
Rudimental hugged me afterwards. MIA was really warm and kind. Janelle Monae and Grimes were super friendly and grateful for their involvement too. Anyone who is nice in that moment and can focus on other people is very generous I think.
What was the hardest shoot to do logistically?
Muse stood in the mud in the freezing cold backstage gazebo to do this for us. Their management were annoyed but the band didn't care, despite it ruining Matt's new sparkly pumps. That's love. They’d just done a two hour, headline set at Leeds Festival and hardly had a hair out of place afterwards. Only the towel suggests it's even an after shot. Like - what would make them actually sweat?
Did it ever go wrong?
Any venue where there's a staircase, my kit weighs a ton.
Why did you do this for War Child?
Not really. Kasabian were the only band who didn't make it back for the after shot unfortunately. For me it was a wasted evening but as they were fundraising for War Child at Shepherd's Bush Empire rather wonderfully that evening, it's fair enough. I let them off.
War Child is the most respected charity working with the music industry and it was completely logical to try to support their work with this kind of project. Especially now - I can't remember a more chaotic and destructive time in recent world history than 2014 so to have the opportunity to contribute in this way means a great deal to me and everyone who buys the book, I'm sure.
You can pre-order the ON/OFF Photo Book here.