PHOTO: Karen McBride
Feedback screams through shaking speakers. And from amongst the debris of crushed cans and smashed bottles, between dissipating tendrils of smoke and rising steam, emerges photographer Karen McBride, stalking the shadowy world of the unsigned band to capture iconic images that pulsate with raw energy and celebrate the wild heart of rock ‘n’ roll music. It is the performance that interests Karen as much as the music, and the gaze of her lens has befallen a wide diversity of artists from actors, ballet dancers and obscure unsigned bands, to more famous names like Oasis, Debbie Harry, Slash and Scotty Moore.
Unashamedly Mancunian, Karen was born and raised in Harpurhey. While other contemporaries headed South, she has always resisted the lure of the bright lights of London for the unmistakable and unique vibe of her hometown, with its leading-edge, creative body encasing an industrial beating heart. Success is earned through hard graft and determination, the desire to learn, to do better, through good times and bad and always with a dose of Northern humour and humility. This ethos is reflected in her work - Honesty. Integrity. Soul. It is present in every shot she takes.
It is the instinctive way in which Karen works that informs the apparent spontaneity of her photography; a skill perfected over a lifetime combined with a startling natural talent. Karen insists that she ‘hears’ when the camera settings are right, instinctively knows when the exposure is perfect and when to press the shutter, but it doesn’t come easy: “You’ve got to take risks to get the best shots. To see opportunities where others do not takes imagination, ambition, and then balls to push the boundaries – through the crowd, the mosh pit, the security, do whatever it takes to get to where you need to be”. Through the heat and chaos she claims her prize, that split-second where the stars align to create one moment of pure energy and emotion - an image that speaks, an image that quite literally tells a story.
Every way I ever photographed comes from being inspired by American music. I grew up listening to Elvis and Johnny Cash, I would spend hours, days even looking at those old photographs wishing one day I could be part of something like that.
The girls at school bullied me so I drew pictures of them and gave them as gifts, it helped we became friends. I realised then that imagery has a power to improve situations, sell a moment, heel a wound, and of course enhance the music we listen to.