Whether it’s the effortlessly cool swagger Zach Burns brings to the Unlikely Candidates’ concert images or the cinematic renderings of Charley Crockett’s shows from Brooks Burris, music and photography enjoy a synergistic relationship in Fort Worth.
During packed, raucous shows at Lola’s Fort Worth, Tulips FTW, and elsewhere, these photogs position themselves out of sight and slink around without disturbing concertgoers.
The work doesn’t end with the final ringing note. Often as quickly as possible, the visual artists parse hundreds of images, editing them as needed so musicophiles can relive the previous night’s glory via Instagram or Facebook.
Fort Worth’s music scene, after two years of inaction, has returned with packed shows, and this resurgence has been made possible, in part, by camera-wielding artists who give the scene vibrant images and promotional footage that last long after the curtains come down.
While not comprehensive, our list includes eight of the most active photogs in town to honor their work and that of the broader community of concert photographers.
For Zach Burns, the next best thing to being onstage was photographing it. “Originally, the plan was to be a bass player in a metal band, but I sucked,” he said, “like really bad.” Since then, Burns has established himself as Fort Worth’s go-to photographer/videographer, covering alt-rock, metal, and hip-hop acts and events like Firefly Music Festival, Fortress Fest, Lights All Night, The Emo Night Tour, and the occasional dive bar show. “Live music has always felt like a place of love, acceptance, and self-expression,” he said. It offers “the freedom of being authentically you or who you want to be. The stage feels like a home to me. For the next 30 minutes to an hour, the world shuts down, and it’s just everyone sharing a moment with one another. Getting to capture it has been the most rewarding feeling that I can never get enough of.” Burns, who studied photography in college, said his favorite venues to photograph with his Sony A7III are the Chat Room and Southside Ballroom and his favorite bands include Ryker Hal, UnityTX, and the Unlikely Candidates. Burns feels like this image of rapper Loudiene at the So What?! Music Festival captures his “undying love of why I love our music scene. This photo is how I feel every time I think about it.” Visit @ZachXBurns or ZachBurnsPhoto.com.
Walt Burns snags images of events, landscapes, and real estate, and he also takes portraits. “Taking pictures had been my side hustle until the pandemic eliminated my day job of 15 years,” he said. “One of my favorite avenues of working with a camera is shooting live shows. I have always enjoyed live music. Over the years, I’ve tried to attend every gig, concert, song swap, and house show that I could find.” One of the photog’s proudest moments was landing his portrait of Siberian Traps on the cover of the Weekly. “I taught myself photography by watching YouTube tutorials. I was able to combine my love for photography and for music with my love for the camaraderie found in the local music scene.” The house photographer for Wild Acre Live — his favorite venue to work along with Tulips FTW — and Fortress Presents said he approaches every show with the same mindset. “When given the chance to capture the energy of a show, I respond by framing each shot to tell the story of the night,” he said, adding that his camera of choice is a Nikon D850. “It has never felt like a job to me.” The multi-talented photographer recently aimed his lens at Fort Worth singer-songwriter Jake Paleschic at Tulips FTW. Visit @WaltBurnsPhotography or WaltBurns.com.
Los Angeles native Jessica Waffles began taking pics at 17, primarily at underground raves. When she moved to North Texas nine years ago, she found a passion for documenting concerts. “I was inspired to uplift underdog artists through photography and videography,” she said. Under her photog brand Waffles Weekly, she works for the KXT 91.7 FM and record labels covering North Texas’ colorful music scene. “The fast-paced environment of live music photography is ever-changing,” she said, “and it fuels my desire to keep chasing the moment.” Waffles recently took this dynamic shot of Bailey Chapman from Egg Drop Soup at Sahara Lounge in Austin. Visit @EatMoreWaffles or JessicaWaffles.com.
Jose Serrato regularly bought copies of Circus, Rolling Stone, and Spin as a teen. “It made me feel like I was there,” he recalled. “I could hear the music through those photos. If any of my photos give off that feeling for someone, then I know I did my job.” Serrato dabbled in live show photography in the early 2000s when he wasn’t playing gigs. Around 10 years into his photography hobby, he invested in a professional camera and started pushing himself to learn to work in difficult lighting situations. “Lola’s [Saloon] was the place I spent most of my time learning how to shoot under various lighting situations,” he said. He learned to film in “smoke, thanks to the Me-Thinks,” local hard rockers who love using their fog machine onstage. After learning how to navigate local shows, Serrato now slings his Nikon mirrorless Z 6 — his camera of choice because he said all the pros use it — to film touring acts and large performance venues. “Shooting local bands here in the Fort will always be my favorite thing to do,” he said. “Working with local bands like Celestial L’amour, Good Latimer, and Lockjaw has been a great experience.” Celestial L’amour, shown here at Tulips FTW in mid-2021, has an “easy stage presence” that makes them fun to photograph, he said. Visit @DigitalInk817 or DigitalInk817.com.
Greg Gutbezahl credits his early love of live music shows with his time studying at NYU in the early 1980s. “I was in the right place at the right time,” he recalled. “I was five years late to the punk explosion, but there were still enough musicians to see each night, and eventually I started photographing those shows.” Shooting film was a cumbersome ordeal, he said, but he eagerly snagged photos of popular bands at the time like The Fuzztones, The Tryfles, and The Vipers. Then in 1987, someone stole Gutbezahl’s camera gear. In the early 2000s, Gutbezahl purchased a digital camera — a Canon EOS 6D Mark II — and picked up the hobby again, photographing shows in London, New York, and San Francisco. When he moved to Fort Worth a few years ago to accommodate his wife’s new job, he quickly connected with Mean Motor Scooter and other bands across North Texas. The self-taught photog’s favorite local music acts include The Wee-Beasties, Levi Ray, Big Heaven, and 88 Killa. Now a professional photographer for hire, Gutbezahl shoots fashion shows and portraits. He was voted critic’s choice for best photographer in the Weekly’s 2022 Best Of awards. He loves taking images near the stage, and the up-close energy from those intimate encounters shows with this photograph of Phantomelo bassist Panda Cuenca, snagged at MASS mid-2019. Visit @Greg.Gutbezahl.Glam.Gigs or GregGutbezahlGlamGigs.com.
If Juan R. Govea were a name-dropper, he’d have major credentials to boast about, namely past gigs photographing big festivals like Fortress, Index, Punk in Drublic, and South by Southwest. The photog and Weekly writer has captured shows by national acts, and that work inspires him to cover local bands as a writer, he said. “I feel I’m lucky to be able to capture and talk with these artists and musicians in support of their talents,” he said. He took this photo of local country artist and Asleep at the Wheel pianist Ginny Mac at MASS in 2020. Visit @NTX_Subculture_Nerd.
For Dylan Cox, his goal is to collaborate with local musicians to create stunning, meaningful pictorial works. “As a fellow musician, I know firsthand the significance of capturing the raw energy and passion of live performances,” he said, adding that his favorite venue to film at was the recently closed MASS. “That’s why I am dedicated to showcasing local bands through my photography and videography. For me, there’s nothing more rewarding than capturing a moment that speaks to the heart of the music and the people who create it. My goal is to bring a unique perspective to every project I work on.” The self-taught photographer’s talent shines in this shot of Driving Slow Motion that he took with his Sony A7 III at Harvest House in Denton two years ago. Visit @LifeNSnapShots or LifeinSnapShots.com.
As a teen and early twentysomething, Brooks Burris took disposable or point-and-shoot cameras to concerts. “When my daughter was born, I decided it was time to invest in a nice camera and follow my passion,” he said. Burris began shooting professionally in early 2018 when he invested in a Canon R6. “Since then, I’ve been able to work with many music venues and international musicians,” he said, adding that his favorite venues to photograph are Dickies Arena, The Post at River East, and Tulips FTW. “The core motivator for me with live music photography is all of the unpredictable elements coming together to create a powerful image.” Burris, whose favorite memory is photographing performances at Willie Nelson’s Luck Ranch, admits he is a superfan of Charley Crockett and snagged this image while the Americana singer-songwriter was on tour in Grand Junction, Colorado, last April. Visit @BrooksBurrisPhotography.