Ralph Larmann: The Art of Performance Photography

Internationally acclaimed photographer Ralph Larmann strives to capture a production with all its facets holistically in his photographs and at the same time to capture the magic moments. He chats with Live Design about his approach and his work, from his first SLR camera to his childhood dream come true when he shot ABBA in London last year. He will present a 30-minute talk about his work at LDI2023: Ralph Larmann: The Art of Performance Photography, with plenty of time after the session to chat with Ralph about his career, which recently included photographing Ed Sheeran, Metallica, Madame Butterfly at the Bregenz Festival 2022/2023, Justin Timberlake, and Carrie Underwood.

Ralph Larmann. Credit: Anke Larmann

Live Design: Please talk a little about your background; how did you become a photographer and specialized in the concert/performance industry?

Ralph Larmann: Parallel to my drumming in various bands, I began writing my first articles for a German-language drummers' magazine called RIMSHOT at the end of the eighties. Since I wanted to work self-sufficiently as a journalist right from the start, I decided to create and supply the photos for my articles - which consisted primarily of interviews and test reports - myself. To do this, I bought my first SLR camera, including two lenses, and got started. The positive and highly motivating thing was that the photos were published in the magazine right from the start. Thus I always photographed with the goal and the requirement of the pressure and the publication. And that is still my motivation today. I want my photographs to take place. However, the Internet and social media did not exist at that time, so the opportunity or space for publications was much smaller than today. At that time, photographs had to be printed on paper without exception in order to make them visible to a wide public.

Specializing in the world of performances was a natural process for me, because as a musician I had been connected to this world since my early youth. Of course, being on stage and playing for an audience is different from photographing a concert. However, as a musician—at least that's how I feel—I have a different perspective and at the same time a deeper emotional connection to concerts and performances. I think this deep affection and understanding for the dramaturgy in music and any staging plays a significant role in my photography.

DL: What is the hardest part of capturing the excitement of the performance in the images and where do you like to shoot, FOH, backstage... etc.?

RL: The most difficult thing from my point of view is to capture a production with all its facets holistically in photographs and at the same time to capture the magic moments. You can look at a production or stage from countless positions. I see my task in finding the best angles in the short time available, and from these angles to create the most powerful and wonderful photographs. Thus, there are no favorite positions for me, because every designed stage and every staging is different. Here, however, it is to my advantage that I have been able to gather innumerable experiences in over 30 years, which I call upon with every new photo documentation.

LD: Do you "augment" your images with any Photoshop or other software?

RL: For the processing of my digital negatives, i.e. RAWs, I exclusively use Adobe Lightroom. For me, this digital post-processing is comparable to processing negatives in the darkroom. In doing so, I do not change the image in its message, but get the maximum dynamics out of the RAWs. Thus, I do not improve the images, but only make visible in my way the image information that is present anyway. In my view, a meaningless image cannot really be improved even with the most creative filters.

LD: How do you make sure the lighting in your images reflects the lighting (and video) on the stage?

RL: I photograph in my way only that what is present in light or video content in a performance, no more and no less. Our eyes can't capture the countless impressions anyway, but only perceive them and store them as memories in our brain. And as we all know, memories are finite, or rather fade very quickly with time. A photograph on the other hand is something for eternity, especially if it is printed on paper. That's why I've been printing myself with high-end inkjet printers on wonderful fine art papers, for example from Canson, for a few years now. To hold a magical moment on a beautiful paper in our hands or to look at it intensively in front of us on a wall in peace will always trigger something very special in us humans.

LD: Can you talk about some of the "best" or "favorite" events/artists you have worked with recently?

RL: I have had the privilege of photographing with some wonderful artists and for some gorgeous productions over the past few years. Basically, it is a privilege for me to be able to photograph with so much artistic freedom and at the same time enjoy so much trust. You can see some of these fantastic collaborations on my website www.larmann.com.

LD: Dream project?

RL: A childhood dream— if you will—came true last year when ABBA commissioned me to photograph their show ABBA Voyage at the ABBA Arena in London for three days. I had witnessed ABBA win the Grand Prix Eurovision (now Eurovision Song Contest) with the song "Waterloo" on April 6, 1974, in my grandparents' living room on TV. This job felt to me like winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games.