Hit Me With Your Best Shot: An Interview with Neelam Khan Vela
Interview by Lola Stephen
“Taking photos of your favourite bands since 1995” is the bio of Barcelona born, Glasgow based photographer Neelam Khan Vela and never has a truer sentence been typed. From Hinds, to Foxygen, The Orielles, and Sunflower Bean, Neelam has toured the world shooting some of music’s most exciting bands capturing the raw energy, emotion (and each drop of sweat!) at every gig she attends.
Neelam's photographs have graced the pages of NME, Clash, Noisey, and The Skinny, and most recently seen her shoot the cover of Hinds' sophmore album I Don't Run.
And it’s no secret why.
With most of her subjects being close friends or of bands that she loves, Neelam manages to create incredibly personal and intimate photographs taken from the perspective of a genuine music lover. Scrolling through Neelam’s feed has you wishing you could jump into what looks like the best gig ever – that is until you see the next picture.
Having just completed a European and US tour with Spanish four-piece Hinds, we managed to sneak into her busy schedule to chat life on the road, the allure of Glasgow, and her "most important" photograph.
When did you start taking photographs and how did it evolve into music photography?
I started taking pictures when I was really young, when I was a kid I would always grab a camera and take pictures of anything, but when I was about 10 or 11 I started gaining more interest in it and started to always take the camera we had at home with me. When I was 14 I started getting into music so it kind of went together, every time I went to a show I would try and take photos at it. When I was 17 and I moved to London it was when I proper started considering a career.
When did you move to Glasgow and what’s it like working as a photographer in the music scene there?
I moved to Glasgow a couple of years ago, mainly attracted by its music scene and the people here. Being a photographer here is great, the music scene is so eclectic it never gets boring, there is so many amazing bands and they keep coming, that's the best part!
Who are some of your favourite bands in Glasgow?
There's so many!! Lylo, Lucia, Kaputt, Sweaty Palms, Rapid Tan, The Ninth Wave, Hairband, Spinning Coin, Walt Disco, only to name a few.
Your photographs are always an honest reflection of the gigs you’re at, often taken from the perspective of a fan and successfully capturing the excitement, energy (and sweat!) in each. You can tell that you have a genuine love of music, do you think it’s important to have this connection to the bands when shooting live?
I think as a photographer it's important to have a connection with your subject regardless what this might be. The more you know, love and understand your subject the more personal and honest the photos will be. So yeah, it's super important! Whenever I'm shooting a band I'm not interested in for a commission or something, the photos are good, but they lack emotion.
You just recently been on tour with Hinds, documenting their shows and all of the in-betweens. What’s life like on the road as a photographer and how easy do you find storytelling through taking photographs?
The life on the road is amazing, it's my favourite thing to do. I'm really lucky that I get to tour with some of my favourite bands, so seeing them play every night brings me so much joy. Apart from that, the places you get to see and the people you get to meet, and all the fun you have makes the whole thing even better. As a photographer you need to be always alert to not miss a good picture, and then you need to spend a few hours every day editing the photographs, so you're on the job 24/7. It's exhausting but it's totally worth it. I think storytelling and photography go hand by hand, I think it's really interesting to stick with a particular band and document all the moments that no one else gets to see.
Your photographs often look like film stills and I always wish I could watch them and see what was happening at the time. What’s your favourite photograph you’ve ever taken and what’s the story behind it?
I honestly don't think I have a personal favourite because there's so many, so I'm gonna go for the one that's been the most important in my career: the Hinds album cover. When the girls asked me to go on tour a few days with them last summer to try and get the album cover they had one thing clear, they wanted the photo to be real, in the moment. Hinds is a band that tours so much that they wanted the cover of the second album to show them in their element, sweaty and tired. Every night right after the show we would find a place in the venue and take 10 or 15 polaroids while they were still buzzing from playing. The photo that made it was taken in Edinburgh, I got them to climb on some shelves in the dressing room, the plant was already there and we loved it because it looked so beautiful and weird.
Finally, what music are you listening to at the moment?
Lately I've been listening a lot to Confidence Man, Her's, Twin Peaks and Kali Uchis.
Follow Neelam @neelastica on Instagram.