Jill Kettles: Featured Photographer, Raconteur, and Shoe Fashionista
It’s about time I featured another one of ND’s photographer and her work. This time it’s Jill Kettles from Atlanta, who mixes photography with her work as a publicist and her life as a raconteur, shoe aficionado, and purveyor of purple lipstick. She’s a member of the Americana Music Association, the Recording Academy (the folks behind the Grammys), Folk Alliance, and the Blues Foundation, and has a BFA in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University. You may remember when she reported from the Folk Alliance in 2016 for this column. Jill has seen a thing or two, so listen up. Here, in her own words on her life in performance photography, is …
“An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.” — Andy Warhol
The first rule of Photo Fight Club: Make friends with the security guys up front if they are present. Number 2: Make “nice” with the lighting guy at the venue and ask for your white lights. Number 3: Don’t send 500 photos to the band. Just 12 or so is fine. After that, you get them confused, and there’s nothing more frustrating than a confused musician.
I have no formal training, but had an eye for composition and learned a lot from my father, who still, at 80, loves to take pictures. I started with my his 1980 Canon AE-1. I used the oddest settings for I had a “formula” to get the sweet shot every time. I began taking performance photos in 1993, and the bug bit me in 1994 when I went to a festival in Memphis. One of my James Brown shots was in a local rag — you could see the sweat on his face.
I learned how to take photos, by trial and error, got inspired by my mentors: one named Danny, another one was Bob, and another one was … I can’t recall. I looked at Mark Seliger more so than Annie Leibowitz, and I hate Ansel Adams. Yes, I said that.
I landed a magazine column in a local monthly, so I used a lot of my photos for that as well. I also got commissions to do a lot of album layouts and publicity photos. I have photos from the Roxy with the Ramones. I was right under Johnny’s nose, and with all the crowd surfers, the two security guys and I split the money that had fallen out of the pockets. I think I walked away with 25 bucks.
In 1995, I started my new job with Drivin’ N Cryin’ at Center Stage, and the following year I went to work with Mark Pucci. In the 18 years there I saw a lot of great photos. I picked my favorites that either made the cut or not, but I was gaining my eye for a necessary PR shot or band shot. I think an artistic background and my eye for the dramatic and strong helped me. I think I see the emotion more quickly than most.
I study album covers, I look at publicity shots like some look at brain surgery, and I read billboards on the highway not to know where to go for a bathroom break but to figure out the message behind them. I only have 3-5 seconds to “get it.”
The cost of your camera, lenses, and gear doesn’t matter; use what you have and if the photos you get are sharp, creative, and well done, you are golden. You don’t have to carry it everywhere you go, just take it along when you want the chance to get the shot. I have gotten the “rock shot,” and the action shot and the posed shot, the facial shot, and, sadly, the glare. I just smile back.
Last, but not least, I have a rejection letter from Rolling Stone magazine from 1994. I am proud of that one. I mean at least they looked, right?
Last rule in Photo Fight Club: Only turn in your best work; it may be the only shot you get.
Now, scroll through Jill’s photos, including a couple from her visit to Cuba, that Rolling Stone letter, some household names, and others not so much. All the more reason to pay attention. She did. Her firm is Miss Jill PR. I can attest when she says, “This is not your usual musical publicist …” Photos are, of course, included there, and more on the ND site. Explore a little.