Photographer spotlight: An Interview With Hana Kovacs

Photographer spotlight: An Interview With Hana Kovacs

1st September 2022

Earlier this year, we launched the inaugural Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards, the first ever awards to celebrate the art of music photography and the talent behind the lens.

The competition ran across a series of distinct categories, with winners selected by a panel of photographers, music artists and creatives. The awards recognised 2021’s most unforgettable, unique and unsung music moments and the varied and talented photographers who captured them.

Shortlisted emerging & professional photographers were unveiled and celebrated at an exclusive awards ceremony, hosted here at Abbey Road.

Over the last month we've profiled some of the talented photographers who participated and had their work shortlisted by our judges, including Rankin, Shygirl, Jill Furmanovsky, Moses Sumney, Sacha Lecca, Dana Scruggs and Simon Wheatley.

You can read some of the previous pieces in the series below:

- Anthony Harrison

- AboveGround

- Chris Suspect (winner of the Zeitgeist Award)

- John Lyons (winner of the Live Music Photography Award)

- DeShaun Craddock

- Riccardo Piccirillo

- Neelam Khan Vela

This week we spoke to Hana Kovacs, who was a finalist in our Undiscovered category. This category aimed at identifying and recognising the emerging, unsung talent that exists in music photography.

Check back every Thursday as we continue to profile some of the talented photographers who participated.

Shortlisted Photo

Undiscovered Award (supported by adidas)

This category was aimed at identifying and recognising the emerging, unsung talent that exists in music photography.

Othello by Hana Kovacs

A musical interpretation of Shakespeare's Othello by Ballet Soul at A Time To Breathe Festival in South London, a festival of music, dance, poetry.


Photographer spotlight: Hana Kovacs

“A good photographer of course goes beyond technique, lights and frame. They are always looking for the unusual, the unspoken, the unrevealed angle.” - Hana Kovacs

Hana Kovacs is a creative photographer based in the UK, specialising in portraiture of theatre, music and life. Creating visual expression through sensory immersion using skills from her extensive fine, applied and performance arts background.

Hana was shortlisted for our Undiscovered Award for her entry entitled ‘Othello’.

How did you fall into music photography specifically?

It started with my love for live music. There's nothing quite like a live experience of your favourite band with all the people coming together, who love the same music. At a live gig you can find connections, escape, discover new possibilities and be with your tribe – or at least form a great story to tell.

I wanted to tell those stories through a visual medium from very early on: the magic, the uniting power of music, the whole experience. In 2010 I went to see The Maccabees at Sziget Festival in Hungary and I became friends with them. Three years later I moved to London for my drama training and I got in touch to say "I'd like to come and shoot for you".

I think they rather liked my work as they had me back for more live photography. When Felix White (Maccabees guitarist) started Yala! Records, he invited me to take pictures at their bi-monthly events, showcasing new bands. Through this connection I then shot for Jessie Ware, Florence + the Machine and Nadine Shah. I also shot bands like Interpol, Editors and The Cure at festivals like All Points East and BST Hyde Park.

I also parallel-ventured into classical portrait photography, theatre productions, rehearsals, backstage shoots and actors' headshots as all of these genres are connected, inspire and inform one another.

And was there a particular image or body of work that was a major inspiration when starting out?

I studied Photography during my MA in Graphic Design & Advertising in Vienna, so naturally Rankin was one of the first photographers in the commercial world that I looked up to. I had creative books full of his work on my bookshelves at university, so needless to say I was chuffed when I was able to tell him this face to face at the award show.

I adore Anton Corbijn's black and white world, especially his consistent collaboration with Depeche Mode, a lasting work-relationship to dream of, a testament to creatives on the same wavelength marrying music with the perfect visuals.

I also fell in love with the work of Ryan McGinley. His bodies in nature works (c. 2010) are painterly, beautifully executed and reminded me of the greats in History of Art. Paintings of classical portraits and glorious scenes of nature are my biggest inspiration. Visually these have built my awareness.

What makes a good subject in music photography and what makes a good music photographer?

An artist unafraid of expressing themselves whether it'd be large-scale, theatrical, or exposed vulnerability in an intimate setting, up-close. Utmost honesty, authenticity and openness make a good subject and a good photographer, who is naturally an ally and encourages the subject to shine.

A good photographer of course goes beyond technique, lights and frame. They are always looking for the unusual, the unspoken, the unrevealed angle. Editing and making the right choices is also an important skill.

What advice would you give to someone getting started?

Don't be afraid of being persistent and asking for what you want. Knock on as many doors as you can, some will open. Turn up with a smile, enthusiasm and can-do attitude.

Strike up conversations with anyone, you never know. My very first conversation in London in 2012 happened to be with Stanley Kubrick's assistant, the late and great Andros Epaminondas. I took his portrait then and there, my first ever portrait in the UK, and it's still one of my most treasured photographs and moments to this day.

Be bold, be brave, learn your craft by doing, experiment.

How does your approach differ when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?

Doing as much research as I can in any case and having ideas prepared. It really depends on the task – is it a portrait shoot, is it conceptual, is it for a cover? How long have we got? A detailed brief makes a shoot go smooth with both upcoming and established artists

Do you think there’s a genre of music that naturally lends itself to powerful portrait photography?

In a wider sense, dance, theatre and operas are always going to be the grandest stories told on stage, where every element is masterfully planned, the story carefully constructed, the performances sharp, expressive, the music heightened. These ingredients make powerful portraits but there's also power in improvisation, spontaneity in all genres, which, when captured in its essence, reveals the most powerful image.

Do you have a preference of working on location/on tour vs in a studio?How easy is it to create “tour energy” in a studio? How easy is it to get “studio focus” on tour/on location?

I went with Jessie Ware on her London tour in 2018 and it was magical. The energy of the crowd is incomparable and different every night. You can get a few moments of "studio focus" backstage before going on stage as that time is usually focused on warm-up, or whatever comforting ritual an artist has before going on stage. In those moments you just have to be ready and respectfully honour the moment. During a live performance you are the bridge that captures the connection between artist and fans.

How does the photographic process differ between working with introverts and extroverts?

I think it all comes down to how well you can talk and listen to someone of any age, gender or background. Empathy, attention and care that comes with life experience will help to recognise the needs and tone of voice, allowing the process to flow naturally in any way it wants to, steering gently, for the best results.

Have you ever been starstruck when photographing someone? How do you overcome that?

To my surprise no, not starstruck, but more scooped up in the heightened energy of the artist, of the live show, for example with Florence + The Machine.

Adrenaline kicks in for me behind the camera and I just don't want to miss a moment. I'm on it, with my senses sharpened, focusing on what one does best will help overcome anything.

How has social media shaped music photography, both as a craft more generally, as well as your personal work?

Trends show instantly in social media feeds and spread like wildfire too – this can be more distracting, than useful. One can find more inspiration in their surroundings when looking up from the screen, especially when exploring their own style and vision.

Constant engagement can be unhealthy too. The platforms are highly controlled, so I wouldn't put much importance on reactions to photos or on the number of followers. It isn't always a good guide for quality. It is fantastic that Abbey Road Studios created this award to enable the art and craft of photography to be recognised. I prefer focusing on the work at hand and try not to spend too much time on the screen, as hours of editing is quite enough. A balance with nature is very important to me, to keep my photography organic.

Who is someone, alive or dead, you’d love to photograph?

Harry Styles – there, I'm manifesting. I think he, his band and his team create the most uplifting shows and he is on the right track to fulfill his highest potential as a creative performer, with so much positivity, love, charm and humour. I'd like to capture that golden energy.

Then there is David Bowie, whose brilliance I'm sad to never have witnessed in the flesh, apart from seeing his magnificent musical, Lazarus.

I must mention Björk – it would be a visual and auditory feast for the eyes and ears to photograph her!

In one word, how would you describe your photography?


How did it feel to be nominated in the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards 2022?

It was an astonishing surprise. It has been the most uplifting encouragement that confirms to me that I'm on the right path. It has ignited renewed motivation and inspiration, which has counterbalanced the last two years perfectly. A wonderful recognition, an immense honour – and it rocks to be associated with music's most legendary studio. A brilliant stamp of quality, for which I'm truly grateful.

Why do you think it is important to create a platform like the MPAs to showcase music photography?

To encourage, motivate, inspire and uplift photographers who create the lasting proof of magic that happens in moments of greatness.

A music photographer's path can be quite tough and the initiative of the MPAs brings bands, record labels, photographers together to make things happen. Thank you for helping us find each other.

Have there been any benefits to you since being nominated?

Innumerable benefits, all at different stages, which I'm looking forward to sharing once they come to fruition.

What have you been doing since the awards? And what do you hope is next?

The summer is unfolding with a range of beautiful photography commissions from a wedding in Hungary to a handfasting ceremony in the South-West of England along with some of my regular commissions. I'm hoping to reach more artists, musicians, performers and creative circles that I'd like to collaborate with and build further lasting work-relationships. All of which will lead to upgrading my kit in the near future, so I can create even better and brighter imagery that I can submit to next year's MPAs too.
Don't forget to head to the official MPAs website to get a comprehensive overview of all the participants, nominations and winners.

To keep up with Hana, follow her on Instagram at @hana_kovacs and her website.

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