D. Randall Blythe grew up on the Atlantic coastal plains of Virginia and North Carolina and is best known for being the vocalist and songwriter in the massive American metal band Lamb of God. Blythe is also an author and a photographer. He wrote a memoir entitled “Dark Days” and his photographic body of work “A Longer View” has been exhibited at Leica Gallery Boston and Leica Store DC. As a passionate lover of the arts, Blythe uses his platform to bring awareness to and help mentor young artists in and around Richmond, Virginia, where he currently resides. Blythe and his band hit the road in late August 2021 for 5 weeks co-headlining the “Metal Tour of the Year” with Megadeth and supporting acts Trivium and Hatebreed. He used the Leica Q2 Monochrom to document life on the road as he criss crossed his way across the United States.
When did you decide to pick up a camera and why?
I bought a DSLR camera about 10 years ago with the sole intent of using it for video purposes— I had an idea for a documentary I wanted to make, but mostly wound up just filming my buddies skateboarding. One day I was heading out to film some skateboarding when I noticed the French press coffee maker sitting on my kitchen stove— I thought it looked kind of cool, so I put the camera on auto mode and decided to try taking a picture just for the heck of it. The resulting image was nothing special, but seeing it appear on the back of the camera instantly gave me the photography bug. I became a photographer entirely by accident, but since that first picture, I have very rarely left my house without a camera by my side.
You’ve written a book and you write the lyrics for your band. The words you choose to use evoke visual imagery to convey the story you are telling. Do you approach your photography with storytelling in mind too?
I didn’t at first, but I certainly do now. I began slowing down and thinking a lot more about my approach to photography once I switched from full auto mode to shooting in manual. The process of learning how to control an exposure automatically eliminated the “spray and pray” approach all beginning photographers suffer from in the digital photography era, and I began choosing my subject matter with much more intent. Once I got my first M, I slowed down further, shooting with even greater purpose and trying to find visual narratives all around me. It’s an ongoing learning process for me, a search for the story happening all around us all the time— I hope that search never ends.
Why did you decide the Q2 Monochrom was the camera you needed to take out on your latest tour?
I actually started the tour with my SL2 and M10-P, but after about a week I had this very strange feeling— I somehow just knew I needed to shoot exclusively with the Q2 Mono. It was so odd, almost like a compulsion, and I’ve never had that feeling about needing a specific camera before. My buddy Landon had let me shoot a bit with his Q2 Mono, so I already knew it was a great tool. I tried to find one, but on our days off I wasn’t anywhere near a camera store. Luckily Leica ships, so I had one in hand in relatively short order, haha. Although it’s a very versatile camera, I think I wanted the Q2 Monochrom specifically for its limitations- permanently attached 28mm lens, b&w files only. I felt that working photographically under those constraints matched the constraints we were working under as musicians on tour during a pandemic. Much of the close-knit camaraderie we normally experience with other bands and road crew on tour was stripped away due to COVID protocols. My main goal was visually capturing how weirdly separated the tour felt, and I wanted a simple, one camera-does-it-all piece of gear to achieve that. The Q2 Monochrom fit the bill perfectly.
How did shooting exclusively in black and white on this tour affect your perspective?
It made me consider composition and structure more than ever, especially shooting anywhere near the stage. A rock tour is both figuratively and literally a very colorful place; bands pay a lighting guy to make sure their live show looks good, and that involves lots of constantly moving different colored lights. All these different hues can be quite distracting, but looking through the b&w EVF strips all that color away and you clearly see not just the composition of the physical objects within the photograph but the intensity of different light sources. Shooting exclusively monochrome images pushed me to look for more areas of high contrast light and shadow, thus making the subject matter stand out more.
What was your experience shooting with the Q2 Monochrom? How does it differ from shooting in black and white on the M10?
Shooting with the Q2 Monochrom simplified everything for me so that I could concentrate more fully on my photographic goals during the tour. I didn’t have to resist the urge to change lenses or debate whether to edit in color or black and white later- the parameters were set for me, so all I had to do was find moments and then position myself appropriately to capture them. The camera feels great in your hand and is extremely simple to operate; I’ve often said before that I think the Q family of cameras are the perfect tool to learn the fundamentals of photography with, and I stand by that statement even more firmly with the Q2 Monochrom. So many modern cameras are crammed with complex menus full of bells and whistles that do nothing but distract me from making photographs- there is none of that with a Q model camera. As far as differences from the M10, the most obvious one is autofocus. The Q2 Monochrom has fast and sharp autofocus, a valuable asset when shooting quickly moving subjects such as musicians running across a stage or techs hurrying to move gear during set change.
You are an easily recognizable musician – how do you manage to blend into the scene when you make photos?
If I am shooting anywhere near a venue we are playing, that is pretty much impossible. In fact, there are hundreds of cellphone photos taken by fans on the internet of me shooting photos. But away from a venue, it’s not too hard. I shoot quietly and swiftly, I don’t make a big deal of it, and move on. Carrying a discretely sized and virtually noiseless camera such as the Q2 Mono or an M makes that a lot easier.
What is your goal for your photography?
I want to make bold images that convey an essential and easily recognizable truth about the nature of the subject matter during the moment of capture, whether that be a person or a landscape. In today’s era of misinformation, truth matters to me now more than ever— I just want to create honest photographs.
What has been your biggest challenge with photography?
To be frank, it’s feelings of utter inadequacy when I look at a few photographers’ work that I admire, haha. I am not a jealous person by nature, so I am not envious of the beautiful pictures these photographers make, but when I see their work, I do sometimes think “Wow. Look at that- why do I even bother?” Then I remember I am not making images for comparison to to anyone else’s work- I am making images to express my truth.
Can you identify parallels between writing songs or books and your approach to photography?
I’ve been asked this question more than any other concerning my photography, and the truth is that the process of making photos and the process of writing prose or lyrics are two entirely different things to me. I suppose if I looked hard enough, I could find parallels, but photography in so many ways feels much less restrictive to me. I do not have work within the parameters of a rhyme scheme when choosing photographic subject matter, change my approach to shooting to make it fit within a song structure, or follow any grammatical rules when making photographs. Shooting photos is unbelievably relaxing to me in that sense— it feels effortless and free.
Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
I am currently working on a long-term photo project called “Front Man”, a series of casual, available-light only portraits of men and women who use their voice professionally— singers, screamers, and rappers. All of these vocalists are either friends of mine, have influenced me in some way, have been on tour with me, or just make music I enjoy- most often some combination of the above. I got to shoot my pal Ice T for the project on this last tour. Once the body of work is complete, there will be a photo book of the images and accompanying exhibit.
Name one well known photographer you admire, and one up and coming photographer you want people to be aware of.
Constantine Manos’s work is magnificent— I am especially enamored by his “A Greek Portfolio.” Constantine was also quite generous with his time when a friend and I visited his studio in Provincetown, MA. Such a nice gentleman (who just happened to be brought into Magnum by Cartier-Bresson himself!)
My favorite up and coming photographer is my friend Christopher “Puma” Smith. Puma has had work published recently by the New York Times, National Geographic, as well as a feature article on his work in Aperture- you can see his photography at his website www.eyeneyevisions.com, or his IG @eyeneyevisions. He’s an incredibly talented photographer who puts a lot of thought into his work, as well as being a fellow professional musician who sings for Thievery Corporation. We have a lot in common, so it’s always a good time when we hang out, but his photography work really blows me away.