Making Noise 003: Neelam Khan Vela
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Hi Neelam! Thank you so much for taking the time out to answer my questions, how are you?
Hey! It’s no problem at all! I’m great :)
For people who don’t know you, can you give them a little introduction?
I’m 24 years old, I’m from Barcelona and live in Glasgow. I work as music photographer.
When did you start taking photos, and how did you make your way into music photography?
I’ve loved taking photos for as long as I can remember, but I had my first camera at the age of 11. I would take photos of anything or anyone, and as my love for music started growing as a teenager so did my passion for music photography. When I was 17 I moved to London for university and got an internship at the photodesk of NME Magazine and started sneaking my camera and shooting as many shows as I could, it all kicked off from there.
What is your go to equipment when shooting a band/artist?
I mainly use a Canon 5D mIV, with a 24-70mm lens and I use Lightroom to edit the photos after. I also love shooting with Instax film camera, both square and portrait formats.
You live in both Glasgow and Barcelona, which cities music scene do you interact with more? Who are your favorite bands in their music scenes?
I mainly live in Glasgow right now, Barcelona is just where I’m from and I don’t work there as much, but growing up I had a big connection to the music scene there. This year because of lockdown and stuff I ended up spending 7 moths back home in Spain and I got to re-connect and work a bit more with some artists there. The Glasgow music scene is incredible, super eclectic and exciting. Some of my favourite bands and artists are Shopping, Lylo, The Ninth Wave, Kaputt, Irma Vep, Lucia & The Best Boys, Free Love, Spinning Coin, Walt Disco… list goes on forever. From Barcelona I love Mujeres, El Último Vecino, Papa Topo, Hidrogenesse and Joe Crepúsculo, but I have to say most of my favourite Spanish bands are from other parts of Spain…
Who was one of the first bands you ever photographed?
Some of the first shows I shot as a teenager were of the band I mentioned on the previous question, Mujeres. The bassist of that band owned a record store and they would have gigs at the back room. I shot a bunch of bands there, it was exciting because it was the first time I attended gigs that didn’t have a stage and I was living my DIY punk dream.
How did you start touring with HINDS? What was the experience like?
I met them the first time they played in London in 2014, which was their fourth gig ever! I took a portrait of them four and apparently it was the first time anyone had taken a photo of them as a four piece, as Ade and Amber had only just joined the band. For years we’d hang out at shows whenever they played in London but never took it much further than that, and in 2017 Carlotta messaged me and asked me if I wanted to join them on tour for a few days and try and shoot the cover of their next record. They had a clear idea of what they wanted: a portrait of the four of them right after coming off the stage. We didn’t know it at the time but we shot what would become the cover on the first day. It was all super exciting because I had never done anything so big before, and then the album came out and I joined them on the whole album tour around the UK, Europe and US. I had toured in Europe before but I had never done it in the States, had never been to any of the many cities we visited. It was amazing.
Your photographs are always capture the excitement that is going on at a show and always taken from a fan perspective, which I love. It truly shows your genuine love for music, do you think it’s important to have that type of connection/bond to the bands you are photographing?
It’s important, yeah, but not necessary I would say. I guess once you kinda know what works and what doesn’t it’s easy to shoot any show and make the photos look good, but they’re always better when it’s a band or artist that I love. Even if I’ve never heard of the band I’m photographing, if I like what I’m seeing onstage chances are the photos will be more special than if I didn’t.
What would you consider to be a highlight of your career so far?
Getting to travel and take photos of bands I love so much, there’s nothing like it.
Since becoming a photographer has your appreciation for music changed at all?
It has definitely grown. I have learnt so so so much about of every aspect of the music industry during the past few years. In a way before there was a certain mystery that made it all more exciting before, and once you know all the ins and outs of how it all works it goes away, but I can imagine that it would happen in any field.
Since getting into music photography has it altered your experience going to gigs when you aren’t photographing them?
Not massively, but I do attend less gigs for fun than before as if I have the opportunity to photograph a band I love I will probably do it.
At what point did you know that you wanted to make a career out of music photography?
I know it’s super cheesy and so many people will tell the same story, but when I was 15 and watched Almost Famous I was like “I WANT THAT TO BE ME!!!”.
One of my favorite things about your photos is how they look like movie stills, how did you find your style when it comes to editing and taking photos?
It’s been years of self-learning and trying things out constantly, experimenting and failing and spending hours on end on Lightroom. Maybe sometimes I don’t know what I want to achieve but I do know what I don’t like, so I’ll work on it until I get something good.
What are some of your favorite and least favorite things about touring?
Touring is super fun but quite hard sometimes: you miss your home and your friends, you get fed up of wearing the same clothes all the time (sometimes regret massively the choices you made when making the suitcase ha!), in the winter you feel like you’re cold all the time, it’s hard to keep fit and healthy, I love cooking so not being able to do it for so long it’s definitely one of my least favourite things. The best part weighs so much more than the worst tho, at least for me. Meeting amazing people from all different places is my favourite thing, getting to discover venues, cities… Getting to see a band that you love perform every night is an amazing thing. I’m generally just so happy sitting in the van, I find the tour life so exciting.
If you could tour with any band or artist who would it be?
I’d love to tour with Weyes Blood, Twin Peaks, Happyness, Kali Uchis, The Garden or Amyl & The Sniffers. But I’d also like the chance at least once to tour with a massive pop artist, it would be such a different experience. Imagine touring with Miley Cyrus or something, that would be sick.
Do you think there is enough female representation within the music industry?
I’ve seen young girls becoming music photographers because of being inspired by you, how does it feel to know that you’ve inspired a group of young women to become music photographers in an industry that is more male dominated?
Awww that’s so sweet! Sometimes you’re so hard on yourself that you don’t even realise these things. It feels so surreal to know that girls have picked up a camera after seeing my photos, it’s definitely the best part of doing what I do.
If you could give advice to someone who wants to be a music photographer, what would it be?
Be kind and work hard! It’s a harsh world out there sometimes and it’s easy to feel defeated but believe in yourself and get out there, it will get better.
If you could give me a recommendation on who to interview next for Making Noise, who would it be?
There’s plenty of friends and colleagues that I admire in so many different fields of music industry. Raissa Pardini is an amazing graphic designer, Camila Salinas is a good friend that works in booking and promoting and Holly Whitaker or Phoebe Fox are also friends and photographers I admire loads.
If you could take photos of any band or solo artist, who would it be?
What’s your favorite venue you’ve photographed in so far?
I loved Warsaw in Brooklyn. Molotow in Hamburg I think would be my favourite venue in Europe. My favourite venues in the UK are The Shacklewell Arms in London and the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow.
What do you hope to portray in your photographs?
My friends being happy and living out their dreams.
Neelam can be found on Instagram.