Interview with Withtom: A Unique Vision of Music Photography

Interview avec Withtom : Une Vision Unique de la Photographie Musicale - HYTRAPE

Let's meet Tom Giangrasso, better known as Withtom. At only 19 years old, this photographer from Marseille stands out in the fast-paced world of rap. With two years of intense experience in this field, he quickly built a name for himself thanks to his talent and passion. However, his artistic journey began six years earlier, in a radically different framework: landscape photography. It was this fascination with capturing natural beauty that sparked a love of photography in him. So how did a landscape photographer manage to capture the raw energy and intensity of the rap world? Today, he gives us the pleasure of sharing his journey, his experiences and his perspectives in the world of music photography.

What made you want to become a photographer and when did you know it was your passion?

I have always been passionate about music since I was little.

I also really liked images, as a teenager I took photos of everything around me with my first phone, during a trip I borrowed my mother's Canon SLR, that's where I experimented manual mode, when I understood how to manage the light I never stopped.

When I was asked to direct my first music video a few years later I understood that I could turn this passion into something even more complete and that's how I specialized in music.

Everything was there, you just had to put it all together.

What are your main sources of inspiration in photography? Can you tell us about a project that is particularly close to your heart and what makes it special to you?

I really like the rendering of film and spontaneous photographs, like for example those of Saul Leiter. I draw a lot of inspiration from impressionist paintings for the texture I give to my photos, as if the ink were light leaving a trail. It's a complicated question, but I think that in general what makes a project special is the thought before producing the images. The moment when you talk with the artist, when you start to understand him and the ideas come. The whole process of artistic direction, translating sound into something visual in a coherent way, finding what connects the two. Once you find it, you're even more excited to shoot and you can do it without getting lost. That's what I like about this job.

Recently, you collaborated with Bekar. How was the connection made for the creation of the cover?

I met Bekar this summer while he was on vacation in Marseille during an open mic. We talked a little at that time and took a few portraits. He already knew my work. When he came back at the end of February, after having completed his album, he contacted me again so that we could try something with the booklet. I think this is the most effective project I have worked on to date. At 11 a.m., I received his message, at 12 p.m., I listened to the album and at 3 p.m., we shot. We retouched all night in discord with the graphic designer Salu Cv who tested the layout, the logos, and the next day it was sent to the label. I really enjoyed this project. There was real chemistry with Bekar, Raf, his manager, and Salu Cv. I was impressed by the speed between imagination and the realization of ideas as well as their open-mindedness. They understood directly and had rather blind trust in me.

How do you use blur in your photographs to create a particular atmosphere or effect? What techniques do you prefer to use to achieve blur effects, whether in post-production or when shooting?

As for blurring, I always do it when shooting, never in post-production until now. I would say I use it more than 50% on each shoot. I start by taking blurry shots to find a frame that I like graphically because it removes a lot of detail. My eye focuses first on the graphic side. Then, when I find this frame, I start to sharpen or blur a little less pronounced, this allows me to add the details that I want or not. I really see it as ink. By blurring the shot, it's as if we were already carrying out post-production. For example, in concert, a black cable becomes an abstract black streak that the human eye does not recognize. It's kind of like a magic eraser tool when you get to use it, haha. I think what fascinates me the most is being able to capture not a frozen moment but a second, a half-second of a movement. We feel more life in my opinion, it's as if we were assembling a dozen burst photos in stop motion except that it's in a single photo. I see it as taking a video and freezing it in one image while keeping the movement. For me, it's magical."

How would you describe your creative process, from the initial idea to the final creation of a photograph?

When it comes to the creative process (for any shoot that revolves around music), the first step, the very essence of each creation is really to focus on the music, what I hear makes me feel see. . In an album, there is necessarily one that speaks to me more. As soon as I hear it, I notice a color that it reminds me of. It starts like that, then the others complete it and make me think of details, different tones of the same color. After listening to a project, I have in mind the color, the atmosphere that I want it to give off. Then, I discuss with the artist his relationship with music and what this project evokes for him. Very often, the discussion drifts to something other than music, but that's when I manage to figure out what he may or may not like.

Afterwards, we agree on some inspirations using Pinterest images and then we start shooting. There is also a large part of improvisation. I go on a shoot with an idea and then by taking this photo, I'll go on something else and it works in a funnel until the moment I look on the screen and I feel that it's this one or this series that works. A super important part too is retouching. I do very little in the studio, I almost always work in natural light so editing is essential for me. I edit my photos only in Lightroom, not Photoshop, I like to keep the natural side and not add too many textures or colors that are not present in the raw photo. I would say that the edit serves me to clarify the intention, the emotion that I want to give to the photo, but not to transform it.

If you had to choose a song or piece of music that best represents your photographic style, what would it be and why?

I would say “Long Live” by Laylow. Whether it's in terms of production, it's difficult to put it into words but the texture, the grain of the voice, this raw and aggressive side and these long notes have always inspired me visually. Besides, personally, Laylow is one of the artists I photograph best. I almost don't have to adapt, the attitude is there, all I have to do is shoot!

You also worked with Damso. How was the connection made? Can you tell us more about your collaboration?

Last June, I covered the Marsatac festival where he had his first festival date. Security had taken us out of the crash barriers for his show, but I still tried to shoot from the audience. I was happy with the photos, but it wasn't my best series, I even hesitated for a moment to post them. Which fortunately I did, because following the post, Ritchie, his manager, contacted me. He told me that he and Damso loved the footage and would like me to cover a date with them. So I went to Paris to do Solidays with them. It worked both humanly and artistically, he liked my vision and I had carte blanche. The scenography was already incredible at that time, so I had a blast, I did four or five festival dates. They were satisfied with the work so I went on tour all over France with them, in theaters the scenography was even crazier. It was my first tour as a photographer so a super interesting experience. Seeing the number of people working on a project of this magnitude, the different trades, I met some great people! Thanks to Damso for all the discussions we were able to have, it was very enriching. I'm happy to see artists like him also involved in imagining the visual concept and ideas to accompany his musical show. He’s someone who really works on a lot of aspects, that’s quite respectable! Congratulations to Samuel Chatain and Cut-Back Live for the visual design, the actual production of the scenography, because I really had an incredible setting available to shoot! Even having done fifteen dates, I couldn't immortalize everything so the work was monstrous.
I haven't shared a few images from this tour but it's for a good cause..."

What was the experience like covering a tour for the first time? What were the biggest challenges you faced?

I have always been immersed in music, my father took me to see concerts from a very young age and I was always fascinated by the atmosphere that emanates.
What struck me from the start on this first tour with Damso was seeing the impressive number of different trades present with a common goal: to give the spectators the best possible show, visually, acoustically... and ensure that the artist is as comfortable as possible on stage.

Indeed, it was my first tour so when I started this tour, I had covered a few concerts and festivals under my belt but only with media access so often crashed. When you work for the artist in question, you have access to practically the entire room. On the first date, I had a great feeling of freedom and it's happiness when you no longer have this frustration during which you say to yourself "ahh if I were in such and such a place, I could have this photo, that would be phew, etc. » Honestly, it's great when you're on the other side of the barriers, you don't have this constant stress, you don't wonder if you're going to be able to stay? how long ? Where?… Artistically, it frees the mind, you can only think about your setting and really create. But be careful obviously, there are things you have to watch out for when you're this free.
How your way of shooting is impacted with such mobility, I find it difficult to find the right balance to shoot correctly. You have to keep in mind that you miss dozens of photos every second and you have to accept that, there is a significant element of chance I think when you immortalize a concert. Personally, on the first date of the tour, I could move so much everywhere that I was running non-stop, I was crashing at the sides of the stage, in the stands to try to have a certain diversity... and I lost a lot of time doing so. I realize that afterwards. It is better, when you shoot the same show several times, to choose a favorite spot per concert and change it for each date.

There is also the all access trap. When you can get as close as possible to an artist who is so difficult to reach, you do it, and often too much. I surprised myself several times by reflex coming to the sides of the stage very close to the artist saying to myself "yeah, the angle is great just because I was close" and that's human since it's a angle that few people see so you immediately think of immortalizing, but ultimately the scene... it is optimized for the view from the stands right in front, so why come close?

It's a great experience of questioning, managing time and space, I learned lots of things.
Then the problem with access or on the contrary restrictions and success, especially around music, is that there is quickly a hierarchy (obviously imaginary) that is created in people's heads. One photographer has this access, another does not, so some feel frustrated, there is a barrier that sometimes sets in and it's a shame because there are enough artists for each photographer and even more in 2023, so everyone will have their share of work. When you gravitate towards public figures, everyone suddenly becomes interested in you and I think once again it's a great exercise. I took a step back from the world of rap, I saw this environment more from a general point of view than what I had seen on the networks when I was 14, 15 years old, where we directly puts stars in your eyes. You are young, you see lots of photographers who post photos of stars, you say to yourself that's what I want to do but on the networks, we don't differentiate between photographing someone and working with them, well rarely even though it's This is too important! So in terms of awareness, incredible experience. Artistically, it was my busiest period since I started photography, I have more than 18,000 photos from this tour so I was served in edits, etc… But above all, I learned a lot things about the music industry, it's great and it was necessary for me to better position myself in relation to photography as a job, it allowed me to differentiate between work and leisure.

Super interesting! Is there a camera or lens that you use more than others? Do you have any “dream” equipment that you would like to own one day?

I can't go anywhere without my constant companion, my Sony A7 III. For the choice of lens, if I have no idea what I'm going to shoot, I always take my old 50mm 1.4 from Canon, it's a film mount with an adapter ring for digital, that works for me. allows you to have an already fairly vintage look before retouching. Last thing, I add a 1/4 pro mist filter to this lens to diffuse the light a little, it gives a softer result.

Which artists would you like to collaborate with in the future?

Today, I don't particularly have any artists with whom I would like to work, I prefer to see what's next in store for me, we always have better surprises when thinking like that. But to answer this question anyway, I would really like to work internationally. I don't have specific artists, but I can go and take photos for an artist abroad, in the US or anywhere really!

Are you learning new skills outside of photography?

Honestly, I turn a lot to video but I'm really into observing and learning at the moment. I have already made quite a few clips but I really want to acquire other skills to find myself artistically in video, directing... I study cinema alongside photography, so learning the 7th art and its language has been my concern in recent months.

What advice would you give to young photographers who want to get into fashion photography or studio work?

I've done very little in the studio (in fact I'm thinking a lot about getting into it seriously) but today, I most often shoot in natural light or concert lighting so if I have any advice to give ( and this is just my view of things), I would say to understand how light writes on a sensor, understand the exposure triangle and above all to practice Lightroom again and again. For my photos, I estimate that it's 50% shooting, 50% retouching for the more artistic ones. For me, we must not hesitate to try edits that go beyond the norms, to bring a visual proposal and to know how to defend it and really, I repeat myself, but before that, we must understand how the light comes to write on a sensor or film, it's different on each model, each lens and then it will come by itself after thousands of triggers. And last word: MANUAL SHOOTING.

What are your future plans or ambitions for your career as a photographer?

I share little at the moment on the networks, I work on different projects, some that I can reveal, others not. But it's surprising because since the last interview I did, things have changed radically in just 2, 3 months. I take a lot less photos currently, I work more on writing clips, storytelling, project management because these are things on which I know I have a long way to go and I want to to worry about new things again. I mainly work on preparing future projects for my old guys, a lot with Baddack, the artist for whom I manage the general artistic direction, I'm learning a lot about music, how to bring a project to fruition, how to what to bring and how to defend it. We're preparing some very cool things with the rap collective La Marmite for this summer! Finally, generally I expand my activity to other things than photography while obviously continuing, it remains my main sector, and it could be in the near or distant future that an exhibition takes place... to see!

Thanks to Hytrape for this interview, it's a really heavy exercise, big strength to you!

Thank you, it was a pleasure discussing your passion! Only strength for the future! ;)

This interview with Tom Giangrasso, aka Withtom, offered us a fascinating dive into the world of a talented and passionate photographer. His artistic journey, punctuated by discoveries and learning, is a source of inspiration, reminding us that the creative journey is as captivating as the final product. Withtom's commitment to his art and his constant drive to innovate can only inspire respect. Although he is already established in the world of French rap, it is clear that he is only just getting started. Withtom continues to push the boundaries of his art and explore new horizons. There is no doubt that we will see many more of his landmark works in the years to come. We look forward to following its progress and discovering what it has in store for the future. A big thank you to Withtom for this enriching and edifying interview.

You can find his work on Instagram:

Interview conducted by @teocomyn