Luca Venter is a music and portrait photographer based in Denver, Colorado. He primarily photographs bands and musicians and has worked with numerous indie acts including Efterklang, Peter Wolf Crier, Reggie Watts, and Surfer Blood.
Although we’re not sure he believes us, Luca has been on our radar for some time now. So, when his name came up after we found out he shot the amazing photo used for Scott Hill’s interview, we decided to drop him a line. With stunning use of light and an ability to effortlessly capture his subjects, Luca’s portrait work is impressive. This young talent is going places and we’re excited to see how his story will unfold. We chatted with Luca about his early love of photography, how he started getting gigs shooting bands, his age—we’re not telling!—his South African roots, life in Denver, and what he’s up to next.
Interview date: May 2, 2012
Describe your path to becoming a photographer.
Photography has always been something I’ve been interested in. According to my parents and family, I was always wanting to use their cameras to take pictures since I was three years old. When I was about 10 or 11, I started getting really into it. I did senior photos for someone when I was 11 and realized that I wanted to photograph people. I kept on going with that in mind and when I was 15, I started contacting bands that I wanted to photograph.
Are you self-taught?
Yes, I am. I started using my mom’s camera for a couple of years until I finally bought my own camera when I was 13. My parents saw me getting into photography more and more. Up until then, I had been home-schooled and they gave me the choice of either going to public school or continuing to learn on my own. I mean, I had internet access so if I wanted to learn anything, I could look it up or go to the library. I haven’t done any school for a really long time now.
Are you focusing on photography full-time?
Yes. A lot of the work in my portfolio is work I’ve done for free, but it has allowed me to build up my portfolio with the work I enjoy doing the most and want people to see. So yes, all my time is usually dedicated to photography.
Was creativity a part of your childhood?
Creativity has always been a part of my life. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t. My parents are both graphic designers, so they’ve definitely influenced a lot of my creativity. We even joke around about design stuff. They will say, “You’re getting a time-out because your kerning is bad.”
Did you have an “aha” moment when you knew photography was more than just a hobby?
I think it was when I was 10 and my parents told me I could actually make money taking photos.
Have you had any mentors along the way?
Not really. There have been a couple people who taught me how to use lighting and do some photo editing. That’s about it. I would definitely say that I’ve learned so much from most of the photographers and designers who I follow on the internet.
I’d be open to having a mentor, though.
We know you are in the very beginning of your career, but have you taken any big risks thus far?
I think it was when I decided to start emailing people to try to get shoots rather than waiting for people to contact me. I used to be terrified of emailing bands and people to try to get shoots because I was scared that they would say no. Then, I realized the worst that could happen would be for them to say no. If that happened, I would move on or try them again in a few months.
[Ryan] Do you disclose your age when contacting people to get shoots?
I’ve never mentioned my age when trying to get shoots. It’s funny because I’ve gone to shoots and had bands ask, “How did you get here?” I reply, “Um, my parents drove me.”
[Tina] I was going to ask if you had any funny stories about people thinking you were older and then showing up and people not believing that you’re the photographer.
It has been like that a couple times. People ask, “How old are you?” When I tell them, they freak out and then they’re really confused the whole time because I’m the one taking photos.
Do you think your age is a challenge for you during shoots?
No. Really, the main challenge for me has been getting to shoots. If my parents are busy, I have to find another ride and that doesn’t always work out. I’ve missed out on a couple cool shoots because of that.
“I’m definitely not satisfied; I’m not comfortable where I am creatively. There are so many things that I want to do with photography…”
[Ryan] Are the driving laws different in Colorado? I know when I was younger, I could get my license when I was 16.
It’s 16 here too, but I only got my permit when I was 16 because I’m actually from South Africa; that’s where my whole family is from. Since we don’t have citizenship here, I had to go through a bunch of things for me to actually get my permit and I was 16 by the time I got everything that I needed for it. I’m actually supposed to get my license soon, though.
South Africa? You gotta tell us about that.
We moved to Colorado in 2001 when I was six. Surprisingly, I do remember a lot about it. My whole family is from South Africa, but we haven’t been back since 2004 because we’ve been dealing with the green card process for a few years and it’s hard to travel with that going on. We have to have our green cards for a long time before we can even apply for citizenship, so we’re still waiting on that.
So, you were born in South Africa?
Yeah. My parents have accents. I think I lost mine after we moved because I was so young, except my accent does come up a bit when I talk to them.
[Tina] Did your family move over here for work?
Not really. South Africa is quite dangerous and I think they wanted to get out of there and try something new. Some of my mom’s side of the family is in Colorado, which is why we came here. I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if we lived in South Africa still; my camera would probably get stolen.
It sounds like your family and friends are pretty supportive.
Everyone has been really supportive. I remember a couple times that I mentioned that I couldn’t go to a cool shoot that I got just because I didn’t have a ride. Multiple people—some who I barely knew—were like, “Just call me if you need a ride and I’ll drop what I’m doing and take you.” It’s really amazing how encouraging people have been.
Are you an only child?
I have an older brother who is a musician.
[Ryan] Was that the draw to start photographing bands?
Yeah, sort of. Most my friends are also musicians and artists and I’ve been around music since I got started in photography. I listen to a lot of it and pay too much attention to everything that goes on in the indie music world. I seem to get along with musicians really well, so I enjoy working with them the most.
Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?
I definitely do, but it’s hard to figure out. I want to contribute through photography, but I’m really not sure how I want to do that.
“I love being around people who are doing exactly what they love to do; that is really inspiring to me.”
Are you satisfied creatively?
There are moments of satisfaction, but I don’t think they’re real—they are only small spurts of satisfaction. I’m definitely not satisfied; I’m not comfortable where I am creatively. There are so many things that I want to do with photography, but can’t yet accomplish because I have to rely on my parents or other people to get around and I really dislike that.
Right now, I can only take on jobs that I know I will have a ride to. I usually have to meet a band at the venue where they’re playing and find a location that’s nearby, which can make it difficult to plan things or use a location that I’ve really been wanting to use. Although, that is also fun at times because it definitely adds some spontaneity to everything.
Being satisfied would probably make me not want to do anything creative anymore. Being unsatisfied makes me want to do better. What is really satisfying is that I get to do what I love and I’m really thankful for that.
That would be really tough. You have so much ahead of you. Is there anything you want to be doing in the next five years?
I don’t have it put together in my head yet. There are just too many things I want to be doing. I recently did something that I have been wanting to do and hope to do more of, which is touring with bands and documenting their time on the road. A band from England who I’ve become good friends with, A Silent Film, just brought me along on their latest tour and it was really fun. It’s probably the most fun way to travel. People keep asking me if touring with them was like the movie Almost Famous, but I still haven’t seen that movie.
How does where you live impact your creativity? Do you see yourself staying in the Denver area?
I think it would have a bigger impact on me creatively if I was experiencing more of it, more often. So, I’m not sure how it’s impacting me at this moment in time.
There are a lot of really cool things happening in Denver right now. Everything is growing including the creative community. I think it’s a good place for me to be right now. I can’t think of anywhere else I would go besides Denver.
We really dig the photo you took of Scott Hill for his interview. Did you guys already know each other before that?
I found out that he moved to Denver thanks to Twitter. I reached out to him and he suggested we meet up. We eventually went out for coffee and talked. After that, he asked me to take the photo for his interview. He’s really cool and has introduced me to even more creative people in Denver who I didn’t know were around.
Do you have a creative community that you’re a part of and is that important to you?
I think Denver’s creative community is definitely growing into something special, but there’s not one specific group I’m a part of. It is really important to me to be around creative people. I love being around people who are doing exactly what they love to do; that is really inspiring to me.
If you could give one piece of advice to another photographer even younger than yourself, what would it be?
The only thing I can think of is don’t be afraid of people saying no.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m either really busy editing and emailing people or I have nothing going on. It’s really up and down. I’m pretty busy at the moment because I’ve been editing photos from the tour I just did and have been trying to schedule shoots now that I’m back in one place.
Do you have any current albums on repeat?
Yes! Beach House is my favorite band in the world and their new record, Bloom is incredible. Also, Here We Go Magic’s album, A Different Ship and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s 5:55.
Any favorite movies or TV shows?
I think Eric Ryan Anderson said this, but I really like all the Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry films. And one of my favorite new movies is Submarine.
I really don’t read as much as I should…
Tough question. I could say my mom’s food and score a lot of points (laughing). Actually, though, my mom is the best cook. I would have to say that eggs Benedict is my favorite food.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
To have a truly distinctive photographic style would be nice. If someone looked at a photo I took and said, “Luca Venter took that,” I think that would be pretty cool because I feel like I’m constantly doing that when I see other people’s photos and art. Really though, If I can inspire anybody with anything I’ve done, that’s good enough for me.
We think you’re well on your way to accomplishing both of those things.
“To have a truly distinctive photographic style would be nice… Really though, if I can inspire anybody with anything I’ve done, that’s good enough for me.”