STORY BY STEVEN WARD PHOTOGRAPHY BY EMILY DUBIN
If, according to Oscar Wilde, every “portrait painted with feeling” is more a portrait of the artist than the sitter, then it stands to reason that any photograph taken with such emotion—say, a snapshot of Solange Knowles performing at FYF in Los Angeles in 2018—is less a portrait of a Grammy Award-winning artist at a major music festival and more of the photographer behind the lens. And in this particular case that photographer is NATALIE SOMEKH—who in that particular moment was flooding her eyes and face with tears while blowing-out the eardrums of her fellow photographers nearby as she sang every word of the R&B superstar’s songs—all the while still in fervent diligence snapping photographs of the performer. The photographs Somekh captured that night carried all the hallmarks of her unique eye: from her sublime, softly-saturated colorways to the tender moments—all wrapped-up in the chaos of a live performance—that she seems to so effortlessly freeze. It’s intimate, closely guarded split-second portraits that Somekh delivers with her photography, instances that are lost the moment her subject blinks an eye, begins turning their body, vibrates their vocal chords to sustain a note—moments long gone before your memory of them has even begun to flicker and fade. At 21-years-old Somekh has experienced billions of these moments and attended more concerts and music festivals than even the most avid of music fans ever would or could if given two lifetimes to attempt it. After skipping her senior year prom to pursue photography, she landed a position while still in high-school at The Observatory in Santa Ana as the house photographer, shooting shows almost every night and remaining quiet about the fact that she was underage until she had to be put on the payroll.
“I would act mature and hope nobody would ask,” Somekh said of her predicament. “My phone thinks that The Observatory is my home. You know when the notification pops up, and it’s like “It will take you 15 minutes to get home.’ I’ll be like, ‘Wait, I’m already home? Oh, it means the Observatory.’ I’ve shot every single genre, but rap has been the most interesting. Before I worked at the venue, I never listened to rap, but now I can tell you about (most) rappers from what they are like in person to what they want on their rider. Lil Yachty loves Domino’s pizza and their chicken wings.” Because of her position at The Observatory, Somekh has documented an eclectic mix of artists and bands that—if one was ever so inclined to list—would probably resemble the kind of festival bill we could only dream of. She’s found herself in an endless loop of surreal moments and strange scenarios; from standing side-stage watching kids mosh to Travis Scott’s Coachella set to the bizarre scene of Cage the Elephant throwing McDonald’s cheeseburgers at Morrissey. And her photographs are a scrapbook of monolithic giants—Scott atop his phoenix, Frank Ocean in headphones serenading at the center of an FYF crowd, St. Vincent cut-in-half by a single ray of light while tearing into a riff—yet even the star power in her photographs has to relinquish itself to her tenacious capturing. It doesn’t matter if she’s photographing the main stage at Coachella or on tour with punk-rockers Mt. Eddy, Somekh’s photographs are warm moments of dynamic love, hope, excitement—even perhaps anxiety and pain—that are as much a part of the people in the photographs as they are herself. And that style and approach appears to have a lot to do with how and why she picked up a camera in the first place.