Visual arts | Susan Moss Shoots the Stars

Florence and the Machine by Susan Moss

“I’m pushy – I don’t know if that’s because I’m Jewish or if I’m just pushy – but it helps me get better photos sometimes.”

You might not recognize the name Susan Moss but if you’re into the Montreal music scene you’ve most likely seen her work. Certainly not a pushover, Moss has been working as a freelance photographer in the city for more than 20 years covering a wide range of artists from Gordon Lightfoot to Snoop Dogg.

“When you work for yourself and you’re freelancing you have to be a go-getter and you have to be aggressive in positive ways,” she says.  “In the pit you can’t let people walk all over you.  Generally, in life I don’t let people walk all over me.”

Moss, 45, got her first camera in her early 20s.  “I didn’t even know what an aperture was but I started playing around.”  She took a night course at Dawson College and then another night course before she “decided to go at it full time.”

While studying photography in the early 90s, Moss worked at the notorious dive bar Station 10 where she had the opportunity to practice shooting the bands that came through.  She eventually migrated to Le Bifteck where she worked as a waitress and bartender for over 17 years, having maintained a weekly shift up until last September.

“It was great for networking. Even when I was in school I was already working for the Mirror and the Hour because all those people hung out at the Bifteck so I knew a lot of the bands and I was getting gigs.”

Pitchers and pictures

On the surface, taking pictures for a living and serving drinks don’t seem to have very much in common but Moss knows otherwise. “You have to be on all the time,” she says. “You have to appear happy even if you’re having a bad day. Visually though, they’re similar because you’re often in fun surroundings with interesting people and interesting fashion.”

Dream Job

In addition to covering events for Tourisme Montreal and Just For Laughs, Moss is living her dream as the house photographer for Montreal concert promoter Evenko. She shoots all their club shows at venues like Metropolis and she is now one of the main photographers for the Osheaga summer music festival. Her career has blossomed with the festival since it began in 2006 and is now one of the major music festivals in North America.

Two years ago, Evenko sponsored a gallery show of Moss’s Osheaga work at Usine C to promote the festival’s fifth anniversary.

And while she looks forward to three days of great bands, sunshine and shooting each year, Moss is just as excited for Heavy MTL- another music fest here in Montreal.  “Even though I like the bands way better at Osheaga and I don’t love metal and I don’t listen to it at home because it gives me anxiety, shooting heavy metal is maybe the funnest thing in the world.  Their outfits are crazy and their banging their heads and the audience – you see those kids with the huge headphones and AC/DC shirts – and there’s way more crowd-surfing!”

On top of shooting bands like the Pixies, Kiss, Cat Power, Iggy Pop, The Kills, Die Antwoord and Arcade Fire, Moss has also been a keen observer of Montreal’s raunchy roller derby scene.  A long time fan of roller-skating, Moss considered getting into the derby but when she saw how rough it was decided to stay on her side of the lens. “I’m tough, but I’m not that tough,” confides Moss whose honorary roller-skating nickname is Bruisin’ Susan. You can see her visual homage to these sporty women on wheels in  Roller Girls a book of  photos capturing the ferocious skaters in all their fishnet glory.

When asked what makes an artist fun to shoot, Moss says it’s often a mix of things. “How they move on stage, how they move their mouth when they sing or what they’re wearing, their hair, jewelry, instruments, and, of course, lighting. Sometimes there is no lighting, which makes my job really hard, but it’s also why I love my job. It’s always challenging and it never gets old.”

Check out Susan Moss’ photography at susanmossphotography.com.  You can  soon see her work on permanent exhibition at The Corona Theatre in Little Burgundy.  To see her,  just go to Osheaga or any happening show in Montreal and look for the pushy chick with the long red curly locks. _____________________________________________________

Leslie Schachter is a Montreal-based writer and photojournalist. He has contributed to The Gazette, Ottawa Citizen and Jerusalem Post. His Instagram account was recently featured as one of the top ten accounts in Montreal by Journal Metro.
For more visit www.leslieschachter.com