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An Interview with Sonya Jasinski

“I have been photographing since I was a child. I was always drawn to the camera and loved the excitement of seeing the outcome of images on film,” says Sonya Jasinski. “I was constantly photographing my travels and my sister. Printing, framing, making photo albums over and over. It was something I had natural passion for but didn’t think any more of it growing up in terms of it becoming a professional career.”

Times have changed. Today, Jasinski is a photographer who divides her time equally between London and the US – and in particular, Nashville. On her first visit to the city, she fell in love with country music and began turning her lens on the musicians who call Music City home.

“Music photography came by as a natural progression,” she says. “Music and photography always went hand in hand for me. They were both an escape for me during a very nomadic childhood. I would admire album covers and study them as a child.” After becoming a professional photographer and shooting weddings, Jasinski was asked by her friend, musician Lucie Silvas, to take her pictures.

Jasinski co-published a book, Behind the Curtain, in 2016, featuring many of the country artists redefining the sound of Nashville in the 21st Century, produced with singer-songwriter and photographer Kate York. It had been a decade in the making.

The book includes the likes of Kacey Musgraves (who recently won a Grammy), Ashley Monroe, and Nashville legends such as Emmylou Harris and John Prine. It’s an intimate look at country music scene, featuring candid moments behind the scenes. She produced it amidst working and raising a family back in London.

“It was great going back and forth between countries for a while as my adrenalin would be pumping and when I was archiving for the Nashville book we would cram four or five shoots in a day. It’s amazing how passionate drives you and helps exhaustion in travel with the excitement of being a vehicle in touching people through photos.”

Amid profiling the rise of Nashville’s 21st Century community, Jasinski has kept photographing one artist in particular. “One of my favourite people to shoot is Lucie Silvas, who has become a muse and who was the reason for me to start shooting in music. We have the most beautiful connection and chemistry that is really rare. We barely speak during shoots as there’s just a connection between us which takes the lead. I have done all her album artwork since we started.

“Lucie believed in me from the beginning and made me truly feel inspired to progress out of my comfort zone and still does.”

Jasinski’s brace of images of recent Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves include one straight out of the textbook of candid music photography; Musgraves, lost in concentration, cradling a guitar at backstage table. She’s lit with ordinary overhead strip lighting, and the mood is studied and calm. Musgraves is surrounded by the mundane debris of empty plates and cups but, you suspect, inside she’s somewhere else completely.

Jasinski also shot Musgraves – at this stage still cementing her reputation in Nashville – in a black-and-white series on a Nashville street, complete with a beat-up car. They look like something from the days of Roseanne Cash and Tammy Wynette.

Another shows Emmylou Harris – the singer/songwriter who’s been a stalwart of the country community since the late 1960s – relaxing on a doorstep with her dog. A third, this time of country superstar Vince Gill, is taken from a secret vantage point somewhere on the stage as Gill plays to a packed venue in Nashville back in 2015. It’s classic photographer-as-voyeur, giving a glimpse of life on the other side of the artist/audience divide.

Jasinski has recently started photographing for magazines such as Rolling Stone and Q, further raising her profile.

“A really interesting project once developed during the time we were archiving for the Nashville book when Rolling Stone Country asked us to photograph in Los Angeles before the Grammys. Shooting in the similar style we had been shooting in – fly on the wall, behind the scenes, photographing country females getting ready for the Grammy Awards. We photographed one after the other as fast as we could go, driving from house to hotel in quick succession.”

Jasiniski wants to continue this more natural portrayal of Nashville’s modern stars and up-and-coming artists. “When I was young I would listen to Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, Jimi Hendrix, Patsy Cline. I was particularly enamoured by the 60s and 70s in its music and its style. There was something about the soulful feeling of this era of music that resonated with me. I love its honesty and instrumental melodies and I loved the intimate photography that went along with this. Candid natural portraits.

“I think my photography is overall inspired by this era. I want to believe in the photos I see.  I want to feel something when I look at pictures and learn something about the subject or understand what may be happening emotionally and literally. I hope to bring this to my photos.”

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