I met Rowan Donohue just over a year ago, at the time when I was frantically hunting down music photographers in Brisbane to help me out at BIGSOUND Festival. It unfortunately didn’t work out, but we got talking and got to know each other anyway and messaged a lot, quickly bonding over music and creativity.
When my (only) photographer at the time Corey Bonadiesi embarked on a long overseas adventure, I asked Rowan to step in, and thankfully he agreed! For a period of time, it was the two of us doing 100% of the coverage on Depth Magazine, even though Rowan is based in Brisbane, and I’m in Melbourne. We just made it work, including Unify Gathering 2018 and the inaugural Download Festival.
Though Rowan is very well known in the scene as a touring photographer, as well as shooting gigs for Depth, it wasn’t always music that he was exploring with his camera. Back tracking to senior years of high school, Rowan’s plan was to go into social work, loving the idea of making a positive change to peoples’ lives. Around the same time, a school friend introduced him to the idea of “Urban Exploration”, which Rowan describes as “finding historical locations that were abandoned and left to rot and exploring and documenting these places.”
Rowan would take his dad’s camera and explore these modern day ruins, and at the same time bond with his mate over heavy bands; specifically Australian melodic hardcore bands like Stepson and Ambleside. “We used to love exploring these abandoned places because it was a getaway from typical day to day life. It was also a great way to connect and introduce each other to new music. Looking back on this, these are some of my fondest memories.”
“We continued urban exploration after my senior year and I ended up upgrading my camera and learning how to shoot manually. While doing this I started to go on more risky adventures by myself, and started to explore high rises and construction sites. Just kids making their own fun. Because of some close calls with security, and being old enough to be handed a criminal record, I ended up giving it up. After giving it up I just found myself working while studying social work. I had seen people photographing at local gigs so I decided that I had a nice camera and I may as well give it a shot. I had seen peoples’ photos from Vans warped tour and was obsessed with the thought of touring and travelling for music, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.”
While not always into heavy music, Rowan was into Australian rap through high school years, following artists such as Horrorshow, 360, Bliss N Eso, and Pez. “One day I remember accidentally coming across Chasing Ghosts by The Amity Affliction and could resonate with some of the themes and loved the mix of heavy screams and sung choruses. From there I found a true love for the heavy and alternative genre, which got me into bands such as Parkway Drive, Thy Art is Murder, The Ghost Inside, A Day To Remember, and Northlane to name a few.”
With this interest in heavy music, Rowan started going to the shows, and would be present from the first band onward, which gave him a crash course in lesser known bands. In doing this, he discovered bands like Ocean Grove, Storm The Sky, and Void Of Vision. “Because of social media, I started following these artists and finding out they were playing headline shows at venues in Brisbane such as The Lab (RIP). From there I was lucky enough to meet a welcoming community of people, some I am lucky enough to still be friends with today.”
A pivotal moment for Rowan comes courtesy of Our Past Days. He watched the Sydney band play with The Wonder Years and Knuckle Puck at The Lab. He says “I thought they were the best band I had ever heard! After punishing them at the merch table they agreed to take me on my first tour and I was ecstatic. From this tour, I made a bunch of connections in the industry. I honestly don’t know what sort of person I would be today without that tour and I am extremely grateful that Our Past Days took a risk and took me on my first ever run.”
Rowan’s first taste of touring was driving from Brisbane to Sydney in one day, with just the tour manager and himself, before meeting Our Past Days the following day, and continuing on to Adelaide together. “Seven people in a seven seater. In hindsight it was pretty cramped, but at the time I couldn’t believe I was travelling the country to take photos. I was honestly ecstatic.”
Alpha Wolf are another band that are an integral piece of Rowan’s life as a touring photographer. He toured with the Melbourne five piece through the release cycle of their Mono album. “Those guys have been one of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and treat me as one of their own. They actually put my name on the thank you for Mono and I feel very lucky to be a part of that cycle and to continue working closely with them today.”
Adelaide melodic hardcore band Hindsight also are close to Rowan’s heart. There was a moment of indecision for Rowan when he was caught between “pleasing others and pleasing myself”. Fortunately both Hindsight and Rowan were in Wollongong at the same time, and Nick urged Rowan to do what makes him happy and to forget the rest. The moment inspired a further push into photography for Rowan and he feels he hasn’t looked back.
Looming pressure to ‘get a real job’ is one thing that continues to inspire Rowan to push at his craft and make a living out of it. “I guess as I’ve grown older I’ve become afraid of being average. The sound of a 9-5 desk job doesn’t resonate with me so if I could do this full time and make enough money to survive I would be extremely grateful. Also, I cant get over the thought of travelling the world with five of your mates and documenting shows overseas. You only get one shot, and life is short, so why not try and do cool shit?”
As well as shunning the societal norm of an uninspiring job, Rowan recognises the value of creating and doesn’t want to lose that by following the typical path of studying then taking on a desk job. He believes creativity is good for the mind and soul; feeling that without a creative outlet he personally would be “a very lost person”. Same!
On top of the creative element, Rowan values the rich life experiences that have come for him with touring. After graduating with a social work diploma and commencing a degree in social work, he was honest with himself in feeling like he didn’t have enough life experience under his belt to embark on a ‘making the world a better place’ path.
“There’s no better way to experience life than just saying yes to things. “Do you want to tour the country with five dudes you barely know?” “YES!”. These are the kinds of experiences that make a person, and memories that you will look back on for a lifetime. I guess that’s what inspires me, because above all else, I can say that there’s never been a tour that I haven’t had fun.”
Looking bigger picture and thinking about his goals, Rowan intends to make photography a full time gig. “Currently I work overnights at Maccas. I can’t say that I love what I’m doing, but the fact it helps me fund my dreams is cool. I’ve always wanted to be the go to guy for a band, such as people like Elliot Ingham (Fall Out Boy, Neck Deep) and build a relationship with bands and artists not just as a creative but as a friend. I feel like when you work with someone as a friend it is a much more positive experience.”
“I’ve always wanted to make a documentary, so hopefully one day I can document a world tour or something cool like that and take my parents to the premiere at a cinema or something. That would be dope. I would also love to tour the US and Europe, but I equally want to tour the lesser touched parts of the world such as South East Asia, China, Brazil, Indonesia, India. I feel like the energy at those shows would be awesome.”
When you’ve had the chance to tour with some of your favourite bands, as Rowan has (Basement, Balance and Composure), it’s tough to pick favourite career moments. But Rowan shares that his favourite tour by way of content has been the recent Thy Art Is Murder ‘Death Dealers Tour’, with Alpha Wolf. “I feel like I really found my own style in my work on that run”. On the tour, Rowan dove head first into creating videos to showcase the tour; pulling all-nighters to teach himself the ins and outs of videography, and trying to bring visions to life.
He elaborates on other experiences, sharing “I also had the time of my life on tours with Introvert who took me to places I had never experienced before such as Perth and the Great Ocean Road, and I have also had many memorable experiences with Void Of Vision, Thornhill, She Cries Wolf and The Comfort. I am very grateful to all of those bands for letting me have the spare seat in their van and giving me the invaluable experience of touring the country.” Also covering Unify Gathering and seeing Void Of Vision on a huge stage after previously working together was a significant moment for Rowan.
In thinking about advice he could share with aspiring photographers, Rowan’s stance is to work hard at honing your own genuine style. In his words: “I think finding your style is important, too often I find myself seeing someone else’s work and trying to emulate it in a way. I feel like your work speaks for itself when it comes from the heart, which I have recently begun to realise.”
“It’s such a cliché thing to say but hard work is so so important, put in the extra miles that other people arent putting in, take risks, and don’t complain when opportunities aren’t coming your way, because the harder you work, the more opportunities will come. That goes for anything, whether it be creative or not: Strive to be the best you can be because as soon as you get lazy with what you’re doing, you fall behind. You don’t want to live your life wondering ‘What if I’d tried a little bit harder?'”
When thinking about Depth, it comes back to the heart and quality of what we do that Rowan is most proud of. “I’ve shot for a bunch of publications now, some much bigger than Depth, but I find that Depth put more heart into anything than any of the other publications and outlets that I have worked for in the past. Although Depth may be small, I feel like the work we produce speaks for itself. Also, it feels good being the little guy in a big industry. When you get approved for a huge gig, it’s an awesome feeling for the whole team because people are taking notice of this thing that you have helped to create. I also love the people who I work with at Depth. Each person brings something to the table and collaborating with like minded creatives is such a rewarding experience.”
[Header image courtesy of John Arnold.]