In Lieu Of Portraits, GIFs That Capture Today’s Cool-Kid Musicians

Erik Sanchez injects music photography with a much-needed dose of animated realness.

With Instagram colonizing the established photojournalism industry, it’s little surprise that the animated GIF is close on its heels. Baltimore photographer Erik Liam Sanchez is leading the charge. Sanchez works for Chicago music blog Pitchfork, of the much-villainized 10-point rating system, for whom he photographs indie darlings like Grimes and Danny Brown in GIF form.


Band portraiture, by nature, tends to be fairly hackneyed. Sanchez gives us a glimpse behind the carefully styled stage personas, by including the set-up and aftermath of each portrait. These are the “frayed ends” of the photograph: musicians fumble for a cool pose, or dissolve in laughter after affecting a particularly tough expression.

His series from July’s Pitchfork Festival is his longest and most comprehensive set to date, showing Wild Flag looking contemplative on a shady Union Park picnic table, and the members of Hot Chip posing in front of a wind-blown balloon sculpture, among other headliners from the show. Lower Dens even gets photobombed by Bradford Cox.

Curious as to how Sanchez became the Internet’s favorite music photographer, we recently chatted with the Chicago native over email.

CO.DESIGN: You’re not exclusively a GIF photographer, but your animated images are wildly popular online. How did you come to GIF as a format? Was there a commission that led you into it, or was this a natural progression for you as a photographer?

ERIK LIAM SANCHEZ: Natural progression. Back in college I toyed around with making GIFs just for fun. Kept getting more and more into them over the years. Then one day I was talking with an editor about them casually, and we were like, hey! Let’s make a batch of them! Ever since, I’ve had the habit of thinking about images in these moments that last just a few seconds.

You’ve photographed some of the most interesting musicians out there today–do you have a favorite (or a least favorite!)? Does anyone stand out in you mind as particularly interesting?


Oh man, hard to say who my favorite is. The subjects are folks I already find very interesting. I do love it most when a shoot becomes a two-way collaboration between myself and the subject, focusing on doing great work and just having fun with it.

I’m really curious about your technique. What camera do you use? Do you shoot a series of stills, or do you take video and then cut it down to a seconds-long clip?

I typically just use whichever cameras are in front of me, whatever feels right for the subject. I shoot both a series of stills and/or video; there’s a give and take with each method for me. Using anything from a DSLR, a handheld camcorder, or even my phone. It really depends on what is happening in that moment.

Do you go into a shoot with an idea for what to animate, or does it depend on the artist and context? I’m thinking of the Deafheaven GIF on your Cargo Collective, where the camera is vibrating along with some unheard bass, which is brilliant.

I always go into a shoot with an idea in mind, not necessarily on what to animate, but making sure there’s concept going in. I’ll usually provide the subject some direction, but leave most of the movement up to them and their environment. Letting them just be themselves. For the Deafheaven GIF, a lot of it was context. There was some heavy bass happening in the same room, I noticed the camera was shaking here and there. So I just went with it, loosened the tightness on the tripod to help exaggerate it, waited for the bass to start up again, and started shooting.

Any upcoming projects you’d like us to know about?


Yes! I’m launching a project with a couple friends called HB. Very much about collaborating with all kinds of different skills. Really excited about it!

Check out Erik’s full website, or follow him on Twitter here.


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.