For more than a quarter-century, Max Michaels has quietly crafted a unique legacy in Northeast Florida. The editor and publisher of MOVEMENT Magazine has documented three generations of alternative rock, hip hop, electronic and industrial music in Northeast Florida, encompassing a wide range of local talent and the countless national and international acts who’ve worked this territory over the years. The endeavor has also allowed him to pursue his own passion for photography, and it’s that work that has found expression in his new book, Starshaped, a 272-page full-color collection of photographs he’s taken for the magazine over the years.
Available online at movementpublishing.com and through selected retailers, the book, which arrived this summer, is an indispensable document of the regional music scene. It features some of the most influential artists of our lifetimes, some of whom—River Phoenix, Dolores O’Riordan, David Bowie—are sadly no longer with us. (Also, I wrote the foreword—full disclosure.) Always on the go, Michaels and I recently exchanged emails in a kind of Q&A.
Folio Weekly: How long has MOVEMENT been around, and what is its distribution range?
Max Michaels: It has been published from 1992 to present, and all the issues we could spare from the archives are included in the ZINE Collection at the Downtown Library. From the ‘90s-’00s, it was distributed all over Florida and Georgia, from Atlanta to Miami. Over the years, the magazine has had various formats; with each change, I tended to reboot it, so there are actually a couple of No. 1 issues, depending on when it came out. With the decline of print media and our rising numbers to our site and on social media, I recently shifted the magazine to be available online, so people can read the full issues for free and have the option to order an issue in print for a small cost.
Did you always conceive of the magazine as a vehicle for your photography, or did that happen later?
Actually, that is exactly why I started the magazine. I’ve been into photography since I was old enough to pick up a camera, and after a few tries at working with some small zines right out of high school, I branched out to make my own publication featuring both of my primary passions: photography and the music scene. I moved to Gainesville to start MOVEMENT; at the time, the music and club scene were exploding with new music and culture, so it was the perfect incubator.
Do you have a favorite photo in the book?
Many. They are all very sentimental to me. But if I had to pick a No. 1 favorite, I’d have to say one from my photo shoot with Blur. It was the first major band I scored a photo shoot with, and you never forget your first. I did a cover feature with those on our third issue, along with a great interview I did with lead singer Damon Albarn. A very close second place would be the photos with actor Michael Pitt [best known for playing Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire]. We had lunch in New York and he invited me back to his place in Brooklyn, and we spent most of the day together shooting. That’s probably the most intimate access I’ve had with any celebrity.
Are there any occasions when you could've photographed someone, but for some reason didn’t, and now you wish you had?
Sure. Probably Marilyn Manson. Though I’ve shot him live on stage a lot over the years, I’ve had so many personal interactions with him; I wish I’d gotten some more shots of those unique experiences. The first time I saw him was with the Spooky Kids at a tiny club in Gainesville called Velvet. I was at the bar the whole night, talking to friends and didn’t get any photos.
Another time, I watched vice cops come through the back entrance of my goth night (in what was the backstage club of Club 5 at the time) the night he played in the main club. They hauled Manson by his arms across our dance floor, out of the venue, charging him with violating the “Adult Entertainment Code.” I was so stunned and trying to figure out what was going on, I didn’t grab any shots of what is now a pretty notable moment in his career. I did include the shot I got in the dressing room after the arrest where one of the band members wrote “Kill The Pigs” in lipstick on a mirror. I’ve since seen him backstage at Pigface and Nine Inch Nails shows and had a few drinks with him, but never got any shots of the backstage shenanigans.
How did it feel to hold Starshaped, the finished product, in your hands?
Having spent the last 20 or so years making various mock-ups and prototypes trying to figure out the best way to publish it, the first one I got in hand was very surreal and a little bittersweet. When you spend so much time on something and keep tweaking and refining it, it’s hard to believe it’s really done. But the wait was worth it. It turned out so much better than I could have hoped for, considering I had no budget to publish it. On-demand printing is a true revolution for creatives and I’m thankful I made it this far to see it through.
Are there any certain tricks to taking good photos of bands performing, as opposed to candid shots or portraits?
Shoot as much and as fast as you can. Industry standard generally allows for the first three songs with no flash for major acts. So there is very little time to get that right shot with just the available stage lighting, along with lots of physical movement by the artists on stage, all while navigating around other photographers trying to get their shots as well. When I started, it was much more difficult, because I shot with a completely manual camera. So I had to get very good and very fast at changing out rolls of film in a dark pit and manually focusing every shot. Many of the black-and-white shots in the book are from that time. Digital photography has made the experience, process and editing so much easier.
Snag a copy of the book here.