Emily Maye - Photographer among other things


Emily Maye has spent the last six years or so embedded with some of the most prolific athletes of our time, and, unsurprisingly producing some of the most iconic and unique sports photography of the last decade. We sat down with Emily to talk spontaneous cello, a young Julian Casablancas, ballet and listening to “Stick the Fucking Flag up Your Goddamn Ass, You Sonofabitch” with her mum.

When were you born and where did you grow up?

EMILY: I was born in Northern California but shortly after we moved to Santa Barbara and that’s where I grew up. It’s a place that doesn’t much match my personality but has grown on me more now that I’m older.

What is your Current City?

EMILY: Brooklyn. But I keep a California apartment as well. I’ve been in Brooklyn two years and I would say it’s now where I mostly call home. I’ve flipped between LA and NY a few times in my life. I went to film school in LA and then switched to NY, went back to LA to write screenplays and then moved out here when I went all in on photography. I’m not really ever home though. You're in LA now, how do you like it? I fought against liking LA for so long and I do think it's actually quite a special place when you figure it out. But it isn't as easy to do that as other cities.

I am really loving LA, I’ve only been here a month or so but I’m already very enamoured. I was introduced to you through your photography work, and have since come to know your work as a director as well and now I learn you were screenwriting as well. Do you see yourself sticking with photography and directing for now or do you want to go down the fiction route in the future?

EMILY: I'd say I've been riding the wave of all of it but lately I feel like it's likely I will be writing a bit again. I started directing a year ago. It was always what I wanted to do and I felt that screenwriting would be an entry point to that path. But my whole world was about trying not to write! Maybe that means I am a true writer but it seemed like a constant battle. I want to direct and I want that to lead to fiction and documentary features. I have a few projects that I would love to see through from the beginning of the writing process and so I've been thinking about that more lately and hope that now that I am a little older I could be more disciplined about writing. I was outlining a fiction film when I decided to photograph cycling for a moodboard the film and that lead to 5 years inside teams and a whole different career. So I think I may just be on one really long procrastination tactic.

You spend a large part of your life on the road travelling, it’s no doubt influenced you, how does that extend to music? Do you pick up music from different cities and cultures you visit?

EMILY: I spend over two thirds of the year on the road and music is a big part of my travel. It’s my comfort and mood booster, and a soundtrack for exploring a new place. I wouldn’t say that I pick up much from the places that am visiting as much as I take music with me. I feel it’s the only “home" I can have sometimes. There can be a lot of comfort in a go to album. There are two luxuries I cherish – a new album from an artist I love when I am traveling and being home for concert tickets that I’ve bought. I’ve missed so many shows I have tickets for.

What’s the next show you hope to catch?

EMILY: I missed Propaghandi the other night in LA. I have tickets to LCD Soundsystem in Brooklyn in Dec that it looks like I will be able to make. Dan Auerbach in March.

What was the last job you had to travel for? What music did were listening to?

EMILY: I’ve been able to work a bit from home lately which is really rare. I directed a film piece for Vice, shot some stuff for Tracksmith in Boston, shot a boxer in Brooklyn, did a Nike shoot in NYC last night. I’m heading to Miami tomorrow with some Tennis pros (and bringing David Foster Wallace “String Theory”on the plane for inspiration). The last big trip overseas was to Austria to shoot for Rapha and I was listening to a lot of Tom Waits, War on Drugs, The Growlers and on the way home the new National album came out. I listen to the Growlers a lot. I really like that band. What do they call themselves? Psychedelic surf rock beach goth. Yup, into that.

What do you think of the new National Album? I love Tom Waits, I asked someone else if they’d seen him and Iggy Pop in Coffee and Cigarettes but they hadn’t, so I’m asking you now, have you seen it? What’s the most interesting project you’re currently working on?

EMILY: For sure Coffee and Cigarettes! I love Jarmusch. Dead Man is one of my favorite films and Only Lovers Left Alive is so great. Down by Law was my introduction to Tom Waits actually. Those are the type of artists that blow my mind, that can move between different mediums in the way that Tom Waits can or Nick Cave. The new National album isn't my favorite, though there are some stunners on there. I do love how the album progresses, it's got a great dark arc that feels very true to this age vs mid twenties. That first line of the album gets me every time, "You said we're not so tied together, what did you mean?" That's a great opening line for this album. I am trying to put together a personal project at the moment that would be exciting because I've done mostly client work this year. I have a pitch out for a project that I am very excited about directing but uncertain what will happen with it. I also started writing a pilot for a tv show this week.

What music do you remember growing up around? Who was the first person to get you into music? What is the first song you remember liking?

EMILY: When I was growing up there was a really strong Southern California melodic punk scene and my older cousin (Ryan) was tapped into that early on. We were in Yosemite for a family winter holiday and Lagwagon’s “Hoss” had just come out. Ryan made me and my brother listen to it and at 13 “Violins” got me. I think it was also that passion that Ryan had and he seemed like he was tapped into something cooler at 15 than I was at 13. My younger brother was in the room too and it all had the same effect on him. We both got really into that music and it’s really how my relationship with my brother completely changed. We would go to shows together and became good friends from that point on. At that time in Santa Barbara there was a concert venue called The Living Room that was run by the church. We didn’t grow up religious but I never felt intimidated to be there for that reason. The founder wanted a place that kids could go and do something in a suburban town and The Living Room was the place to go to see all of the So Cal bands from that time. It was in a strip mall near the airport and everyone’s parents would drop them off and pick them up. It was a straight edge, all age venue and it just had this great grungy vibe. A lot of bands played early shows there and outside of the ballet studio it was my favorite place to be. It closed down around 2003 and the last show I remember seeing there was The Mars Volta prior to the release of De-Loused in the Comatorium. I remember seeing Jared Leto’s band play right after My So-Called Life was cancelled. I loved all of those punk bands growing up – Lagwagon, Strung Out, No Use For A Name, Good Riddance, Propagandhi, Strike Anywhere, Rise Against, A Wilhelm Scream. Man, I still love Propagandhi so much. I remember having How to Clean Everything and there’s a song called “Stick the Fucking Flag up Your Goddamn Ass, You Sonofabitch” and my parents were really great about that. I remember them asking questions, can we listen to these songs with you? What are you liking about these bands? I don’t ever remember my parents listening to music and they didn’t pass down any music tastes to us. So they weren’t arguing with our taste. But if you play some of these bands for my mom now she would still be able to identify, that’s Lagwagon or whatever. She really found a way to participate that didn’t push me and my brother away in that phase.

The Living room sounds awesome. There was a church in Australia that had a similar setup, I never was able to go because it was in the city but had a lot of friends who did and they picked up a lot of new music which they passed on to me as a result. The Mars Volta show looks pretty wild. Are you the type to get right in the middle of the crowd at a show like that or do you prefer to hang back?

EMILY: No no, I hang back. My brother used to get in the pit and I would worry about him. It's always a more supportive environment than it seems, people picking each other up and stuff.

I cannot imagine sitting down with my mum to discuss a song like “Stick the Fucking Flag up Your Goddamn Ass, You Sonofabitch” when I was younger. However when I was testing questions for Disc Breaks I did sit my parents down and go through all our old favourites and, aided by quite a bit of wine, they did have a positive response to a lot of the songs we were playing in our youth and could even tie them back to what we were doing in our lives at that time which surprised me. Did you play a music instrument as a kid?

EMILY: I played flute briefly and took piano for a minute. I think like most kids, I didn’t really want to practice which is a problem.

Playing a band instrument solo doesn’t sound anything like the full band either which sucks. If you could go back and learn a musical instrument, which would it be and why?

EMILY: If I could spontaneously play cello that would be sick. When I was dancing I always loved the cello pieces… I grew up in ballet and I own a school with my mom (who was a professional ballet dancer) and I still teach in the school when I can. So I have spent a lot of time with classical music and wish I was able to play something. I’m always the one telling the girls, listen to this piece of music, do you understand how good it is? They think I’m crazy. The most famous choreographer in ballet said “See the music, hear the dance.” We have that over the door when you walk into the studio.

Spontaneous cello would be sick. Since we’re in the realm of imagination what about a pocket cello you could spontaneously bust out anywhere? That would be the vibe. Is ballets’ relationship with music one of it’s most endearing characteristics?

EMILY: It's a huge part of ballet. I have quite good musicality as a dancer and that's not really something you can teach. It's certainly one of my favorite aspects of ballet. It's incredible how linked music is to my memory of steps. You end up with so much choreography in your head. Ballet is not improvisational. It's very rigid in its choreography and you have to learn steps very quickly. I remember massive amounts of choreography (and I wouldn't say I have a good memory at all) only because it is linked to music.

How have your musical tastes changed and developed over the years since you were a kid? Did you ever get into any “scenes” or follow a band on tour?

EMILY: I loved Bush, No Doubt, Smashing Pumpkins, and Blink 182. And those punk bands I mentioned. But once I heard and saw The Strokes, I was all in on that. I remember that video for Someday and just wanting to live that life. By the time the video for Reptilia came out, I thought they were just the greatest and Julian seemed like a really good model for what I wanted out of a boyfriend, haha. I would say that my musical tastes (and tastes in boys) have evolved but I am not sure they have.

Reptilia changed my life as well. Julian was just the coolest, and I thought I was so cool cause I’d heard of them before my classmates. He inspired my first pair of skinny jeans I believe. I stopped listening after ‘First Impressions Of Earth’ though. I’ll often screenshot the time whenever I notice its 12:51 in an homage to ‘Room Is On Fire’, it’s my 11:11.  

EMILY: That's the same time I stopped listening to them and just stuck with the early albums. Is This It made so many of the album of the decade lists and I'm in full support of that but it is funny when you feel like you were having a personal experience with liking those bands and then you discover that everyone else did too. Or is it just that the kids that grew up to work for music magazines were the ones with similar tastes at the time? The Streets "Original Pirate Material" was top of some of the album of the decade lists and my brother and I were super into that album. But no one else in Santa Barbara was listening to that as far as I knew. As I got older I got more into the singer/songwriters like Ryan Adams and some of the southern inspired rock like Lucero, Gaslight Anthem… That’s kind of where the guys who were doing the punk thing when I was growing up all went. Chuck Ragan and those guys. Some of that southern rock feels like the natural extension of that punk scene.

I think you’re right there, it seems like a natural progression. It’s like once you progress from Blink 182 to Ryan Adams you’ve crossed the line into becoming an adult or something. On second thought, no, that theory fails immediately when I apply it to myself.

EMILY: And then once you start listening to the music of your parents and grandparents you've really become an adult. Now I listen to more hip hop and rap and classic older stuff as well. Depeche Mode, Springsteen… I remember the first time I heard The National and they became my favorite band for the past few years. You know the daily mixes Spotify makes for you now? It’s funny to see how they classify what you listen. Out of the six suggested daily mixes there is like a good hip hop and bad hip hop delineation. I wish I could make the suggestion that Kodak Black be moved over to the good list. Maybe it’s straight release date.

Hahaha, I hate that, when the shit playlist has the best track on it somehow. Maybe shoot em’ an email? Tell them you’re with Disc Breaks and that should get you through to the guy who writes the algorithms.

EMILY: I'll definitely give that a try. The 6th Daily Mix List is Alexandre Desplat, Cliff Martinez, Ennio Morricone, Philip Glass… I’m a massive film fan and I do spend a lot of time with film soundtracks and catalog all of that for temp music.

Philip Glass has had a massive effect on me. His soundtrack for Erol Morris doco ‘Thin Blue Line’ was incredible. That film and soundtrack made me go all in on chasing a career in film and TV, the possibility that the artifice of film can demonstrate a truth that has a real world impact. And Cliff Martinez on the soundtrack for ‘The Knick’, ouffffff so good.

EMILY: The Knick music is brilliant. The problem is you use that as temp music and then you can't like anything after that. I did this film piece with Jayson Tatum in the NBA for draft day and we used music from Moonlight as temp and I didn't want to see it any other way after. The Philip Glass score to Morris's "Fog of War" is also very good. I think that truth that you responded to is something that the really good composers tap into. The impact that has on adding another level to the art of film is what makes film very special. I once saw a panel at a film festival where they showed scenes from films with all of the temp music that had been played around with for the scene and the final score. Blew my mind what you could do with music and film together.

I would love to follow a band on tour. That’s kind of how I approached shooting cycling. It was like following the team on tour in a way. Showing it from that perspective. I would love to push that further in sports and move into music as well. I feel like I need to do something like that now, that’s kinda where my head is at. Or direct a music video. Been thinking about that a lot lately.

Who would you want to follow? And who would you want to make a music video for? I would love to follow a band, something really interesting happens to the human character when in those “tour” environments for an extended period. I’d be afraid of getting sucked into the wormhole though. It is the same transformation for athletes when they’re tour as well I think. Having been inside sport a little as an athlete myself there is definitely room for more work along the lines of what you’ve been doing. Ironically It’s the desire to explore that which has lead me to end my athletic career.  

EMILY: I think Almost Famous is a perfect movie for capturing all of that. I remember having so much restless energy after I saw that film when it came out and just wanting to bottle some of the emotions of that movie. It's like a road movie, adventure film where there's no goal at the end. The goal is to stay on the adventure and you always have to go home at the end. That moment when tour is over and you're going back to some "reality" is really interesting to me. You see that at the end of the Tour de France. There doesn't really seem to be a way to celebrate the experience of the end of the Tour if you aren't on a podium, or even you are, isn't it still not fully expressive of what you've just gone through. You just kind of ride back to the bus and go to the hotel and there's a dinner and your girlfriend is there and all the sudden the two worlds kind of collide and now you're back in the other world, sort of. It's probably different now with technology, you don't have that same separation you used to when you go on tour or did a grand tour.

Oh man, I'm ready to get sucked into the wormhole of a band on tour. I've been on the road non stop for 6 years and I feel like I've trained for this. What band is a good question. They need to be big enough but not so big that they can't cut loose. Too big and they're just too responsible to each show. Could get quite formulaic fast. Maybe the growlers. I'd love to do a video for The National. I'd love to do a full album, I really hope that's the future. Lemonade set the bar high.

It's difficult that being a professional athlete doesn't leave much room physically and mentally to have other interests. In some ways that’s the romantic part of it, that you have to be entirely dedicated to it and shape your whole world around it, but as I would imagine you've experienced, that's tough as you want to include other things in your life or have a diversity of interests.

What was the first album you bought with your own money?

EMILY: Probably Nirvana “Nevermind” or Bush “Sixteen Stone.”

What was the first gig / concert you remember going to?

EMILY: The first big concert I remember going to in an actual arena was No Doubt and Weezer and then the next week Blur, Foo Fighters and Bush. Both were in the summer in New York while I was away for a ballet summer program. I had seen a ton of small bands but that’s the first I remember choosing to go to a stadium show.

How much were you travelling for ballet? Is that ever something you wanted to do for a living?

EMILY: My mom was my teacher so I would go away in the summers to different programs for prestigious training schools linked to companies and I had a private coach in Northern California I would drive to as well. I remember trying to convince my dad I was old enough to start going away and I was 11! And then being so homesick. It is what I wanted to do for a living. My mom didn't really want me to want to do that because she knew what a hard road it was but once she saw that she couldn't change my mind, was fully supportive. Ultimately my body wasn't built for it. I had knee injuries starting at 13 and I struggled with that until I stopped at 22. I remember thinking, how will I ever be happy if I am not a professional dancer? The heartbreak seemed too much to survive. But now, at this age, I would be done with my dancing career and I am so happy that I am on my way with the career I have. It would be hard to start over when a career is done. I also own the school with my mom and teach when I can, so it's still a part of my life.

What's the best gig / concert you've been to?

EMILY: Wilco at Radio City Music Hall, Calexico every time I’ve seen them, Ryan Adams at the cemetery, Fiona Apple at Largo with Jon Brion, Explosions in the Sky every time. I saw Father John Misty twice recently and he is an incredible performer. When someone suggests a band to you, you associate that band with that person. Kind of the same with shows. When I think of those shows I think of the artist of course but also my emotional state. I remember being very much in love and knowing it wasn’t going to work and being at Iron & Wine and they played “The Trapeze Swinger” and both of us were crying and completely unwilling to look at each other. It’s the strongest memory I have of any concert ever. That song has a beautiful thing where it never stops, it just tumbles on itself, and man I couldn’t handle my emotions. I can’t ever listen to that song again or see that band.

That’s heartbreaking. It’s also what I think is one of the most beautiful things about music, it can so vividly take you back to a certain time and place. Who’s musical taste do you really admire?

EMILY: Tom Southam and I share a lot of music with each other. I had never seen The Veils and wanted to for years but it had never worked in my favor. We got tickets to go in London, and the band cancelled, it was comical. He recently tried to go and they cancelled. Ultimately I got to see them in New York but it was a band I really thought I’d never get to see.

How were the Veils when you eventually got to see them?

EMILY: So good! Every bit as good as I imagined they would be.

Is there anyone you’ve been on the road with who has had just brutal taste in music and you’ve been forced to suffer through it? This goes for subjects as well.

EMILY: Oh man, all the time. I can’t do the Euro music. And I can’t do Taylor Swift. Otherwise I’m pretty chill with listening to anything.

I guess when you’re embedded with someone you’ve just gotta deal with it.

EMILY: You do, but that's fine. I love documenting people and that's part of what makes them who they are. It's not about me, I'm stoked to be embedded in their world.

Can you describe what it’s like being embedded with a team or an athlete? How much interaction do you like to have?

EMILY: My goal is always that you don’t see me in the pictures. In those situations I want you to think, how is there a photographer there? That’s a successful photo to me. But that requires so much trust and comfort. With cycling (pro cycling, Rapha excluded), I’ve only shot it from inside teams except for the first race I did. I was offered a job inside Axel’s team right after the first images I took and from there I went on to shoot world tour teams from inside for sponsors and ultimately Fabian and was made part of the Trek team at that point, traveling with them all season and living with them at training camps and races. I was with the team for 3 years. My first day Fabian won Flanders (and then Roubaix a week later) and my last day was his last Roubaix. There’s a ton of interaction, and they get to know you well. I’m maybe different than some of the other cycling photographers. I would get asked a lot in interviews if I cycled and I don’t. I’m a photographer and I don't think I have to be a cyclist to understand what I want to photograph about it. I’m a huge pro cycling history nerd. I am so passionate about the professional sport of cycling, but I’m seeing it through a different lens than some of the other photographers and the guys have understood that and trusted me to tell their story.

What is it about pro cycling that draws you in? What’s it like being a fly on the wall with these guys for so long, seeing the ups and downs and everything else?

EMILY: There's not really any sport like it. Certainly the way that it covers ground and moves through existing spaces is unique. I think the total dedication of any athlete is interesting but cycling demands more than most. It takes over the whole life. Even the frequency of injury is astonishing compared to other sports. You're out there in a way that is so vulnerable. It's fluid and elegant and complex. I love the idea that anything can happen but also that you have favorites that often times succeed in winning as predicted. It's one of those sports that when you get it, you really can't help but love it. This year I haven't shot any races so I've been able to watch it on tv again and man it's brilliant.

I think those ups and downs are really where the beauty is and I've loved being able to see that up close. Like I said it's very vulnerable and accessible as a sport and the energy changes with different races, results, stakes, injuries. It's palpable. I hope that I've been able to convey that in some small degree with that access I've been granted.

Now I am shooting different things and the same intimacy shows in the other sports. I spent a week with the US water polo team before the Olympics and went to Jamaica to shoot Usain Bolt and I took the same approach. We talked and he asked questions of me just as I did of him and ultimately the pictures of Bolt feel like I’m not there because he allowed me to get a nice moment of him being him. I hadn’t seen anything like that of him before.

What is it about you that allows the talent to become so natural with you in a short period of time? Who’s been your favourite person to shoot?

EMILY: I don't know how I do it! I think just being real with people. Jasper Stuyven is my favorite person to shoot.

What are you favourite moments to shoot?

EMILY: Miserable weather. Ask anyone, the athletes all hate me. Ha.

Do you ever play music whilst you’re working in the field or studio (if so what sort of music are you playing)?

EMILY: Totally. Especially on set. My assistant is brilliant with playlists and bringing the mood up. I am usually focused on other things so it’s hard for me to also read the room on what music to play and it’s nice when someone else can do that. Changes the dynamic instantly.

So you use it as a way to get the talent in a certain mood as well?

EMILY: Only with models usually if I am inside of set. Normally I'm out and trying to keep as low profile as possible to just be a fly on the wall and not change the talent's mood either way.

What about during editing?

EMILY: Always. I tried to listen to podcasts but I can’t edit photos and listen to talking actually.

Do you have any music that reminds you of certain images you’ve shot or a shoot you’ve been on? And vice versa, any images that you think would fit with certain music?

EMILY: What a question. I think about this with Explosions in the Sky. If you listen to them you can hear the entire plot/tone/emotion of Friday Night Lights. Yet they were created independently. I’ve never thought about this with my work but it’s a great question. It’s tough to think of a still image to music. But I love listening to music when I go to galleries/museums. You can completely change your experience by what you choose. Maybe this would be a good exercise. Try to create a set of images that feels like a song.

I never knew that about Friday Night Lights, it’s interesting. There’s definitely a collective subconscious we’re unaware of that influences us all in similar ways and we each express those influences across different mediums which is why these seemingly random pieces fit together perfectly.

EMILY: I think that's true and I think the different mediums are trying express the same fundamental emotions.

Music at a gallery is a great idea idea. I’m going to try that. Have you ever put on really inappropriate music for the setting as an experiment? Like Slip Knot in a Monet exhibition?

EMILY: Totally, I match the music to my mood not the exhibit! I went to the Rodin museum two different days in Paris - one day listening to moody cinematic music and the other to Arctic Monkeys and very different experiences.

What song do you play to get things started when you’re throwing a party?

EMILY:  This Must Be The Place is my go to tune.

Disc Breaks: Does musical taste influence how well you’re going to get along with someone?

EMILY: I think so. If you are on the same page. I don’t think it’s a deal breaker if you’re not.

What’s a song that if someone played would instantly make you friends?

EMILY: Morphine “Cure For Pain”

And inversely song that would instantly turn you off someone?

EMILY: Britney Spears “Baby One More Time”

Hahaha. Have you ever played a song or pretended to know a song to impress someone?

EMILY: I’ve pretended not to like a band before. A lot of the bars in Brooklyn have been playing Interpol lately and not that long ago it was so not cool to like Interpol anymore. I remember going along with a conversation hating on Interpol and then walking home and thinking, wait, I really liked them. I got home and put on an album and thought yahhhh I still like them, they’ll probably be cool again someday. And just this week, bam!

Now it’s being played everywhere have you reverted to the “I like Interpol” stance? Or for purposes of not being found out do you have to persist with the lie?

EMILY: No I texted the person immediately and fessed up that I still liked them and they were wrong. It's easy to get influenced by other people to like or not like some music. But you gotta just like what you like.

A song you’re embarrassed to admit you like, but listen to often?

EMILY: Album. Beyonce, Lemonade.

If you had to direct and shoot someone’s career highlights, who’s would it be, what would you score it with and how would you have it play out?

EMILY: Kobe Bryant to California Love. I have an unapologetic love of Kobe. I’m kidding, sorta. Maybe Kobe to Still Ballin’.

That sounded a little like an apology there... All I know about Kobe is he has a helicopter, that’s pretty ballin. Actually, doesn’t he have a prod company now? Maybe we should hit him up, see if he’d be down for a California Love highlights reel.

EMILY: He does. I'm excited to see what he does with that athletic work ethic in another space. But no, not an apology. I'll never apologize for my love of Kobe.

What’s the best way to listen to music?

EMILY: Headphones.

What sort of headphones you got?

EMILY: Bowers & Wilkins bluetooth. They take up really crucial space in the 3 bags I live out of but it must be.

If you were colonising Mars and could only take one album, what would it be?

EMILY: I’ve read a couple of these and a few people have said The National so I didn’t want to but yeah, The National. High Violet. “Sorrow found me when I was young, sorrow waited, sorrow won.” Come on!

They’re hard to go past, they are masters. Thanks a million for taking part and giving some brilliant background to your musical history.

EMILY: Let’s talk about music movies! CONTROL! ALMOST FAMOUS.





Angus Morton