Behind The Lens: On The Road With Photographer Annie Forrest

Annie Forrest
Orville Peck
A$AP Rocky, 2017 me Convention
Giddyup Book
Zsela for BeatRoute
Duncan Hay Jennings (left) and Kris Bowering of Orville Peck
Giddyup Exhibition
Arca at DAU Institute 2019
A$AP Rocky, 2017 me Convention

Ever wanted to go on tour with a band and see what really goes on behind the scenes? Vancouver born-and-raised photographer Annie Forrest jumped at the chance to get on the bus with rising star Orville Peck this year and through her latest project, Giddyup, you can get an inside glimpse at life on the road.

Forrest has a keen eye – and ear – for rising music talent, having captured images of artists including Peck, along with avant-garde electronic musician and performer Arca and the soulful singer Zsela before they gained global recognition. Now based in New York, Forrest’s work has also appeared in publications including Vogue, Paper, Subbacultcha, and Vice. 

With a knack for highlighting the theatrical and the absurd, her subjects span a diverse range of genres, but have a certain spirit or aesthetic in common. “I’m interested in exploring how we tell our own stories and construct our own identities,” she says, “so I gravitate towards bold characters and storytellers who have a strong point of view — whether it’s a musician or a regular person who questions standards of beauty, fashion, gender or sexuality.”

Forrest began her career in music and events, working for companies including South By Southwest in Austin and Reading festival in the UK, along with DIY events like Music Waste in Vancouver. Always taking photos, Forrest started creating intimate, behind-the-scenes portraits of musicians that crossed her path including ASAP Rocky, Mish Barber Way of White Lung, and of course, Orville Peck.

Peck was the subject of Forrest’s most recent project, a solo exhibition titled Giddyup, which debuted at the prestigious Leslie-Lohman Museum’s Project Space, a fixture of NYC’s LGBTQ+ art scene, in the fall of 2019. The show gave a never before seen view of Peck’s early 2019 tour, and was accompanied by an 80-page photo book of the same name. “Orville is a fascinating subject,” she says. “He has created a truly authentic character that people connect with, all while wearing a mask and being relatively anonymous – which is not an easy feat.”

Forrest originally connected with Peck through the punk scene in Vancouver many years ago, and had always wanted to join him on tour. After seeing his debut music video Big Sky in 2018, she immediately knew she wanted to photograph him. “Orville is a dream to shoot. He is not only an insanely talented musician but an outlaw with a powerful visual story to match,” she says.

In May 2019, Forrest joined Peck and his band (Toronto’s Frigs) for 10 days as they set off on their first major North American tour. “With Peck gaining popularity faster than anyone could imagine, it was a really interesting time to capture an intimate portrait of him,” she says. Her playful style, which mixes gritty documentary with editorial, was the perfect pairing for the band of cowfolx.

The result — Giddyup — is a colorful collection of candid portraits taken backstage, in the van, and at various stops along the road, including Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. At the exhibition, Forrest paired the collection of 35mm photos with a hallway collage and a video installation, tying Peck’s lyrics, music and aesthetic to the current resurgence of yeehaw culture and the history of homoeroticism in cowboy imagery.

Spending extended periods of time like this with a subject — documenting their career over weeks, months or years — is one of Forrest’s favourite ways to work. “I really enjoy building ongoing relationships with subjects because it allows me to connect with their vision on a deeper level, and I think that comes out in the images,” she says. Zsela has been one of her favourite singers to shoot, following her since her first show in the spring of 2018 to shooting her most recently for BeatRoute’s October 2019 Style feature.

In 2019, she also began working closely with Arca, the Venezuelan producer, electronic musician and performance artist recently named “Artist of the Decade” by Vice. Forrest has photographed her on multiple occasions, including at the premiere of the DAU institute in Paris, at her home in Barcelona and at several live performances. “Working with Arca is unlike anything else. Her capacity for experimentation and improvisation is genius level, spilling out and touching everyone around her,” Forrest says. “I would love to continue shooting her as she evolves, and who knows? maybe it will be the material for another exhibition.”

In 2020, Forrest plans to continue exploring this intersection of music, style and identity during a three-month residency in Mexico City, beginning in January. “There is a vibrant underground music scene there that I can’t wait to dive into,” she says. “Mexico has such a rich visual and cultural history, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to experiment there.” She is showing new work next at Leap Year 2020, a group show at 22 Ludlow Gallery in New York, and hopes to bring Giddyup to a city near you.