Behind the lens: Ami Barwell

The preeminent rock 'n' roll photographer on her raw and intimate images.

Name an influencer in modern rock 'n' roll and they've found themselves on the other side of Ami Barwell's camera lens. Radiohead. The White Stripes. You name it. Over 13 years of tours, album covers and magazine spreads, the London-based Barwell has defined her gritty, gripping style, and earned her place as the world's leading rock 'n' roll photographer. "My favorite part is getting the chance to capture legends and idols and perfect moments, be it the sparkle in someone's eye on an intimate portrait shoot, or capturing the raw sex appeal of that one thrust during a live show," she says. Barwell's profession demands an impressive physicality as she documents every electric minute in the sweatiest spot outside of a fitness club: A rock star's stage. Here, she shares the stories behind a few of her favorite shots:

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  • Lenny Kravitz, Germany

    Lenny Kravitz, Germany

    "In my eyes — the most beautiful man in the world! I was on tour with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and they were playing at a festival in Germany. I wasn’t supposed to be photographing Lenny Kravitz but just had to!  Lenny didn’t disappoint."

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  • Radiohead, Glasgow

    Radiohead, Glasgow

    "One of my favorite shots — Radiohead’s Thom Yorke photographed in Glasgow, UK. Most people comment that it’s so rare to see a photograph of Thom Yorke smiling!" 
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  • The Cooper Temple Clause

    The Cooper Temple Clause

    "I photographed The Cooper Temple Clause throughout their career and gained a lot of trust. I was sitting backstage in their dressing room with them before the gig, when bassist Didz started drawing a naked caricature of the band on the dressing room wall. It’s a spontaneous, rare moment captured and a great memory of a great band."

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  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Toronto

    Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Toronto

    "‘Smokey Guitar’ — I absolutely love this shot. I’d worked with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club over a five year period, documenting everything from relaxed personal shots, candid tour-bus antics, intimate backstage emotions and raw live shots. Singer and guitarist Peter Hayes wouldn’t let me photograph him for the first year or two, to the extent that I did an album cover shot of him, which was just the back of his head, as that’s all he would allow! For this particular shot, they’d flown me over to Toronto to be the director of photography on a music video. I wasn’t particularly there to take photographs, but they always inspired me so much on stage, I just had to pick up my camera. I climbed up about six feet onto a giant speaker and finally got the perfect shot of Peter. After five years, still no face, but this shot speaks for itself."

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  • Iggy Pop, Leeds, UK

    Iggy Pop, Leeds, UK

    "He’s simply a rock ‘n’ roll legend, and to perform topless at 60 and still have the moves and look amazing — he really shows everyone how it should be done. I saw an interview with him and he said 'If you’re an artist, never give up!' It's inspirational to me."

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  • Graham Coxon

    Graham Coxon

    "I was a huge Blur fan when I was a teenager, so photographing guitarist Graham Coxon was pretty nerve-wracking. I get nervous before most shoots, but that’s a good thing for me, as it makes me really determined and passionate. For most of the gig, Graham was looking at the floor and wasn’t that inspiring to shoot. This was the one frame I love. I used this image on my business cards and a couple of years later bumped into Graham and gave him my card. He said he loved the shot — so much so that he moved the photo in his wallet of his children and put this in its place!"

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  • Andrew W.K., Bristol, UK

    Andrew W.K., Bristol, UK

    "This was probably one of the strangest gigs I’ve photographed (excluding The Dwarves — naked and wearing gimp masks and encouraging the audience to throw bottles of wee, which hit me!).  I didn’t really know anything about Andrew W.K. so I was pretty surprised when (wearing white jeans and a white T-shirt) on stage, he was sick onto himself and then covered himself in sawdust! I was also covered in sawdust, but didn’t mind as it added to the atmosphere and was a great gig." 

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  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, London

    Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, London

    "I’d just finished a promo shoot with the band and I was standing chatting to Robert outside their tour bus. He just picked up his guitar and started playing."

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  • Ian Brown, London

    Ian Brown, London

    "This was the first time I’d met Ian, at a magazine cover shoot. We got on really well instantly and the whole shoot was more like two friends spending a few hours together than a photo shoot.  I love this shot — his eyes say everything."

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