When Vancouver-based concert photographer Jennifer McInnis, aka Creative Copper Images, announced her retirement via social media last month, it rattled me enough to want to find out more. For the past two years I have lived through her images of concerts I could never attend, moments caught through her eyes providing a glimpse into what the shows may have felt like.
I reached out to McInnis with no expectation of a response, but was met with graciousness and honesty to share her story.
Over the past two weeks I have spoken to bands, venue owners and promoters who all seem to share the same sentiment; Jenn McInnis is one of the best concert photographers the city of Vancouver has ever seen.
Quite the moniker to live up to, considering McInnis fell into it almost by accident. “I didn’t get into the live music scene until a couple of years ago,” reveals McInnis (insert gasp), “an ex-boyfriend of mine was involved in music. When that relationship ended I started going to a lot of shows. I don’t remember why I started bringing my camera, it just happened.”
Other than dabbling in her own personal traveling photography, McInnis had no extensive experience and had not explored photography as an art form in any real depth. “ I don’t consider myself a creative person,” states McInnis humbly, “I have always felt I am better at capturing a moment rather than creating one.”
It is this essence to her photography that garnered her such support in a very short amount of time within the Vancouver music scene from venues, publications and artists. All it took was some encouragement from friends, a few Facebook posts and the calls started rolling in. Samantha Clark, marketing manager for the MRG Group in Vancouver praises McInnis for her ability to get the shot no one else can. “I think what sets Jenn’s images apart from others is that she gets the energy and catches these intricate moments that others miss. Even if I am at the show, I will get her photos the next day and she will have captured things I never saw.”
It’s no wonder Clark made the call to secure McInnis as the resident photographer for MRG Group’s venues the Biltmore Cabaret and the Vogue Theatre a few years ago, which led to Creative Copper Images being sought out by publications such as Vancouver Weekly and Exclaim! Magazine to provide them with the highest quality concert images on the market. “Jenn is hands down the best eye in the city, and there are lots of great photographers in Vancouver,” shares Leslie Ken Chu, contributing editor for Vancouver Weekly.
In just two years she has risen to the top with her images in demand from countless markets and yet she is walking away. It is this decision that is leaving many scratching their heads not only asking why, but realizing the void it will leave in the industry. Victoria-based band Towers and Trees note that her exit will leave them missing someone who was an integral piece of generating buzz around local talent. “With Jenn stepping aside, the local scene is losing an invaluable member and historian. Her belief in the artists is palpable and we always felt like she was on our team, which is a great feeling when you’re outside of your home city. ” Rickshaw Theatre owner Mo Tohammed notes McInnis as one of the best photographers he has come across. “She has taken some of the most riveting photos of a number of bands that have played the Rickshaw Theatre over the past couple of years. She will be sorely missed.”
With such acclaim, her decision to hang up the camera and leave it all behind is one that is intriguing to discover. “I am an all or nothing type of person; give it 110% or don’t do it at all,” states McInnis bluntly. “Personally, I am not in a place where I can give it the same energy anymore.” When publications suggested she just scale back, her response was an immediate, “I’m not interested.” Last year alone McInnis shot 400 bands, many more than once. It’s easy to forget she has only been at this for two years because the volume of shows she has photographed literally doubles the average. “There are tons of better photos than mine out there,” says McInnis honestly, “it’s just that I am everywhere all the time.” She means this literally. Day in and day out, she would get off work, prep for a show (sometimes two), get home around midnight, edit until about 2:00am, get up at 5:00am for her “day job” and do it all over again. Every night.
This type of work ethic, grit and talent earned her the established reputation as a ‘badass.’ When I asked her where she thought this description stemmed from, she felt it primarily derived from her personality. “I’d say it’s my attitude. I am fairly independent and I don’t have a filter. If I think something is crap, I will say so.” From those in the industry, the term seems based more in how she approaches photography. “When she is in the pit, you know she is going to get the shot every time,” remarks MRG’s Samantha Clark, “She is not constantly clicking her camera. She waits. She makes bold decisions.” Local musician Greg Drummond echoed, “She is fearless when finding her way through a busy crowd. Her action shots are simply the best.” Needless to say her daily regime left little time for a social life. “On Fridays when all my squad mates would be discussing their plans for the weekend, everyone would turn to me and say, ‘Well, I guess we know what you are doing.’”
Speaking of badass, in case you didn’t know, Jenn McInnis is a cop with the Vancouver Police Department. It took me by surprise initially, as it does with most who know her through the live music world and become instantly trepidatious of everything they may have said or done in her presence. But McInnis herself lays any awkwardness to rest, “It’s just a job,” she says plainly, “it’s not who I am as a person.” A job that comes with its fair share of stress and a certain culture that does not have much room for “positive feedback” as McInnis explains. “Concert photography was there for me in a dark period of my life. I was welcomed in from the very start and made to feel like I belonged. I wasn’t used to people telling me I was good at something, so it made me want to work harder and do better.” Note to VPD Human Resources Department.
She appreciates all of the accolades she has received over the past two years as the skill required to photograph live music is unique unto itself. “You are dealing with moving lights, moving people and being in a pit or a crowd where you can’t just move anywhere you want,” describes McInnis. “It takes a lot of cooperation between all of the photographers. Everybody wants to get their good shot and you may only have three songs, sometimes only one, to get it. The pressure is on.” This thrill helped provide the motivation to dedicate so much of her time to it, but she is ready for a new challenge. “I am not learning anything new. I would like to expand my knowledge base and learn more about how to do portraits, or landscapes or street photography, but who knows. I fell into concert photography and policing, so maybe I will fall into something else.”
For now McInnis is focusing on spending time with her loved ones and being open to the possibilities that lie ahead. As for the rest of us, we will have to learn to live without the daily dose of Creative Copper Images in our news feeds, giving us a small dose on what we missed the night before. Samantha Clark resigns, “The scene is going to change, I don’t even know how to process it yet. She is the only one I have worked with that makes every show feel special. Everyone from the bands to the security love her. I am just sad to see her go.”
McInnis leaves the slightest door open to say, “If a certain few bands contacted me directly to photograph a show I would be hard pressed to say no.” Good luck on making the cut and kudos to anyone brave enough to ask. In terms of what she will miss the most, “the people, of course, the camaraderie between the photographers, the venue staff, the musicians, everyone. The connections with people is what I will miss.” Cheers to that.
Jennifer McInnis photographed her last official show on January 28, 2016 at the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver.