Now/It's: An Interview with Lindsey Patkos

As we inch closer and closer to the end of the year, the remaining couple of holdover interviews come into view. Again, these aren’t holdovers for any particular reason, other than the Now/It’s “team” is just me and sometimes I get disorganized within the uber-efficient G-suite. Anyway, this week’s interview focus is on Lindsey Patkos, one of the hardest working/self-reliant photographers in Nashville (or music in general). She’s worked with many a familiar face around town - Devon Gilfillian, Liz Cooper, Emma Hern, to name a few - and still manages to find time to coordinate on behalf of a music festival all the way out in Lynchburg, Virginia (Lynchstock). This interview originally took place in late August, on the heels of a whirlwind summer for Patkos, which saw her go full-time freelance. She possesses an energizing purview when it comes to photography and connectivity, and has become an undeniable force when it comes to both in and around Nashville.

Now/It’s met with Lindsey Patkos at Portland Brew East in the Eastland neighborhood of East Nashville.

N/I - So how long have you lived on the East Side?

Lindsey - Two years. About two and a half years.

N/I - Is that how long you’ve lived in Nashville?

Lindsey - I moved here in May of 2016. I actually lived right behind Ugly Mugs in Little Hollywood. Then I moved down near Mickey’s Tavern.

[Phone Call]

N/I - For as long as I’ve lived here, I’ve never been able to fully adjust to the heat.

Lindsey - Where are you from?

N/I - From here.

Lindsey - Oh wow. That’s crazy. You don’t meet many Nashville locals!

N/I - Pretty much!

Lindsey - Well I’m from Philly, so it’s a little different.

N/I - So you’re from Philly, but two years in Nashville - did you come to town after you finished up school?

Lindsey - I spent an extra year in Virginia…. I went to Liberty University in Virginia, so I spent a total of five years there. I graduated and then spent an extra year to save money and figure out what I was going to do. But I had a ton of friends who lived here - do you know Jon Smalt?

N/I - Leah [Blevins] and Devon [Gilfillian]’s manager? And his drummer as well?

Lindsey - Yep! He’s like my best friend. We went to school together, and so him and Taylor, the bassist were already here, and [Jon] told me I had to get out here. I had always wanted to take photos of musicians, so it’s basically either New York or Nashville. I tried New York for an internship, but I was not the biggest fan [laughs]. It’s just intense.

N/I - Were you interning at a publication? Or editorial?

Lindsey - It was actually a graphic design internship, because that was my major in college. It was a really cool company, and I love New York a lot…. That’s where I always thought I’d end up, because it’s two hours from home, but I like the pace here better. I like the community here better. I was [in New York] for four months and I did not make one friend. It was really difficult.

N/I - Was it because you were so busy?

Lindsey - I was so busy, but I wasn’t really valued at all. It was kind of a bad experience of not liking the feel of it. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, so maybe someday, but the longer I lived in the South, I really appreciated the way people treat each other here. It sounds stereotypical, but it’s true.

N/I - Well it’s tough to try and adjust to New York City in the midst of an internship, because you’re starting out….

Lindsey - At the bottom.

N/I - Right. At the bottom, and there’s already an exit date for when you’ll be leaving. I’m not sure what the parameters of that internship were, but I figure most everyone understood that you were only going to be there for four months. So it doesn’t call for anyone to necessarily make a connection.

Lindsey - And it’s so expensive. Living in a place like Nashville - I’ve met people at this coffeeshop that are like “Hey! Let me help you get this job!” or “You’re awesome. Let’s connect.” We all celebrate each other and work together. I love that feeling. Even other photographers in town, it’s never a competition or anyone. We all help each other. You did an interview with Jacqueline Justice - she’s awesome. We’ve shared things. She’s great. I love the community here - that’s my favorite thing about Nashville.

N/I - So there’s never really been an intimidation factor to it? Considering there are so many musicians, there are also a lot of photographers who specialize in that field - but there’s never been a lot of competition?

Lindsey - Not really. Everyone’s pretty cool about collaborating.

N/I - Well that’s great. That’s tough to come by in most worlds. When you got here - because it was so receptive - were you immediately inundated with gigs?

Lindsey - Not particularly. It obviously takes a second for you to find your niche in any city, so I came here already having a community - some of my friends are here, and a lot of people from my school are here. So community-wise, it was great. Work-wise, I went straight into working for a media company for two years. They got absorbed by another marketing firm, but I was working for them part-time, but was also doing my own thing on the side. It was more of a slow burn, because I had to split up my time working for someone else but also wanting to work for myself. But after the company got absorbed, I was let go, but it turned out to be the best thing for me….

N/I - Because it forced you into where you are now?

Lindsey - Yes! It’s scary to have to do full time freelance. It’s kind of terrifying - it’s always been my goal - but it’s financially terrifying to not necessarily have that consistency. So it pushed me out there into the water, and I knew this was where I was either going to sink or swim. So I just worked really hard to make it work and it’s going so good. It’s really fun. I like it a lot. But I’m so glad I worked for the media company and didn’t necessarily jump right into [freelance] because I think I would have been overcommitting.

N/I - A little daunting.

Lindsey - And I learned so much about the music industry. I was able to gain more confidence in my craft, because I did both photo and design for them. I really got to figure out where I was out with that.

N/I - That’s great. So when you were coming from Lynchburg, what was your idea of what the “music industry” was? And being a photographer within that world?

Lindsey - I had no idea it was so country [laughs]. I know it’s Nashville - I knew there would be country, but I had only visited once or twice before I had moved here.

N/I - Was that when you were younger? Older?

Lindsey - Older. Like the year before I moved. I was building an app with a friend. I was designing it, and we drove out here to have a meeting with someone about the app, and that was the first time I visited here. We hung out with Jon [Smalt] and all them, and it was so fun, but I didn’t see the country side at all, because we stayed on the East Side. Basically in this area. We went downtown and went to ACME and all that, but we didn’t realize it was so much country.

N/I - It can definitely throw people through a loop the first time they go, considering places like ACME do a good job of expanding the musical palette of downtown. But at the end of the day, country is still king.  

Lindsey - It’s huge. Nashville has so much country music, and I work with a lot of them, or at least the media companies I work for, country artists are their biggest clients. Like Tim McGraw and Toby Keith, Kid Rock….

N/I - Some of the proverbial “heavy hitters.”

Lindsey - Exactly. So I’m getting out of that and trying to work more with artists in different genres. I’m trying to find a balance.

N/I - Is that something you find yourself struggling with? The balance, especially considering there’s so much country to be had here.

Lindsey - Not in a shallow way, the most money is in country music. And they have the most money to spend, because they’re larger. I’ve definitely found it to be a little easier to do, but I don’t mind having to do all the different stuff, with different artists. It’s all awesome.

N/I - I get that. I do similar stuff where I’ll interview people for this site, do stuff for radio, and other random things like write bios for artists. So you do what you can, and then random things pop up - cool things, even.

Lindsey - Right! I just got to shoot the Grand Ole Opry for the first time [recently]!

N/I - Nice! Were you shooting for the house?

Lindsey - No, it was actually for an artist - his name is Dillon Carmichael. He’s so sweet and really talented. I really enjoyed it. He’s under Riser House Records, so I just built a relationship with them and took photos of a few of their people. Then they called me about a month out and said he’s doing his [Opry] debut and they wanted me to cover it. I was so excited, because I had never even really been.

N/I - Did you know much at all about the Opry?

Lindsey - Not that much. I had always known it and wanted to shoot it, but it was super fun to get to do. But he played three songs and I was left to run around and try to get as much coverage as possible [laughs].

N/I - Well that’s why I asked, most people don’t realize or know that the Opry’s standard format is three songs and out.

Lindsey - No one ever told me!

N/I - People come in expecting something closer to a concert when in all reality, it’s more of a showcase, or more realistically, a radio pitch. So some people wind up feeling jipped, and others couldn’t care less and have the greatest time…. So did you manage the three songs alright?

Lindsey - I did. I was running around like a crazy person. I’m pretty sure the security guards thought I was insane, because I was sprinting backstage and frontstage and everywhere in between. You do what you got to do to get it.

N/I - That’s true…. In addition to your photo work, you also do art direction and media design as well?

Lindsey - A little bit. I guess more or less.

N/I - That’s always been fascinating to me, as it can be a vague or wide term. So with a shoot, are you coordinating everything?

Lindsey - Most of the time. I’m starting to work with more people. What I love about the community here is that I love working with new people. I’d always rather work with other people. Rather than just doing a shoot with myself and the [subject], I’d much rather involve my friends in it. So my roommate, Kayleigh styles for me a lot, and one of my best friends, Dane, creative directs. But Jon Smalt, Dane, and I run a music festival together in Virginia.

N/I - That’s right. Lynchstock?

Lindsey - Yep! I’m the media director, and Dane does the design and creative direction, so we’re kind of a team and do all sorts of stuff together. All the things I’ve done with Devon [Gilfillian] have been creatively coordinated with them. Same thing with Leah [Blevins]. So I’ve got a tight knit community to work on a lot of the projects with. It’s fun to work with all your friends. But sometimes it’s just me, and sometimes it’s not. I just had a shoot recently where the whole production process was just myself, and that was super intimidating and exciting - but that was my shoot with Liz Cooper for her album stuff.

N/I - And some of that wound up becoming the album artwork, right?

Lindsey - It was really cool. I first moved here, and I was working on a festival here with Jon [Smalt] - called Athens of the South - and she was playing, and so I was making artist bios for people, and I was like “Man, this girl rips! She’s so cool.” And I noticed she didn’t have many updated photos, so I reached out to her like two years ago, needing to do a shoot with her because she’s the coolest. But we took forever to plan it, and I could not think of something. I needed it to be good and cool, because she’s so cool. Then I was half asleep one morning at like 3am and I had a dream about the exact scene we would do, the colors, the setup, the whole thing. So I texted her in the middle of the night saying I knew exactly what we were going to do, which was cool, because she’s super groovy. And then we set a date and shot for ten hours. Four different background colors, the whole thing. It was one of the coolest things I’d done since getting here. And then to hold it on the vinyl. It’s the coolest thing.

N/I - And it’s a double fold, too. So you’ve got the liner and everything.

Lindsey - It was a really cool moment.

N/I - Was that the first time you’ve had your work end up as album art?

Lindsey - Not with album art, necessarily. I’ve had album art before with some other bands, but not with vinyl. Holding a vinyl is different. I’ve held physical CDs before, but having it on the vinyl and be such a big project that was in my head and now is on paper was really exciting.

N/I - So it that a typical shoot for you? Ten hours?

Lindsey - No [laughs]. That’s when it was a bigger, whole day thing. Normally… Well it depends on what I’m shooting - promo versus something that needs to be more curated, like a feature or an album, tends to be longer. But promo is typically an hour or two. Ten hours is a lot [laughs].

N/I - Ten hours is a lot of time to do anything. It’s longer than a normal work day.

Lindsey - Yeah! We were exhausted, but it was so worth it. They’re so fun to hang out with.

N/I - You obviously have a lot of people who reach out to you now, but I assume you still probably reach out to people who you find interesting. Or are you zeroed in on your people?

Lindsey - Definitely. Recently, I haven’t had as much time to search for other people.

N/I - So not as many scenarios as how you got involved with Liz [Cooper]?

Lindsey - Right. I have to say, I haven’t really done that in a while. I’ve created a bunch of connections with people, so I have a lot of people I shoot with monthly now, which is great, because that’s a form of consistency with freelance. And I’ve been working with a lot of different companies. Curb artists, Riser House, different things like that. I’ve been really busy recently, so I haven’t had as much time to reach out to people, which I love doing that. So hopefully I’ll get back to doing that.

N/I - Did you ever study photography?

Lindsey - It was my minor. I studied graphic design and photography.

N/I - I guess that goes hand in hand.

Lindsey - Yeah. I’ve been shooting since I was fifteen, but you don’t need to go to school for photography. It’s great to learn about more of it, and I loved learning about film and the technical aspect of it, but I wanted a different side where I could learn more and make me more marketable.

N/I - Sure. It’s great if you’re a hobbyist, but if you’re trying to sell your work, or yourself as a photographer, the more knowledge you have, the better served you’ll probably be. It probably helps…. Are there any photographers or visual artists you’ve admired in your time working as a photographer? Or visual artists who inspire you?

Lindsey - Well I kind of started off knowing I wanted to shoot and work with musicians. I always knew that from early on, but I started off doing weddings.

N/I - That sort of seems like a standard gateway to entry.

Lindsey - Right. I shot my first wedding when I was fifteen, which was a terrible idea. I don’t know why they trusted me [laughs].

N/I - Did you have a second shooter?

Lindsey - No! I just did it myself. And that was my first wedding, and then I started second shooting and learning more, and then started shooting my own weddings. Then I went to college, did more school and all that. But I started off wanting to do musician photography because I loved the idea of touring, and I had a lot of touring photographers I really looked up to. I think the first tour photographer I was stunned by was Allister Ann. She toured with The Civil Wars, and my first “big” gig was that I got to shoot for The Civil Wars when they were first coming up, which was really cool. That was my first step into that world. I like a lot of tour photographers - Andy Barron, he lives here, but I’ve never met him.

N/I - He’s Chris Stapleton’s guy?

Lindsey - Oh my god, yes. His stuff is amazing. Beautiful. I love the idea of touring, but also doing promo stuff and album stuff. I want to do it all. I love having a foot in everything. I love the idea of touring and would love to do that soon.

N/I - Have you done a lot of tour photo, then?

Lindsey - I’ve hopped on the road with Devon [Gilfillian] and I’ve done some touring with them, and in the future, I’ll do more. I shot Red Rocks with them last year, which was definitely my favorite weekend of my life. It was unreal. Ten thousand people singing my best friend’s song. But talk about sweating while working. They really wanted a shot from the top of the stairs, and he was playing for twenty five minutes, and I had to run all the way to the top. It was like running stairs at a football stadium. I’m sure people also thought I was crazy there [laughs].

N/I - Well a lot of times it’s hard to be discreet when you’re trying to get from one point to another in any venue, much less an outdoor one.

Lindsey - I know! The funniest thing about Red Rocks was that I didn’t realize you can see everything on the stage, because the stands are so elevated. So you can see every part of the stage, and I wasn’t really paying attention because I was so excited about the opportunity, so I wore these really bright pants with stripes, and I didn’t think I’d be on stage with them. So I was not discreet at all, and sure enough, every video you find you can see me running around with these bright pants on. So I learned a valuable lesson there [laughs].

This interview took place in August of 2018.