McMahon's Got the Angle on the Arcade Fire, Refugee Camps, and Even the Occasional Wedding

Questions for the photographer you've seen at basically every venue in town.

When Seattle Weekly needs a band shot, raven-haired Renee McMahon is at the top of the list. The local camera jockey hustles hard to make a living behind the lens, capturing artists in action, from a sweaty Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses) onstage at Sasquatch to the whimsical antics of Arcade Fire, with a whole school of other subjects—from architecture to weddings—padding her résumé. Even on-the-job hazards like stranded elevators and potential bridezilla attacks can't keep this lady from making a moment forever.

When did you take your first picture?

The first time I took a picture with a real (meaning: SLR) camera was probably when I was 14. I received an old Nikon FG from my step-grandfather in the mail.

What made you want to shoot bands?

Music has always been a huge, inspirational part of my life, so I figured why not take pictures of what inspires me most?

What was the first band you shot?

I talked my mom into driving my friends and me to the Gorge for Lollapalooza in '94. Back then, you were able to bring cameras in. So I shot A Tribe Called Quest, the Beastie Boys, the Pharcyde, L7, and a handful of others. Not having a press pass made for some pretty awful pictures; most of my shots were of the backs of heads, with teeny, tiny ant-size people on the stage who were unrecognizable.

How do you go about getting jobs?

Networking and meeting people in the industry.

What's the most difficult aspect of the job?

Getting jobs.

What's the craziest thing that's happened while shooting?

I was in the Czech Republic doing a documentary on orphanages and refugee camps. One of the nights I was there, I went to go shoot a band by the name of Wawee. After the show, the band and I, along with all of their equipment, squeezed into an elevator. As a joke, one of the guys made the comment, "Wouldn't it be funny if the elevator got stuck?" Literally 10 seconds later, the elevator stops. Eventually someone heard our cries and called an electrician. We had already been stuck for approximately an hour in a 3-by-4-foot box that was turning into a sauna. Two hours later, finally, an electrician shows up. We were stuck between floors, and the electrician couldn't fix the elevator, so he pried the doors open and pulled us up and out to safety.

What do you do on the side to help supplement the photography?

I work part time at a fabulous boutique called Tulip.

In addition to Seattle Weekly, who else do you shoot for?

I shoot a lot of freelance for various bands, but I don't limit myself to just music photography. I also shoot fashion, portraiture, landscapes, architecture, and the occasional wedding here and there.

Who would be your dream subject?

If I could go back in time, for sure the Beatles and David Bowie. I don't think this needs any sort of explanation.

Digital or film?

I mostly shoot digital, mainly because that's what 99.9 percent of my clients want and the turnaround time is so much faster. However, I still have a soft spot in my heart for film. The colors are more vibrant, and the focus is so much sharper, especially when shooting in larger formats.

Top five records by the Beatles:

Abbey Road


Rubber Soul

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

White Album

A weekly peek behind the curtain of the Emerald City music world, Behind the Scene sheds light on folks you won't see onstage, but who make it all happen.

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