“Don’t let anyone intimidate you. If you’re there, you have as much reason to be there as anyone else does!”
Emerson “Sonny” Swoger is a photographer from Cincinnati, Ohio who specializes in music, portrait, and event photography. She was named one of Savvage Media’s “Top 11 Female Music Photographers of 2019” and her work has been featured in multiple publications, including Girls Behind The Rock Show.
Back in high school, a few of Emerson’s musician friends asked if she’d come to a show they were scheduled to play and photograph their gig. This event changed everything for her — combining her passions for music and photography, she eagerly picked up her camera and anticipated the next opportunity to capture a live music event — and the rest is history.
How did you get started in this industry?
I started doing photography at the tail end of high school, but I was shooting like sports and nature stuff. I had friends who were in a band and were like, “Hey, we’re doing a show. You do photography. Would you like to come shoot it?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure!” I was an avid concert goer at the time, so once I shot it, and blended my two passions, I was like, “Why am I not doing this all the time??” So I stuck to music photography after that. *laughs*
What initially sparked your interest & made you want to pursue a creative path, & decide on photography as your medium?
I never really considered myself a super creative person. But then, I think my senior year of high school – I was on this antidepressant and it really messed with my memory; I had no short-term memory. It was awful. So I just started taking pictures to help remember things and remember them accurately. It just started out as a hobby. I enjoyed my work and that was the starting point from there… It all started with documenting.
What excites you to create? What helps you in the moments whenever you are feeling uninspired and stagnant?
I would say the most inspiring thing is when I find a cool location, spot, or prop, and they just inspire all of these ideas. I also do portraits and that helps conceptually. Or in regards to music photography, whenever I see other people’s work that blows me away, it helps motivate me to want to step up my game and push myself further creatively. I want to keep working at this.
Since it’s Women’s History Month, let’s talk about the women who inspire you. Who are some female artists that have inspired you and your work?
Number one, Anna Lee!
She’s a photographer. She’s amazing! She’s definitely my top inspiration. I write papers on her, I give presentations on her. I love her! And she shoots the genres I shoot too, like alternative so that’s pretty cool.
I love Ashley Osborne. Bridget Craig. Britney O’ Brien. I have her photo book. There’s so many, but I would say those are my top inspirations.
Women face so many challenges in our workforce today, and are often misrepresented or underrepresented in the music industry. Inequality still remains a serious injustice. What changes do you think should be made to the industry so it becomes more inclusive? What are some small things everyone can do to help promote equality in our scene?
I think it’s just being more open-minded and open to other ideas and people on your team. It just takes time I think for that to change in our industry; but we are seeing a lot of steps in the right direction. It’s just a slow process unfortunately. Just be open minded about it and welcome diversity.
What do you think is the most challenging part of being an artist today? What do you find the most rewarding?
I think the most challenging is social media because you compare yourself a lot to others but also feel guilty about not cranking out work everyday, which can be exhausting and you lose quality when you do that. That’s the toughest part.
The most rewarding is when someone mentions your work or says they admire it or it inspired them. That’s all you can do is inspire others. Whenever that happens, it’s a really great moment.
When you’re not creating art, what are you doing? Are there other ways in which you get creative or reset yourself so you can return to your work with a relaxed mind?
I’m a student right now, so that takes up most of my time. I’m in my last semester. I’m almost done with a bachelors in visual arts.
So, I don’t have a lot of free time. I enjoy board games and as far as creatively, the only other creative medium is physical collage. Cutting out papers and pictures and assembling them. Those can be good for mood boards and also a really cathartic experience.
What advice would you offer other women who are new to the industry and just starting out?
Don’t let anyone intimidate you. If you’re there, you have as much reason to be there as anyone else does. You can do it!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Don’t get discouraged and keep persevering. That’s a very important trait to have: resilience. Obviously there will be bad days but you gotta keep going. Just keep pursuing your dreams and whatever you’re after because you can do anything you put your mind to; the world keeps turning and it’s not the end of the world.
Describe your biggest dream.
I would love to tour full-time with musicians and photograph their shows and lives. That’s the end goal for me.
I was supposed to go on one or two mini-tours last year, but they were canceled. I’ve never actually been on tour before, but that’s the dream; that lifestyle calls to me.
The artist I would most like to tour with is Twenty One Pilots. They’ve always been my favorite.
What are your future plans?
Hopefully graduate college. Then, do portraiture full-time until live shows come back. Work my way back up to touring. That would be great.
One last message for our readers would be…
Don’t give up. Always keep your hope alive. We can change this industry bit by bit. It takes hard work and time.
Emerson’s Photography Gear
Canon 6D Mark II
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Canon 50mm f/1.8
Sigma 15mm f/1.8 fisheye