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When Passions Collide: A Photographer's Journey with Paul Weller Through Music and Architecture at the Sydney Opera House

Photographer Chris Searles sneaks a selfie with Paul Weller
Photographer Chris Searles sneaks a selfie with Paul Weller

Paul Weller

Sydney Opera House 

Friday, 9 February 2024

If you were to ask me what my three great passions in life are, what would I say I am most inspired and fascinated by? The answer is simple: photography, music and architecture.

Photography started early when my uncle gave me his old Pentax film camera and I began shooting roll after roll of film to learn the craft. Music was always around our family home and it connected my friends and I as part of our tribe growing up, and most likely because my father was a bricklayer, I was always fascinated by architecture.

And so it dawned on me as I walked up the steps of the Sydney Opera House on a drizzly late Summer Friday evening … that my three passions were serendipitously colliding for the first time in stark reality.

In arguably our country’s finest architectural achievement, I had the incredible opportunity to photograph my childhood musical idol, Paul Weller.

I had already bought tickets to the Saturday night show months ago. And I also immediately sent an email to the SOH media team with a link to my recent live music shoots, and a humble yet hopeful request to gain access to a photo pass.

Of all the long shots, I figured this one was the longest, but it seemed well worth it. Much to my surprise and delight I received a reply letting me know that my request would be reviewed closer to the show. So that was a 'maybe'...!

Fast forward to the week before, I sent a gentle reminder to inquire about the status of my photography request. Almost immediately I received one of the best emails ever, that I’d been approved as a photographer for the opening night’s show.

A week later there I am at the Stage Door at the allotted time awaiting security to escort us through. And when I say ‘us’ I mean me and four of Australia’s leading live music photographers - all excitedly waiting to go. Slightly intimidated, but ready to go… I’m in!

Unsurprisingly, the rules at the Opera House are quite strict, and for good reason. No front of stage access, no flash, stand in your allotted space, stay behind the line, don’t block the audience, and the moment that the third song ends you’ll be escorted outside.

So we’re in position and set up five minutes before the 8pm show time, the other guys pulling out their long lenses and multiple camera bodies and harnesses ready to get on with business.

While they have all the pro gear and technical skills dialled, I have a seemingly different approach to live music photography. I shoot with a smaller camera body - 27mm and 50mm lenses, and mostly in black and white.

I’m looking for movement and motion blur, backlit moments. I want to see cables, set lists, beer cans sitting on amps and geometric shapes to make interesting scenes that make the viewer feel like they were right there with me, seeing what I see.

Without the usual photo pit access at the Sydney Opera House, shooting the Modfather didn’t provide many opportunities for different angles or compositions. However, it inspired me to adjust my settings and see what else I could achieve during my brief three-song photo blitz.

If you know, you know… as expected, the first three songs were amazing. I couldn’t wait for night two when I could sit in my seat and take in the entire two-and-a-half-hour set covering his stellar 27 albums from The Jam, The Style Council, and his ambitious solo records.

So by Saturday morning Ihad ticked every box, my photos turned out pretty well and we were set for night two. Then I get a message from a friend who’s also in town and has a contact with Paul’s security, “would I like to join them at the after show event and meet the band?”

The show flies by, it’s amazing as expected, and before you can say “why didn’t he play 'A Town Called Malice?'” I’m being ushered deep in the bowels of the Opera House with a small group of friends and family, warmly welcomed by Mr Weller and band in the green room.

The rest is a bit of a blur. Thankfully, I managed to get a treasured photo with Paul and had the foresight to take a selfie on the way out.

We had a polite yet brief chat, and I eagerly took the opportunity to show my photos from night one.

A night I’ll never forget - photographing a treasured musical icon in a world renowned architectural marvel.

Now that’s entertainment!

Sydney Opera House


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