Many people dream of being able to work alongside the football team they’ve supported since birth or go on tour with a world-renowned singer-songwriter– photographer Sharon Latham has done both.
Manchester-born Latham hasn’t been without a camera in her hand since she was eight years old, and she hasn’t looked back since, especially given the iconic footballing moments and rock and roll legends she’s managed to capture.
Former Manchester City club photographer and currently taking photographs for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds - Latham has got her own exhibition, A New World Blazing, which shows off her work so far during her time with the band.
She spoke about the moments she’s most proud of capturing in her career, explained what it’s like to go from football photography to music photography and confessed why she shies away from compliments and should own her talent.
Why did you want to go into photography?
It’s quite a long story really but I was eight years old. My dad was a massive photography fan and would take me all over the place with him when photographing landscapes, one of his preferred shots. And he used to love photographing his family.
Unfortunately, he died when I was eight, so I inherited his camera and didn’t look back. It was weird because I felt like I had part of him with me all the time, just because he was so keen on it. And that was it, I’ve never, ever, not taken photos since I was eight years old. I knew I loved it and I knew that it was part of me, it was something I could go off and do on my own as a teenager when you’re moody and grumpy.
As I got older, and things turned to shit I knew I always had photography and I could go and take pictures. But never in a million years did I ever think I’d make a living out of it. I went into it professionally slightly later in life. I had kids first, as you do, and then when the kids were sort of grown up, my youngest was 13. I thought, if I don’t make a go of this and actually do it, I’ll never know if I can actually do it for a living.
Over the years I’ve worked all over the place and done free shoots for people in order to gain experience. I’d taken photos for family members, but it was always music, people photography and sport that I liked when I was younger, so I knew that was what I wanted to do. It was late 90s, early 2000s that I went to try and make a living out of it.
How did the photography job at Manchester City come about?
Oh, that was epic, epic! They’re my team which is just mental. It was through a friend of mine. I’d been doing sports photography on and off, and I’d been freelancing at other football clubs like Bolton, Liverpool, Everton and Blackburn, but only freelance and the odd, sporadic game. I’d done loads of non-league stuff like horrendous Sunday league games. Then a friend of mine, a videographer, back in 2007 said: “Shaz, I’m doing some work at Man City”. I said, “Oh, you lucky sod.” He replied, “Yeah, rumour has it there’s going to be money coming in and they’re going to get taken over”. I was like, “Yeah, I’ve heard that as well”. But he said: “Well shall I put you forward and see if they need any freelancers because they’ve not got a photographer you know.” I asked, “What football club in the Premier League doesn’t have a photographer?”
Anyway, I went along, and they said for me to come along and shoot a couple of the games. So, I hired a load of equipment because sports photography at that level is a lot more advanced and you need a lot more different types of lenses. So, I hired the equipment and suddenly I found myself freelancing. It was surreal. But also, the pressure was on because it was like okay, I need to do this properly, this is my team.
I really became adept at it quite quickly. I did that from 2007 to 2008 and in 2008 they [Man City] were like: “Oh, we think we’re going to take a photographer on, would you apply?” They didn’t and it wasn’t until 2010 that they actually put the job out there. I freelanced with them on and off from 2007 to 2010 and then 2010 when I applied for the job full time, I got it. There were 65 other photographers, and I was the first ever female Premier League club photographer.
How mad is that? The Premier League teams had never taken a woman on before as a club photographer which is just mental because that’s only 11 years ago. Really, I stumbled into it, but I have this personality that people like and they remember me, I don’t know why! I think that helped in the early days when I was freelancing because after they said: “I know you’ve done the games but do you fancy coming to Carrington and doing some training shots and will you come and do a promo shoot.” So, I got more and more freelance work. I became a part of the furniture even before I applied for the job full-time.
How did you become Noel Gallagher's photographer?
It’s hilarious. Again, back in the day when Oasis were going, I had photographed them as a freelance photographer at Maine Road football ground which is Man City’s old football ground and then again, in the later part of their career at the Etihad. The famous gig where all the fans pushed the barriers down and they had to stop the gig – it was really scary. We were in the pit in front and all the fans fell on top of us, it was really scary.
I photographed Oasis but I never got to the level of going to meet them. When I was working at Man City – Noel and Liam are both massive Man City fans – so I stumbled across both of them and then obviously they split up, so it was mainly the fact that Noel was always in and around the stadium at home games and away games and I’d bump into him. Then gradually over time I started capturing him at games and stuff and I’d send him the photos and he’d be like: “Thanks Shaz, brill.” And then when they [Man City] started winning tournaments and trophies he’d always be there, and I’d manage to snap him, and he’d be really chuffed like: “Oh I’ve got a memory of that now.”
Over time we just crossed paths often and it was funny because he was like: “There’s Shaz! Shaz come and have a drink.” At the latter part when I knew I was leaving Man City the last thing I did was when Pep Guardiola took over management and the last interview and photoshoot I did was with Pep and Noel. And Noel said to me: “Why are you leaving? What are you doing?” And I said I’ve got other stuff to do and he’s like: “But Shaz you can’t leave, who will I get my photos off?” And I’m like, don’t worry the next photographer will give you the photos. He said: “I’m gutted Shaz, it’s not going to be the same. What are you going to do?” And I just stood there, and I went, I’ll come on tour with you. And he went: “Alright then.”
That was that and he said: “Give us a ring when you’re ready.” And that was it, three weeks later I was at a festival shooting him, access all areas. I was stood there on the stage photographing thinking, what are you doing, this is mental. Then 7/8 years later I’m still doing it.
What was it like to go from capturing match moments to then taking pictures at gigs and behind the scenes, is it a completely different experience or quite similar?
It’s surreal, it is surreal, to actually have the access. At first when you start doing it you are like what the fricking hell am I doing here? And it’s like oh my God. But then you quickly get into it and you’re busy enough to crack on.
I’ve been very lucky to capture some famous people and some very cool musicians over the years but sports photography and music photography, technically wise are very similar because it’s all moving stuff and also if you think about a football game, it’s fast moving. But if you think about a football game when you’re outside sometimes the light can change quite dramatically. In a gig, the light changes mentally all the time.
Comparison-wise of the actual tactical side of it, it’s the same. Emotionally, it can be similar because you’ve got highs and lows in a game and at a gig you’ve got great songs and average songs so the energy levels are the same as well so there are some comparisons really, yeah.
As Noel’s music style has changed over the past decade, do you think this has influenced you at all and changed your style and process?
Yeah, I think it’s also to do with the longevity of relationships with people because the longer you spend time working with somebody or just being around them as a photographer, it makes it easier to photograph them. And the more stuff you get involved in, I’ve been involved in a lot more stuff like video shoots and stuff like that, again that helps you as a photographer, to not become invisible but become part of what he’s [Noel’s] doing. The more time you spend with somebody the comfier and easier it is. If somebody you knew just sat around photographing you, that makes it easier.
The evolvement of him as a musician has slightly relaxed our relationship and he’s so happy, genuinely and I think that when you’re doing stuff that you like because you’re evolving, your music is evolving, your lifestyle is evolving, it’s cool, it makes you happy. So, when he’s happy, it’s more relaxed and that makes for better photographs as well definitely. That evolution of time not just because of the music but because of him being a different musician now and being a different band member.
Did you have any input at all in Noel’s latest music videos for We’re on Our Way Now and Flying on The Ground?
They’re awesome aren’t they. They’re so art nouveau. No, I was actually working on something else, so I didn’t get involved but it was so cool. I love that black and white, for me, and I’ve said this many times, when I’ve been interviewed don’t get me wrong, I like colour photographs and I take colour photographs but me because everybody sees colour in different ways, I think black and white is a far more realistic representation – everybody looks good in black and white.
If you think about the fact that sometimes you’re at a gig, with all those lights and those amazing colours, it can turn somebody into a purple guru. Whereas if you shoot in black and white you’ve still got the lovely depth and range of the light but it’s not turning the person purple. I do love and prefer to shoot in black and white but I do shoot in colour as well, but your perception of red will be completely different to my perception of red, therefore a photo isn’t seen the same way by everybody. Whereas with black and white, it’s black and white isn’t it.
Can you tell us about the music videos you have worked on with Noel?
Yeah, I’ve worked on Black Star Dancing. I worked on a lot of the Mike Bruce videos when we were in America, they’re epic. So, the stuff like when we were in the Joshua Tree desert and New Orleans, there’s so much footage of New Orleans and I’ve got some great pictures, some of them in the exhibition which haven’t been seen before with lots of cool casual shirts on, that was epic.
Do you prefer to capture moments at live gigs or the intimate and quiet moments behind the scenes?
I think both equally, but my motto is what would a fan want to see? It was the same at football because I knew as a fan what I would want to see, I’d love to see them get their boots and what sort of boots do they wear? Do they tie them funnily? What underpants do they wear? Do they wear boxers? That sort of thing, the things fans – mainly women fans on that front – but the things that fans want to see. And it’s the same with music. I know as a music fan I’d love to know what does Noel drink before a gig, does he warm up? What does he do? Does he pace? So, I try my hardest to think about that and I look at a moment in the dressing room and backstage and think oh my God that would be great because they’d see that.
A classic one is that when I was on tour with him in America we were in Austin in Texas and Noel does like to warm up before every gig, he likes to warm his voice up which is really professional. He likes to find a space or wherever you are at a theatre or a festival. There’ll be a little room or something he can go in and warm up and this theatre in Austin was absolutely beautiful, but it was proper old and proper small. So, backstage there was one dressing room, one toilet and a little bit of an area so everybody was crammed in because the band is quite big, there wasn’t space for everybody. So, he went and warmed up in the toilet and the door was open. He was walking around with a guitar just singing and warming his voice up, singing certain songs and there was a big mirror and toilet rolls on the side, and I snapped a shot because I thought as a fan, I would love to see that. It’s actually one of my favourite tour shots. But as a fan you would want to see a classically cool shot of him with his guitar so you’re conscious of that as well front of house.
They are quite similar and if I’m being honest, I like capturing those candid moments, I like the fact that I’ve got the access to do that, so why not do it. Anybody else at the front of house can get those front of house shots which are beautiful, and I love them. The thing for me front of house is I like getting different angles because I’ve got different access as to what I can get on the stage; I can hide behind the drumkit with Chris Sharrock which Noel sometimes forgets and then walks up to Chris, and he’ll look down and he’ll stick his tongue out. And that’s midway through a gig and you’ve got thousands of people in front of you and Noel’s taking the piss while you’re sat behind a drumkit.
Because I’ve got the access to those live shots, I like to make them as different as I can. I like them both equally but if there was a slight nudge, I’d say the backstage stuff because I’m privileged to get those shots.
What was it like to be a part of Noel’s Manchester Arena gig, his first one back after the bombing?
One of the pictures in the exhibition – one of my favourite shots – is called Home and it’s a shot of Noel but Noel’s only a small part in this big, vast picture and the rest of it is all the fans because it’s taken from off the stage and it’s absolutely epic. You’ve got guys on people’s shoulders with their arms up and I cried most of the way through that because that was my first gig back at the arena and it was with Noel, and it was since the Ariana Grande concert. That was quite an emotional gig for me, and I say that in the interview with Edith Bowman because it was just like oh my God, all those songs being sung back so loud it felt like a different sort of energy.
I put that in the exhibition because there’s a beautiful shot from Prague with loads of arms and the rest of it from a similar point of view but the one from Home, I thought is really cool. I spotted my daughter in the photograph, so my daughter is in it which is really cool.
How does it feel to have an exhibition solely of your work?
It’s mental! It’s mental, maybe it’s a Manc thing but when people start going: “I love your work.” It’s like alright, it makes you go ugh. This is my work; I don’t do it for you to do that. That’s weird because I’m now getting all these messages from people going: “Oh my God it’s amazing.” And it’s great but it’s also like oh God.
But yeah, actually walking around it’s so cool to look at and it’s really nice because we see everything so digitally, having pictures printed looks so nice and they’re such a nice thing to have– it’s real, it’s there. I love it but it’s also like ugh as well. But I’ve got to take it, I’ve got to own it because I’m so lucky, who else does this? And I’ll photograph people like Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl. I suppose I should own it more and go yeah this is me.
I suppose it’s a female thing as well really, which is bad. You’ve got to own it and it’s so difficult, the industries I’ve worked in are very male dominated and you’ve got to. Luckily, I’m not a wallflower and I think when you’re photographing people it’s really important to be personable and 80% of a photographer’s job, when you’re photographing people is about your personality and making that other person feel good in your company.
Then 20% is technical knowledge, you’ve got to have technical knowledge. But you have to be personable because if you stick a camera in someone’s face, they can find it quite intrusive but if you talk to them and you slowly pick the camera up and start taking pictures, they’re less conscious and if you make them laugh as well, you’re halfway through winning.
Which moments are you most proud of capturing in your career so far?
I think I’ve got a top three and they’re all an equal top three. Wait, I’ve got more! I’ll do it in proper order.
So, in 2011 when Man City went to Wembley for the semi-finals of the FA Cup, we were playing Man United, the first time I’d ever been to Wembley and photographed as an official club photographer. I’d set everything up and I’d got cameras at one end, cameras at the other end. Anyway, Man United’s photographer, lovely, lovely man came up to me and was like: “Hi Sharon, how are you?” And I said a bit nervous, first time at Wembley, big occasion. He was like: “What do you want to do for the walk on shot, do you want to walk on behind me, or should we walk on together?” And I went, what walk on shot? He said: “For the coin toss. We’ll be walking onto the centre of the pitch for the coin toss.” I was trying to be cool like yeah, I’ll walk on with you. No-one told me!
So, there I am when all the players come out and they line up. They all peter off, captains go to the centre circle to do the coin toss, so I’m walking on the pitch at Wembley with the most unbelievable noise. The stadium was like nothing you’ve ever heard in your life. I walked on and I burst into tears. I got to the centre and Vincent Kompany is there doing the coin toss with the referee and I was photographing it crying my eyes out. When I put the camera down Vincent is like: “Are you okay?” I was just like carry on, carry on! I remember walking off and David Silva ran over to me, and he was like: “Sharon, Sharon are you alright? What’s wrong?” And I was like go and play football! That was an epic moment.
Then in 2011 at the final of the FA Cup, there was so many epic moments of that. I got to go in the dressing room, photograph the celebrations but there was one moment, and it was the first trophy in 35 years the club have won. So, they go up to the podium, they collect the trophy then they walk down through the stands and I was snapping every moment, I was proper focused and in the moment. Carlos Tevez came down the stairs with all the players and on the pitch there’s the champagne and they do a big celebration.
I followed them onto the pitch, they all stood at the podium shaking the bottle then they popped the lid, and I was snapping away like mad making sure I got it, I was right there in front of it. Next thing I’m rugby tackled to the floor by a security guard and I’m like do you know who I am? And when I looked when I turned around, I’d walked onto the stage, onto the pitch in front of all of the world’s press and media. They were behind me, so I’d walked into the shot so all they got was me bending over in front of it and that was the first trophy shot in 35 years and no-one got it. I had to give my images out to the press and media because no-one else got the shot. But no-one stopped me!
The third one obviously is the Aguero 93.20 when we won the actual Premier League in 2012 - that was surreal. I’d sat next to the dugouts and photographed everything that was going on there so that was just one of the best moments of my life, I’ve never ever experienced anything like it. And I never will I don’t think in a sports career because nobody will ever win a Premier League title like that, and it was just epic.
Then I think the moment I was first allowed to go and shoot access all areas with Noel and it was a really big festival in Toronto and he gave me this triple A pass and I remember sitting half an hour beforehand with this triple A pass and this wristband and just photographing it going oh, oh my God and I thought does that mean I can go anywhere? Literally five minutes before they went on stage Noel said: “You’ve got your triple A pass, are you all okay?” I’d had triple A passes before and I was like yeah. He was like: “Feel free to roam wherever you want, come on the stage.”
I’ll never forget, the sun was setting, and it was a festival on a beach in Toronto, like a man-made beach. The sun was coming down and I was sat literally behind Chris Sharrock on the drums photographing it and I just thought, that’s it – my life’s complete. There’s Noel Gallagher and there’s the beach, what more could I ask for, so that was an epic moment as well.
To view Sharon Latham’s exhibition Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: A New World Blazing, visit https://www.redhouseoriginals.com/exhibitions/a-new-world-blazing.
Words by Lucy Roberts for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.