Chris Frape

Frape is a word that has become synonymous with live music photography throughout Sydney and the South Coast. "Frape coming?" --"Yep." --"Sweet." is the only dialogue needed to know that your event will be covered and covered well. Quite unfortunately our man behind the glass took one for the team last year when the full force of the ocean shattered his ankle into a million pieces. He's been down and out and then propped right back up on that horse (literally, with a cane in hand). One year to the day after his original accident he has to go under the knife again, so he's holding an exhibition in our gallery to inject some cash before he's on his back for another month...

Black Gold: Ok, so personally I'm really stoked you're exhibiting in our space, but I'm certainly not so excited about the reasons behind it. Give us a bit of background on what brought about the 'Fracture Zone'.

Chris Frape: Roughly three years ago my wife and I somehow purchased a house in my teenage dream area of Austinmer. We moved in and I got pretty active learning about the local music and art scene. I soon met the guys from Shining Bird, took a few portraits around my new local hood with the boys and I guess that's where my relationship with the local music scene began. Also, being a bodyboarder I had a few connections with some local riders and made a rather easy entry into the local lifestyle, which seemed to revolve around the ocean and music. 

A couple of months after moving to the area I was taking photos of American glam metal band Steel Panther in Sydney. I finished the shoot and walked out of the hotel and crossed the road and got it hit by a car, crushing my left foot - but thats a whole other chapter - I recovered from that injury in 3-4 months and began getting my documentation of the music the local music scene headed by legends like Aaron Curnow and Ben Tillman and the crew from Rad Bar, Music Farmers and many others who are so devoted to a thriving music scene in the area.

Fast forward a couple of years and I've got my photography business thriving, gaining work with Wollongong Uni Bar, Anita's Theatre and Yours and Owls. I finally moved into an office with local art legend Pat Grant at the local creative space Timber Mill Studios and everything was going great until I went for a surf down the coast with my now good mates Elliot Spencer and Zac Armytage. Let's just say the surf was absolutely firing that day. I spent the next couple of hours taking photos of the boys getting absolutely pitted!

Photo: Warren Keelan

I couldn't stand it anymore, so I packed up my camera gear, suited up and got amongst it. After about an hour in the surf I was feeling pretty good and taking off rather deep (for me at least!) and getting barrelled constantly - it was one of the best mornings of wave-riding I've ever had. Luckily, well kind of, I got pretty flogged and my leash got ripped off my arm, sending my board up the rocks where my leash got wrapped around a rock - right in an impact zone!

So I spent the next 20 minutes or so running back and forth on the rocks between sets to try and "reef" my leash out of the rocks. I finally got my slightly beaten up board back and ran back out to get in the surf again. I jumped off one of the take off spots and duck-dived a couple of waves and then a rather large set wave came and surged back over the rocks, lodging my right ankle in a crevice or something - it's all a bit hazy from here on in.

Another wave came and I couldn't free my leg in time. It basically shattered my ankle to pieces and washed me back into the ocean. I had a quick glance at my ankle and realised shit was no good. Somehow I managed to crawl back out of the ocean and get myself up the rocks to safety and local legends Simon Farrer and Elliot Spencer were on hand to get me further up the rocks and get the ambulance on its way.

After a a quick injection of ketamine from the paramedics, I was on a very surreal and psychedelic journey to Wollongong Hospital, where I woke up with a metal frame drilled into my leg. I spent the next two weeks in hospital waiting for the swelling to go down so they could operate further. I then spent the next three months at home in bed, and four months in a metal frame, watching way too much Netflix, feeling hopeless - having to sit down in the shower and not being able to cook for myself, and many other struggles took hold. Too many pain killers and too many sleepless nights gave me the urge, or need rather, to get back out and start photographing again.

I've spent the last twelve months recovering from the accident and for almost six months of that time I was not able to work. Finances and a lack of independence got the better of me and I spent a week in the mental health ward at Wollongong hospital for spiralling depression and anxiety. This short stay got me on the right path mentally to get back out there and start working where I could.

Fast forward six months and I'm now waiting to go in for further surgery in early June, ironically and spookily on the same day twelve months after my accident. I will undergo surgery to try and give me some more movement in my ankle.

So in rather a sense of the celebration of life, rather than a reflection on the bad times, I've put together a collection of photographs that I've taken over the past twelve months to show you all what keeps me going and after surgery there is gonna be heaps of bill to pays and more time off work and plenty more bills to pay. So to try and fund my life I selected a pretty big selection of prints that will be available via purchase or donation at Black Gold.

Such a hectic story. I was talking to a friend this week and mentioning the fact that band photographers are generally the most over-worked and under-paid out of any creative people - which is saying a lot! Your main practice is working with bands. What are your thoughts on that scenario and how have you forged a career in it?

I first started taking photos of live music in the early nineties and predominantly shot local bands in small venues, which allowed me to meet the bands and show them my work. I also worked for Sydney street press magazine On The Street, which allowed me access to a few larger shows like the Sex Pistols - press passes were very hard to come by back in the day and bouncers were pretty fierce if you didn't have one - and by shooting my friends' bands who where on the rise at the time, like Midget and Regurgitator, and creating the fanzine Scrollburger with art lord Glenno Smith.

I became obsessed with shooting live music. I basically find it impossible to got to a live show and not take photos, paid or unpaid.

One of the things I've noticed is that when you do something you love for long enough people notice - if your work is any good that is - so that when you stop, which I've done many times, you get missed and suddenly you have phone calls and emails - and letters! Ha! Back in the 90's I got letters asking, "Where were you," and "What would it take to get you to the next show?" So I quoted stupidly low prices and started getting paid work.

I recently turned 40 and I know that I never, ever want to stop taking photos of live music, so paid or unpaid ill be doing it anyway. Photography is an obsession for me and I can't turn that off. You often hear people saying, "I love my job because i can switch off from work as soon as I leave." I've had jobs like that and I've enjoyed that factor, usually because it allows me to take more photos. I love capturing images and documenting places and time and I don't switch "off" from work that much because it's a part of me that is just there now and I love it like a dickhead mate (sometimes annoying but generally rewarding and puts a smile on your face).

I'm blessed in being able to take photos of music and get paid and I never forget that. I've gotten to know so many fantastic musicians and great friends throughout this industry. Being around music is just what i do.

Photography is much as a device to get me out experiencing so many live music performances as much as paying the mortgage and putting dinner on the table.

On the topic of being over-worked and under-paid I think it also reflects the perfectionist nature and a true obsession with what you do. That's what most good photographers have and that could be why great photographers over-deliver every time and push themselves so hard at what they do.

I wish I could get paid more to do what I do, but it for at least the moment it provides me with a lifestyle I can't afford, so I guess I have a different skew on the answer I would have given at other times in my career and the answer would be a damn long one! Haha!

You must have worked with hundreds of bands over the years. Any standouts? Favourite memories or shows?

Rage Against the Machine playing Killing In the Name Of while Tony Hawk busted many, many mctwists in the foreground at one of the first Big Day Outs, no camera though. Also Nirvana at the first Big Day Out - I was 17, slightly altered, and seeing Kurt Cobain almost getting blown off stage by a giant fan while they played School.

With a camera in hand, I think obsessively documenting the journeys of musicians like Midget, The Herd and other Elefant Traks artists, also the record label Big Village and now Shining Bird, The Pinheads and Hockey Dad...and of course Sampa the Great - she makes me smile so much every time I see her perform!

The biggest moment over the last twelve months was sharing the backstage room with Calexico at Wollongong Uni. I honestly felt like a trembling teenager meeting Joey Burns and John Convertino.

Wow this is hard! I think I'll end it with Charles Bradley two nights in a row at The Basement. That went very close to eclipsing all the shows I've ever seen - soooo much soul!

Wow, so much great history! Are you a musician at all yourself? I imagine it would be hard not to be after spending time around so many!

Yeah I play bass on and off. I played in a fairly noisey band in the mid nineties called Sneaker. We liked to think we sounded like a cross between Fugazi and Sonic Youth, but we probably didn't. I later did some DJing and Production with a few Sydney based hip hop acts The Outlanders and Papercut.

In hip-hop mode I made great connections and friendships with bands like the Herd, Hermitude and Thundamentals. Previous to this I co-hosted a hip-hop based radio show on 2SER FM for a year or so, which further enveloped me in the hip-hop world of Australia.

I've just bought heaps of new music, toys and pedals and a new bass and am going to be making some sort of noise in public in the next 12 months. Music has been a very central part of my life since I was around 15 - good music, good people, some great venues, all types of genres and so many good times!

You've only been around for three years, but it seems like you've really taken to this area. What was the draw for you to this place and what are some the highlights of living here?

My amazing partner in crime (wife) Mary grew up in the Blue Mountains and I grew up on a river and find it pretty hard to live without the "life in brine", aka the ocean, so we found the mountains by the sea.

Major highlights have been being welcomed into a thriving creative community with open arms. This stretch of coastline has a very unique and special energy and the flow of life down here is the pace I really like. Seeing Paul Kelly at Anitas Theatre twice and Stephen Malkmus from legendary band Pavement has also been epic, as well as a million amazing sunsets and simply sharing a beer by the beach after a surf with family and friends is all time.

Solid. So we have the exhibition to look forward to this week, quite unfortunately you have an operation to look forward to next month. What happens after that?

They will be taking out a few screws and nuts and bolts and further manipulating my ankle, hopefully to give me a lot more movement and mobility.

I've used my down time rather wisely and have participated in a mentorship program with photographer and educator and all-around legend Paul McDonald at Contact Sheet Photo Hub in North Sydney, which has been great and really inspiring.

I'll be a part of a group show at the end of June. There will be heaps more physio, visits to Cocoon Floatation centre, specialist visits and of course my favourite, Hydrotherapy.

Awesome, well looking forward to seeing further fruits or your labour down the line!

Fracture Zone opens Friday, May 13 from 6-9pm at Black Gold and runs through till May 19.

Full details on our Gallery page.