“I used to go to open mic nights and photograph everything that was going on,” Sharon Latham says of her early career. “I got known around Liverpool as that woman with the camera.” These days, she is better known for covering stadium touring bands like the Foo Fighters and Bruce Springsteen.
I caught up with Latham ahead of the launch of her new online exhibition, A New World Blazing, which documents years touring with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
“I was born and bred in Horwich, Bolton,” Latham tells me. She lives there now and was waiting out lockdown restrictions when we spoke over video chat. Her first camera – a Zenit – was inherited from her father who passed away during Latham’s childhood.
“We lived quite rural back then [and] he was very much into landscape photography,” Latham says. “Some of my fondest memories were jumping in his car and driving to go and take photographs up in the hills and wilds of Rivington.”
The camera has since been refurbished four times and no longer works, but Latham still keeps it.
“From then, I’ve always taken photographs, be they left in the camera because you can’t afford to get them developed, to getting vouchers for developing as a birthday present,” she laughs. “I had to mess with [the camera] and work out what was going on. I went through a lot of black film.”
Even over Zoom, the warmth of Latham’s character is obvious. It’s something she thinks benefits her as a photographer. “I’m quite an outgoing sort of person, I’m not a shy wallflower,” she says.
“If you’re doing documentary photography, you’ve just got to melt into the background […] if you’re taking pictures of people, you’ve got to make them feel comfortable.”
Latham’s professional career began in freelance music photography after she moved to Liverpool, although it wasn’t easy to work out where to start. “I didn’t know there were any college courses and with having children young as well, it was a difficult one to follow,” she says.
“You can’t go fucking off and doing gigs when you’ve got babies at home. It’s not a good look.”
Whilst staying with friends in Liverpool and blagging press passes to the top music venues, Latham got involved in non-league football photography following a friend’s recommendation.
“Some of the pitches you’d turn up at, they’d still have a part of slide in the middle from where it was a playground,” she laughs. “There would be no changing rooms, the lads would just be getting changed on the side and, looking back, it made for some tremendous docu-photography stuff.”
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Enjoying the speed and excitement of sports photography, Latham began covering some of the bigger North West teams like Blackburn, Bolton and later Everton and Liverpool on a freelance basis. “It was difficult because you were sat amongst professional sports photographers and I remember looking at their cameras and thinking ‘I seriously need to upgrade my shit.’”
Then, whilst freelancing in Liverpool, Latham was involved in a car accident and broke her back in two places. “I crashed my car on Penny Lane of all places,” she says with a wry smile. She was hospitalised for seven months and told she might never walk properly again.
“I ended up being back in my flat on my own, stuck, and things got pretty dark. My mental health suffered dramatically,” Latham says.
Through friends’ encouragement and months of physio, Latham recovered movement and took up a volunteer gig at Manchester International Festival which helped regain her confidence.
A friend saw that she was back taking photos and recommended that she start freelancing at Manchester City. Latham impressed the press team and quickly formed friendships with backroom staff at the club. When the opportunity arose, she landed a full-time position as the club’s official photographer and in doing so became the first ever female Premier League club photographer.
As a City fan herself, it was surreal for Latham to see behind the curtain and get to know the players she had cheered on over the years. “Every player in that team when I was there was such a pleasure to work with, there were no real prima donnas,” she says.
“I mean, you’ve got nutters like Mario [Balotelli] but Mario was Mario and he was a pleasure to work with.”
Latham tells me about the 2012 Premier League win and the responsibility she felt towards her fellow fans. “You’ve got to turn the camera around and show what those fans are experiencing as well at moment like that,” she says, describing supporters breaking down in tears after storming the pitch.
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Whilst at the club, Latham met Noel Gallagher and the pair became friends. When she left City, Gallagher invited Latham to come on tour as the band’s photographer and she ended up following them around the UK, Europe and the USA.
Latham’s favourite shot, she tells me, was taken backstage at a small vaudeville-esque theatre in Texas. Without a proper dressing room, Gallagher was doing vocal warmups in a bathroom and Latham managed to capture the moment.
“That’s one of my favourite pictures because it’s consummate professionalism in an odd situation in a bathroom in Texas,” she laughs.
The pandemic had a predictably devastating impact on Latham’s work. “It’s annihilated me: last year was my busiest year ever for booking since I’ve gone freelance,” she says. “I had 32 gigs ranging from Taylor Swift, Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Noel (obviously), and then it all went.”
The online exhibition, hosted by REDHOUSE, is a joyful antidote to the dire circumstances Latham found herself in as an large event photographer during the pandemic.