San Francisco based artist Senny Mau talks about musical photography

Senny-Mau
Senny Mau/Courtesy

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If you’ve ever gone to a punk or hardcore show in the Bay Area, you’ve probably seen her.

She’s weaving through the crowd, dressed in all black, blocking her camera from getting crushed by stage divers.

It’s Saturday night, and 22-year-old Bay Area photographer Senny Mau is at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, preparing to shoot Minnesota math rock trio Tiny Moving Parts.

“I love those guys,” Mau says.

But Mau saying she loves a band is not the same as the way a gawking groupie adores her rock-star-stud celebrity crush. Mau loves the bands she photographs because, more often than not, they’re her friends.

“I’m always really concerned about being a ‘chick photographer,’ ” Mau says, sitting in the rain-soaked Workshop Cafe the day before the Tiny Moving Parts show. “The music I listen to is a very ‘boys’ world’ situation, and that’s all changing now. But I just kind of put my foot in the door and get myself in there.”

Mau grew up in Vacaville, California, and claims to have entered the music scene “the Blink-182 way” by listening to ’90s pop-punk and alternative. But attending her first concert at age 15 — “A Skylit Drive at some Travis baseball field” — caused her love for music and photography to emerge simultaneously.

“My passion for photography stemmed from music more than anything else,” she says.

In November of last year, Mau released “Sentimental Sounds,” a 100-page, full-color book of her live photography. Unlike many concert photographers who concentrate on the crowd and their reactions to performances, Mau concentrates on capturing intimate moments of fervency and movement — the unparalleled espousing of the musician and his or her own music.

The photos display the kind of closeness that can only be achieved by a photographer who is constantly at the front lines, making herself known to the musicians she shoots — not only for the quality of her work but for her unwavering dedication and personal fortitude.

Years of shooting concerts and shows led Mau to pursue a degree in editorial photography at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, from which she will graduate this spring.

“I really, really do appreciate the local scene (here),” she says, smiling as if talking about an old, reliable friend. “It’s a great one.”

In an age where networking for personal gain is seen as the most effective way to assure social and professional success, Mau’s consistency, dedication and honest interest in getting to know the people have made her a recognizable name and face in local circles.

“I met Senny going to shows,” says Jake Round, founder of Berkeley-based DIY label Pure Noise Records. “She cares about the people she shoots and made it very clear that she’s here to stay.”

“I must’ve met Senny a dozen or so times before we actually acknowledged each other,” says Jeff Wright, a member of Bay Area bands the American Scene and Unconditional Arms. “I noticed how hard she was working — and it didn’t really seem like all the effort was for any reason other than achieving her own standards of personal value. I admired that.”

Mau admits to making a point of seeing bands she’s previously photographed every time they come through the Bay Area, and she emphasizes the importance of sharing her images with them.

“The images are really great, but they’re not about me,” Mau says. “They’re about the people in the book, who are actually in the photo.”

As Mau kneels at the side of the stage, pointing her camera at the band members’ sweaty backs, a friend pulls her into the crowd, holding a beer in the air while swaying back and forth to the music. She is surrounded by friends, snapping photos filled with drunken laughter and musical memories — memories that aren’t just about the people in the photos but about the person behind the camera who created them.

Contact Rosemarie Alejandrino at [email protected].