Capturing the Irish music scene with Y Control

Sarah Ward is a music enthusiast who specialises in music photography. Sarah captures bands and artists under the alias ‘Y Control’.

By Conor McClean
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 2:57 pm
Sarah Ward (Y Control)
Sarah Ward (Y Control)

The name is inspired by New York indie-rock trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The track Y Control is from the band’s debut album Fever to Tell, released in 2003.

“I’ve been shooting since I was about 15 years old. I had a wee point and shoot camera; a Kodak,” said Sarah.

“I work with local bands from Derry and Belfast, and all over Northern Ireland really. I shoot live music, promo shoots in the studio, and outdoor shoots too; so it’s a good all rounder. I started doing Moving Image Arts at Thornhill, which moved onto photography. After that I went to university, and started studying Film at Queen’s, Belfast.

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Reevah. Photo by Y Control

“The main lecturer really opened up on what it is to look at a photograph. I found that quite interesting. I got myself a film camera at 19, and I’ve just been shooting ever since.”

Through studying film and photography, Sarah found herself immersed into the music scene years later after graduating. Prior to capturing bands and artists, Sarah worked as a photographer for weddings and events.

“I’ve always wanted to shoot musicians, and work with bands,” said Sarah.

“I think, like every creative person I was having a crisis, and went, ‘you know what, I just need to get out there’. I contacted the music magazine Chordblossom and started doing live gigs for them in Derry. The bands I was shooting liked my live photos, so they reached out to me, and said they need promo photos if I’d be interested, and then the rest is history really.”

Sarah recently worked at a Music Capital gig put on at the Nerve Centre in Derry. The bands who performed on the night were local indie-rock group Switch, punk-rockers the Wood Burning Savages and Belfast metal outfit Paper Tigers. Sarah says she is finally happy with where Y Control is at the moment.

“The name Y Control comes from my absolute favourite band Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” she said.

“The song is full of so much energy and oomph! I wanted that to match my photography if that makes any sense. Now I feel more satisfied with it because I’m working with bands and I’m working with more creatives instead of just doing wedding photos, which I mean, each to their own, that’s fine, but it’s just not really my style.

“I’ve worked with Cherym, I love them. They are so fun to shoot, and are so full of energy. I love working with artists like Reevah, because they are a different genre, and you have to step back a bit as it’s stripped back. There is Rachel Craig who is doing really well at the minute, her voice is so angelic and she is a great guitar player as well.”

Sarah Ward (Y Control)

The art of photography has faced challenges from the smartphone-era of picture taking. Phone camera-lenses have the ability to capture professional style photographs, and sharp results at affordable prices.

Despite this convenience, many purists would argue that the principles of photography have been undermined by the saturation and dependence of mobile phones. Sarah believes social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are changing how we take photographs.

“What’s funny about photography is that the medium is always changing,” she said.

“I moved from a wee point and shoot camera, one you’d take out to the nightclub with you, and then I moved to film cameras, like SLRs (Single Lens Reflex), and I even have a mirrorless camera now myself, which has overtaken smartphone photography.

“The new iPhones, you could make a film on those, crazy quality. But yeah, photography is always changing. There’s always a new gadget, and there’s always something to transition onto.

“Smartphones are great, but I don’t see the future of photography on an iPhone. I really, really don’t, because anybody could be a photographer then. It’s more about having an eye, composition, and an eye for colour and lighting; that’s what makes a photographer I think.”

Sarah is influenced by classic photographers such as Mick Rock who has shot the album cover for Lou Reed’s 1972 album Transformers.

He has also captured music icons John Lennon, Blondie, the Ramones and David Bowie.

She is also inspired by Annie Leibovitz and Scottish black and white photographer John Rankin. Sarah says using different lenses “changes the tone,” of an image.

“Sometimes the hardest thing for me is working out which lens to use, focal length matters a lot; I am always debating what length to use. With an 85mm you can get really good cinematic photos, it does change the tone of the image a lot.

“Cropping images sometimes comes in handy, but I refuse to take away any part of the image, just because Instagram isn’t formatted that way. It is changing how we shoot.”

If you would like to see more of Sarah’s photography, please visit her website at www.ycontrolphotography.com, or on Instagram @ycontrolphotography.