Matt Cosby: Man With A Camera

January 6, 2016

Photo by Tyler Friesen

I’m so excited to share this Q & A session with my dear friend Matt Cosby.  Matt and I grew up together and he remains one of my favorite people.  Always with a camera, a great story, and a quick sense of humor, this is a fellow that charms everyone upon first introduction.  But enough accolades, I will let Matt and his work speak for themselves.

ND: Who are you and what do you do?

Hello. I am Matt Cosby. I am a lifestyle, music, and portrait photographer.

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ND: When I first met you, you were a bass player. How did you switch from music to photography?

Not true. When I first met you, we were in CCD learning about Baby Jesus.

I moved to Maine in 6th grade and Nirvana was all the rage. So, of course, I wanted to be in a band. My dad brought me to Daddy’s Junky Music in Portsmouth, NH, to get me a guitar, but the bass was less expensive so that’s what we went with. I eventually joined a band called Jeremiah Freed in high school, all the while taking every photography course York High School offered. Even in high school, photography came with a certain freedom that I enjoyed. Our photography teacher, Mr. Phipps, gave us a little guidance in the first couple classes, but then basically unleashed us into the world to roam and document. I couldn’t believe this was a class I could take and flourish in. I never really got As in geometry or gym class, but I was tuned in to photography, and loved every second of class time.

Fast forward a few years and my band got a major label deal with Universal Records, so my dreams of being a photog were put to the side. Universal hired a gentleman named Danny Clinch to do all of our album artwork. Danny is regarded as the greatest rock and roll photographer of our generation. He wanted us to come to NYC to do the photo shoot, but our manager felt it would be a good idea for him to come to York, Maine! This was a HUGE influence on me; being able to see Danny work was awesome and inspiring. It sticks with me even ten years later. I always had my camera with me on tours and in the studio with Jeremiah Freed. After signing such a big contract, I figured my future as a musician was basically set in stone. But alas, Universal dropped us after sluggish album sales.

After getting dropped I was working menial jobs to make money for vodka sodas and rent but still always taking pictures. I worked the phones at a company in Portland that rented cars to Americans that were going to Europe for vacation. It was the classic desk job and, man, did I hate my life during those days. I went from touring the country with my best pals to having to raise my hand to take a shit. On the weekends, I’d adventure around Maine and take pictures. I started posting shots on Facebook and some of my images caught the eye of a good friend I had made while living in Los Angeles. He recommended I go to photo school. He said something along the lines of: “Your work is good. Not great, but good. You have a decent eye and, if you stick with it and hone your craft, I think you’d do well.” So that’s exactly what I did. I did a one-year intensive program at Maine Media Workshops + College. The day after I graduated I was hired by Maine Magazine to be a contributing photographer. Since then I have worked with Boston Magazine, Rolling Stone, National Geographic Traveler Magazine, The View (my mom was pumped!), Maine Home and Design, and The Boston Globe, among others.

ND: Do you find that there are similarities between playing music and taking photos?

I see lots of similarities, actually. Both are tricky to navigate career-wise. You’ve gotta hustle and make connections if you want to stay busy. Many people don’t want to pay for music and lots of people don’t think they should have to pay for photography services. I also see similarities creatively. With music and photography, you need to do your homework. Learn about the masters and the people who came before you. Then smash those rules and find your own path. In my opinion it’s the only way that will set you apart. You need to find your voice in both careers. No one needs a copycat photographer or a copycat musician, (e.g., Creed trying to be Pearl Jam). Be original. I see guitars and cameras as tools, ways to express yourself.

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ND: You’ve been a professional photographer for quite a while now. Are there any memories that stand out?

I’ve been lucky to have many stand-out moments, and every time I find myself on a cool gig or in a place I never imagined myself being, I think “how the hell did my camera and I get here?” Last summer I found myself invited to Carly Simon’s compound on Martha’s Vineyard for coffee and to take pictures of her and her two children that she had with James Taylor. Carly greeted me as if we had known each other for years and was one of the easiest, non-stressful people I’ve ever photographed. We walked along her property and you could tell just how happy she was to be with her two children. It was almost like my camera and I weren’t there and that’s how I like it! Being a fly on the wall, an observer—that’s the sweet spot.

This alone of course would have been amazing, but on this day, my two worlds collided. Ben Taylor, James and Carly’s son who is a musician, and I got to talking about music. He asked me to come back later that night to track two songs with him for his new album. We recorded in the family’s barn studio, which was as gorgeous and magical as you would think. John Forte from the Fugees was there producing the tracks, and the Calypso King, Harry Belafonte, sang on one of the tracks. (His songs were in Beetlejuice!!!!)

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ND: If you could photograph one person or group, from any time period, who would it be?

I gotta go back to my rock and roll roots on this one. I would love to travel with Jimi Hendrix and document one of his tours. He was a true pioneer. He had style, he had swagger, and he was one of the most influential guitar players to grace the instrument.

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ND: Which photographers inspire you?

I am inspired by a lot of the early color photographers: Joel Sternfeld, Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerwitz, and William Eggleston. Their photos have a way of drawing me in. When I look at their images I can’t take my eyes away. They feel timeless and at the same time familiar to me.

There’s also a great community of photographers in Maine that I am inspired by. My pal Greta Rybus is a wonderfully gifted photographer from Portland, Maine, who is crushing it at the moment. CNN just published a project she worked on in Senagal about climate change. Her photo series is just gorgeous.  We touch base often to pump each other up about photography.

I recently spent an afternoon photographing David McLain for a piece for Maine Magazine. David is quite the fella. I’d love to have a career like his one day. He lives in a 220-year-old farmhouse just outside of Portland and he’s been photographing assignments for National Geographic for years. David had lots of insight and great stories. It’s always inspiring talking with other photographers.

My partner in crime, Kelsey Grousbeck, also inspires me. Believe it or not, I saw her photography work before I saw her. I was blown away. She is a wonderful image-maker and visual artist. It’s nice to have someone you’re so close with also be a creative because you can bounce ideas off them and get feedback. She is honest with me. If she doesn’t like something, she will 100% tell me and give reasons why. I am inspired by her most days!

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ND: You spent the first half your childhood in Massachusetts and the second half in Maine. What aspects of your personality do you feel reflect those geographical differences?

I was lucky enough to grow up with lots of family close by in Boston. I had a couple of wonderful cousins who would babysit me from time to time. They were slightly older than me. I can remember how cool I thought they were. My one cousin, Jerry, he’d watch MTV around the clock and blast Guns and Roses at max volume. I was 8 or 9. I was scared out of my mind but I loved it. That shapes a person. I wanted to emulate everything he did. I wore Air Jordans like him and I wore a starter jacket, blasting NWA from my Walkman. It’s nice having a little guidance when you’re growing up of what’s cool and what’s not. When I moved to Maine, I was on my own. I showed up to sixth grade wearing all my clothes backwards, pretending I was in Kris Kross. I was picked on a lot when I first moved because I was different. I had to adapt. When kids would make fun of me I would fire back a witty insult and catch them off guard. I learned to have thick skin and let things roll right off my back. The right types of people noticed me for me and I ended up with a great group of friends that I am still close with to this day. You hear no a lot in this business, and your work gets ridiculed—you have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off.

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ND: What is your favorite drivable day trip?

I find myself wanting to drive north along the coast almost always in Maine. There’s something about the ocean that makes me feel really connected and part of something greater. Driving along the coast from southern Maine to Downeast Maine is really wonderful. After my job as a rental car service man, I worked as a lobster truck driver. I drove all around Maine. The drive from Portland to Jackman is unbelievable. It’s basically driving the entire state of Maine, south to north. If you find yourself with some free time, I recommend making a playlist of Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger, and Lynyrd Skynyrd and doing this drive in the summertime with your windows down. Iced coffee is a must too.

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ND: If someone was visiting York, Maine, for the first time, where would you suggest they have a drink? What should they see?

Growing up in York, I thought it was the most boring place in all of the land. But now, I go back anytime I get the chance. It’s such a magical little town and I would recommend people stop at Mr. Mike’s for a Green Mountain coffee, put on a really good album, and get lost driving around the back roads. (You can always find your way home by simply using your GPS; York has pretty good 4G). But drive along the beaches—there are four in our little town. I’ve had many epiphanies whilst cruising up to Mt. Agamenticus.

As far as where to belly up after cruising the town, I’m a sucker for hotel cocktails so I would recommend the Ship’s Cellar Pub at the York Harbor Inn. There’s myriad reasons why I would end up here, but a few of them are: The bar feels like you’re in the galley of a sail boat, the spread of food they put out for happy hour will make your head spin (picture lobster stew, mini steak sandwiches, and a cheese and cracker plate fit for a king), and after you get a good afternoon buzz on, you step outside and cross the street (look both ways, please) to walk through Hartley Mason Reserve, which has excellent views of York Harbor Beach.

ND: What are you grateful for?

As I get older I feel grateful for so many things, large and small—things that when I was a young whipper snapper I never even considered. I am so grateful that I still have both of my parents around and even now today, they’re more supportive of me and all of my crazy endeavors than ever. I am grateful that everyday I get to do what I want with my time. Being a musician or a photographer, you work so hard on something you almost get tunnel vision, and then once it’s finished you have time to think about things. Life things. I remember when I was working my desk job, I never really had time to think or reflect. I like that I can do that now. Everyday I am thankful that people like my work enough to hire me. I try not to take that for granted!

Want to see more of Matt’s images? Visit him here.

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