How Maps & Atlases Drummer Chris Hainey Carved Out a Second Career as a Photographer
Chris Hainey (@chriscreature) likes to be precise. As a photographer and drummer, it comes with the territory. His images often capture movement and energy — intentional blurs and all — while his percussion provides a taut backbone for the progressive indie rock group Maps & Atlases.
“When I started playing drums, I would try to write parts that were really showy and flashy, but as a partial observer, it just sounds like too much,” says Chris. “When you’re writing music, the vocals and the lyrics are definitely the subject and everything else is there to guide and frame it. That can be related to photography as well — trying to be thoughtful about space.”
While the band is slowly working on its follow-up to 2012’s Beware and Be Grateful, Chris has been pursuing photography, both as a hobby and a profession. He initially shared his work with just his friends. But after he noticed others taking notice, he began putting more thought into his compositions and what he posted.
Chris honed his talents at Chicago’s Columbia College, where he studied cinematography. These days, he’s working on photo and video editing at Studio 6, the in-house production company of the advertising firm Havas Worldwide. “It’s interesting how much I had to re-learn from my college days,” he says of all the new technology that didn’t exist a decade ago.
Another area Chris had to get more comfortable in was taking portraits. Thankfully, he had a lot of assistance from his girlfriend, Leslie Ann Bembinster, who’s both a model and a molecular biologist at the University of Chicago. “She had never modeled before she met me and I wasn’t comfortable or used to taking pictures of people,” he says. “I didn’t like feeling intrusive in people’s space, but I think we helped each other. She got more comfortable in front of the camera and she helped me get comfortable taking pictures of people. It’s definitely a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Like any good musician, Chris has a knack for improvising when it comes to setting up a shot. For example, one of his best photos shows a pair of red stoplights shrouded in fog in front of a dark building. “We don’t really get fog like that too much in Chicago so low to the ground,” he says. “I didn’t have a tripod or anything — I was just doing long exposures, propping the camera on the pavement with my wallet.”
He repeated the same procedure while photographing Leslie on “the world’s largest indoor carousel” at the House on the Rock, a Wisconsin tourist attraction that features all sorts of architectural oddities. “It’s a terrible habit — I’ve lost a few wallets like that,” he says. “It ended up being an interesting, dreamy scene. There are just so many lights that filled the space in a magical way, so it was cool.”
With his current work at Studio 6 and the band hopefully having a new album ready soon, Chris keeps churning out shots on a near-daily basis. He claims that almost every new photo is temporarily his favorite, though he cites a high-speed capture of a horseshoe shattering a mirror as particularly special – one he’d love to see in print someday. At the moment, though, he’s still humbly hesitant to publish any sort of physical collection.
“I’m still at a point where I feel like, ‘Why would people want this?’ So I just haven’t done it. But yeah, there might be a demand for it — Someday. Someday I will.”
We can wait.
— Dan Reilly for Instagram @music