In Vicious Velma’s world, concerts are primal and raw, rich with immediacy and spattered with bodily fluids.
Photographer Vera “Velma” Hernandez got her start shooting concert photography in 2014 at a Tulsa punk festival called “Fuck You We Roll OK.”
She recalled, “I took some photojournalism in high school, never really did anything after that.” She’d been working at a mall photography kiosk, but didn’t even have a camera of her own. Hernandez (Instagram: @vicious_velma) had to borrow one from her friend Jenni, who’d invited her to the show. It was at that weekend festival where she realized she’d found her calling: “I just kept it going after that.”
Almost a decade later, Vicious Velma is growing beyond the North Texas music scene where she’s made a name for herself. Now, she’s accompanying bands like Dallas’ Rosegarden Funeral Party on the road, fulfilling her dream of becoming a touring concert photographer.
“I’ve always wanted to do something with music—I’ve been playing guitar for a long time now—but I’ve also always been very anxious and kinda shy about joining or starting bands. So to end up photographing shows is funny ‘cause I feel like I’m still contributing to music the best way I can,” she said. “I can show off these amazing bands that I look up to so very much.”
Hernandez told the music zine Razorcake that her signature style came about because her camera got stuck on a filter at her first few shows: “I started learning how to make black and white work for me,” she explained.
Although she’s experienced at the full-color, glossy photos performers often expect (“I’ve gotten better at the nice stage shots,” she told me), her most recognizable works are still in black and white: photos taken from the heart of the pit, or from directly behind the performers as their teeming fans rush the stage.
“I love getting people moshing, people getting knocked around,” Hernandez said. “Stage divers especially are one of my favorite things ever.”
This need to be in the center of the chaos also puts her in harm’s way. She told me about getting knocked unconscious recently while covering a performance by hardcore punk band Turnstile. Hernandez is enthusiastic about the experience: “It was really cool.”
Before launching into the full story, she adds, ”My instinct is to protect my camera first and then my face.” Here’s what happened: “So I was at the very front and I saw these kids crawl up on stage … and I looked at my camera to shoot a couple of them, and then the third one came running right at me. I saw him fly … and I just got kicked on the side of my head.”
She woke up to about a half-dozen people helping her free of the pit and making sure she was alright. She kept shooting, moving back to get wider angle shots. “That definitely rang my bell a little bit,” she said.
The care that Dallas fans feel for each other extends beyond punk shows, something that Hernandez says makes the North Texas music scene unique: “You know there’s always been that really weird tiff between punks and goths. They’re always making fun of each other. But here, they love each other. … The energy doesn’t change with the crowd. The goths are getting rowdy with the punks, the punks are going just as hard with the goths.”
When I asked Velma about her favorite thing to photograph, her answer set us both to laughing.
“Puke shots,” she told me. “I hate bodily functions like that, but capturing it is something else. It looks gross. It looks like an alien is getting ejected out of a body once you catch the stream.”
“And it’s so punk rock,” I replied.
“Yeah,” she said. “I love it!”