Passion isn’t taught, nor is it something to be locked away and left unattended. It’s an innate calling that drives the spirit towards something you don’t just “like” but truly love. It’s a journey of self-discovery to unearth one’s life purpose. To ignore or leave your passions unexplored is to not live at all. Concert photographer Greg Noire’s vision as an expeditionist has been tested throughout his personal journey, as he’s spent the past decade seeking a sort of creative utopia; a landscape wide enough to unpack his gifts.
“Through exploration, you’re able to find those places that are off the beaten path and not really available for people who are seeking these hidden gems out.”
Born in a small Texas town called Granbury, Noire first picked up a camera while attending Lamar University in Beaumont, TX. Although his plan was to major in corporate communications, the blossoming creative pivoted after taking a photography class. “That class changed my life,” Noire tells Complex. “It taught me the basics… knowing those basics let me know what rules I could throw out the window and not care about.”
More than 1,600 miles away from his alma mater on this January day, the Southern native is once again bending the rules as he prepares for Through the Lens, a collaboration between Complex and Vans Ultrarange. Typically front row at a concert with his camera focused on artists on the stage, Noire is spending the day guiding a film crew across L.A. as he captures some of city’s most sprawling sights—the Bradbury Building, the Phantasma Gloria, and the rooftop of Concrete Studios’ downtown loft. While these tranquil settings may be in sharp contrast to the controlled chaos of a live show, Noire is eager to document his trek across the city.
“Live photography and shooting cityscapes all relate to each other, because you're trying to extract as much emotions as possible—that’s my M.O.,” he explains, before heading to the first location of the day. “Through exploration you’re able to find those places that are off the beaten path and not readily available. If you’re exploring, you’re finding out about what you’re capturing but also seeing what you’re capable of.”
“Live photography and shooting cityscapes all relate to each other, because you're trying to extract as much emotions as possible—that’s my M.O.”
Born Gregory Ehiabhi Oribhabor, Noire found inspiration for his professional surname from one of his favorite film genres. “I’m a huge fan of black and white photography; I feel like that’s my niche,” he says. “Every since I watched my first film noir, which is Citizen Kane, it shifted how I wanted my photography to go. Initially, it was all over the place. But being able to shoot and capture raw emotion in black and white, enhances the photograph in my opinion. After I started nailing the concepts of film noir, I felt like my photography began building and going in places that I wanted to go.”
Today, one of those key places Noire wants to visit is the Bradbury Building. Located in the heart of Downtown L.A., it’s the oldest commercial structure in the city. Featuring a light-filled Victorian court, pristine marble stairs, and ornate iron railings, it’s a photo opp haven. Currently based out of Houston, Noire visits L.A. often for work but rarely gets to explore the city before heading back home or he’s off to the next gig.
“I’ve always wanted to check out the Bradbury Building because it’s such a classic place that’s rich with so much history,” he shares. “The building was erected in the late 1800s and seeing older black and white photos from around that time inspired me a great deal. Being able to actually set foot inside the Bradbury Building and see its fantastic architecture firsthand and shoot without restriction was a really big deal to me.”
“The Bradbury Building is such a classic place. Being able to see its fantastic architecture firsthand and shoot without restriction was a really big deal to me.”
Experimentation and troubleshooting have always been constants for Noire, dating all the way back to the very beginning of his career. When considering his artistic pursuits, the seasoned shooter recalls struggling to find his way in a photo pit during a 2009 Clipse concert as his earliest professional memory.
“Having never shot a show before, I went in blind,” Noire admits. “I go into the photo pit, first time ever, and I didn’t know what settings [the camera] should be on. I was shooting and I’d only see a black screen. I had an OG that I looked up to for a long time in the pit with me. He saw me struggling and came up to me and changed the settings for me. He was like, ‘Go ahead and take a shot.’ I took a shot and thought: This is the most beautiful thing I’ve shot in my life.”
Now on the second stop of his L.A. tour, Noire might have a similar comment for the images he captures at the Phantasma Gloria. Tucked away in Echo Park, the outdoor sculpture sits on the lawn of local artist Randlett “Randy” Lawrence. Comprised of colorful glass bottles, wire, and colored water, the Phantasma Gloria is an ever-evolving structure that towers over 24 feet tall and 50 feet long. Beyond its size, the piece is known for the stunning ways in which it refracts sunlight, creating a striking collage of color. Noire was geeked at the opportunity of not only seeing the piece with his own eyes but capturing the moment through his lens.
“Honestly, the name alone totally sells itself,” he beams. “The Phantasma Gloria is a place that I’ve always wanted to check out, but never had the opportunity to. I’ve heard in passing about how the lighting through the fixtures changes drastically throughout the day and felt like this was a place that would be super-satisfying to photograph.”
Seeing and shooting the piece firsthand did not disappoint. “It was very cool making subtle adjustments to my posture and getting totally different results in camera due to the sun’s constant change in location,” Noire says. “Photographing the Phantasma Gloria is all about positioning and being at the right place at the right time—it’s somewhat similar to shooting live music, in that sense.”
“I’ve heard about how the lighting through the fixtures changes drastically throughout the day and felt like the Phantasma Gloria would be super-satisfying to photograph.”
Hundreds of shows and thousands of shots later, Noire is one of the most sought after concert photographers in the industry. Reflecting on his decade-long career, the 33-year-old lensman notes that shooting Childish Gambino for a few stops during the Grammy-winner’s 2018 This Is America tour was his “biggest opportunity”—one that he “willed into existence.”
“I [first] shot Childish Gambino in 2013,” Noire explains. “I didn’t know who he was at the time, but his energy during that performance was unlike anything I’ve seen up to that point. The way the crowd reacted to him, his energy, and his emotion on stage was like nothing [I’d ever] seen.
[After] that performance, I would send his management any photo I’d shoot of him, [whether] at a festival, a show, or whatever. Finally, somebody reached out to me for the This Is America tour.”
Now, Noire is leading his own tour of sorts as he and the crew travel to their final destination: the rooftop of Concrete Studios’ Downtown loft to capture the L.A. skyline. Throughout the day shooting as part of the Through the Lens project, Noire not only wanted to check memorable shots off his bucket list but also master a new and exciting dynamic of his artistry, which ultimately ties back to his overall passion for photography.
“Getting a photograph from this perspective of Los Angeles was almost representative of one’s experience starting from the bottom and building themselves up into their version of success,” he reflects, while overlooking the city. “In the photos I created here, you’re able to see the gritty parts of Skid Row that lead further in to Downtown in a tilted perspective that guides your eyes to where a lot of individuals see themselves. It literally says, ‘Started from the bottom, now I’m here.’ That’s how I see it, anyways.”
“Getting a photograph from this perspective of L.A. was representative of one’s experience starting from the bottom and building themselves up into their version of success.”
While some creatives remain stagnant, afraid to take the proverbial leap of faith, Greg Noire’s journey instead tells a story of mobility—both theoretically and physically. As he captured new scenes of Los Angeles throughout the day, Noire not only added to his already-impressive portfolio, but, by traveling down this unbeaten path, has only strengthened his passion for photography.
“The road less traveled to me means being in it for the long haul. In this day and age of instant gratification, people aren’t willing to put in the work and do what needs to be done to have longevity in one’s career,” he muses. “A lot of people think that if you take a shot of performer X, or do these certain things, you're going to get what you need immediately. People aren’t willing to put in the work… Basically, get in the mud and the dirt and do the things that aren’t immediately gratifying but in the long run you’ll reap the benefits from and be around to see the fruits of your labor.”
Additional research by Erika Ramirez