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Before His Death, Renowned Colorado Music Photographer Soren McCarty Had The Lens Turned On Himself

Courtesy Lisa Siciliano
After decades behind the camera, Soren McCarty stepped in front of the lens for his friend and colleague Lisa Siciliano just a week before he died.

Earlier this week, 49-year-old Colorado photographer Soren McCarty died of colon cancer. Renowned for his concert photography, McCarty and his camera were a fixture for decades at area music venues, especially Red Rocks.

Whether his camera was pointed at the artist or the audience, his photo style was known for conveying a deep and abiding love for live music — particularly rock and heavy metal artists.

rush. soren. aug. 18 2010.jpg
Soren McCarty
One of Soren McCarty's favorite acts to photograph were rock artists, like this photo he shot in 2010 of Geddy Lee of the band Rush.

“He definitely shot what he loved,” said McCarty’s friend and fellow music photographer Lisa Siciliano, recalling the last time she worked alongside him at a Metallica show in 2017.

During his last week, McCarty asked Siciliano to turn the lens on him, showcasing a raw and unflinching look at the reality of cancer. KUNC arts reporter Stacy Nick spoke with Sicilliano about McCarty’s impact on the music photography scene and that final photo shoot.

Interview Highlights:
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Stacy Nick: Tell me, how did you first meet Soren?

Lisa Siciliano: I was working at the Fox Theatre in Boulder and he was a photographer there. I was just starting my photography journey, and he was always very friendly.

When you're both working to get the same shot, was there competitiveness?

Well, it usually is competitive in the pit, but it wasn't with him. That's one of the reasons that I really liked him. We shot totally differently — we had completely different styles — so it wasn't an issue like that, either. But he was also very encouraging, and every photographer that I've talked to since he passed has said the same thing. There is this weird competitiveness, especially back in those days in the late ‘90s. I was one of the only girls shooting in the pit and that didn't make him flinch. With him, it was totally cool. And he was always super encouraging of me and everyone else.

Can you tell me a little bit about him as a photographer? How did he approach his work?

He was just so into it; it wasn't a stressful thing. He truly loved music. He also shot sports later in his career. He just loved those things so much that it was fun for him.

Soren's photos still hang backstage at Red Rocks. I wondered if that was his happy place.

Oh, yeah. We all started there at the same time, and it was such a great time period. The late ‘90s/early 2000s was like the heyday for rock photographers around here. Things have changed quite a bit since then. But back then there was a little gang of people that all hung out together, and you'd see each other at every show. It was just a whole different thing. We got to eat dinner with the bands, and we’d get to roam around backstage. It was really fun.

Lisa Siciliano
Siciliano's final photo shoot with McCarty was difficult, she says. But it was also filled with moments of laughter.

The last time that you saw Soren about a week ago, you took a series of photos of him that are pretty raw in their depiction of what he was going through, the toll that cancer had had on his body.

When he knew he wasn't going to get better, he was like, ‘I think it's time for you to come do the photos.’ He was really open about it. He showed me everything. He was like, ‘Do you want to see how I empty my bag? Do you want to take a picture of my port?’ He didn't hold anything back with the photos, and there's some really poignant images in there. But that was just so him — to not be embarrassed or ashamed or wanting to hide anything that he was going through. He was very vulnerable and open and raw about it.

For you, not just as a photographer, but as his friend, was it difficult to take those photos?

It was difficult, but I'm also really grateful to have been able to do that for him, to show himself to me like that. There's definitely a connection when someone's showing you that much of themselves and allowing you to see that. It's a really beautiful connection that doesn't happen that often in life.

I was really grateful that the photos were developed right before he passed. I looked at my link and he did log in and see them. Because I asked him, ‘Do you want to see these or will they bother you?’ And he was like, ‘No, I definitely want to see them.’ He knew how he looked at the end. If you look at those photos, he's looking right at the camera. His head is held up high. He's still a proud man with a lot of dignity and that speaks volumes, I think.

If you'd had the chance to talk with him after he'd seen the photos, what do you think he would say?

Lisa Siciliano
Siciliano says McCarty wanted these photos to show the raw, unfiltered truth of his condition.

I think he would have liked them. I think he would have been proud and encouraging like he always was.

Do you have an idea of what you'll do with the photos?

Well, I have this site called the Lumin Project, so I'm going to put them on there. I have a section about people that are close to death that I have photographed. But I'm not sure how all of them are going to be put together. I'd like to have a show at some point. It's an interesting thing because it's something that's somewhat morbid.

But I also feel that because death is going to happen to all of us, if we could look at it in a different way and sort of a more beautiful way, if that makes any sense. Because I know it's not beautiful. As he said, it's ugly. But it's something that we all have to do. And the way Soren went really, truly was something that all of us would be so lucky to have had. He literally lived until his very last breath. He was surrounded by love. He was surrounded by people. He wasn't complaining. He wasn't just sitting in a hospital bed, drugged up, waiting to die. He literally lived until he couldn't live anymore. And I just think that's such a huge example for all of us.

This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for April 15. You can find the full episode here.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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