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Musician’s artistic life is now behind a camera

Cal Quinn shoots photos of musician Nik Lee while also mixing sound.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Many years ago, a car accident left photographer and New Mexico native Cal Quinn with a major concussion.

Although many might consider the incident tragic, the injury put Quinn, 33, on a path that would lead to Beck, Prince and an extraordinary historical moment in the world of music.

Earlier this year, Quinn and his partner, Aly Fae, were chosen to record and photograph singer Beck’s recording session at Prince’s Paisley Park studio complex, a mecca for creativity. Beck was the first artist to record at the studio since Prince’s death in 2016, and it was the first time that videographers were allowed into the Minnesota studio Prince built for himself in 1985.

“For music, it was a historical moment,” Quinn said. “Prince wanted Paisley Park to live on as a space to create music. It was amazing. I had to tell myself, ‘Don’t geek out. Focus. Geek out later.’ ”

Albuquerque native Cal Quinn, left, and his partner, Aly Fae, record a video of Beck during a recent session at Prince’s Paisley Park recording studio and compound in Minnesota. (Courtesy of Joseph Llanes)

The recording session with Beck lasted about six hours. He recorded his famous song “Where It’s At” and a medley of Prince’s classic hits “Raspberry Beret,” “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss” and “1999,” which were all originally recorded at Paisley Park.

“We recorded way more material than I could have anticipated,” he said. “The level of professionalism, you could tell they really, truly valued their time in the studio.”

Beck’s “Paisley Park Sessions EP” was released last month on Amazon, along with Quinn’s video of the recording session.

At the time of the car crash, Quinn was a budding musician writing and playing music. He forgot it all, every song he had written.

“I was lucky to walk away with my body intact,” the Manzano High graduate said. “But my brain would not allow me to play anymore.”

From left, photographer Joseph Llanes, Beck, Aly Fae and New Mexico native Cal Quinn.

The accident forced Quinn to take his efforts behind the scenes. He began taking photographs of musicians and doing sound for them on the road. He said learning the intricacies of a new craft helped him recover. He soon became a technical director of the Dallas venue the Kessler Theater and then a primary audio engineer at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. He started snapping pictures and eventually got the courage to pursue photography full time.

“It (the concussion) gave me a complete reset,” he said. “It was a blank canvas to be who I wanted.”

After he met his partner, Fae, a well-known fashion photographer in the Dallas area, the two teamed up and started their own business. They use photography and videos to connect musicians, including the Raconteurs, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Luke Combs and Margo Price, to their fans. The couple take portraits and document the artists at festivals, in the studio and at concerts. Fae and Quinn recently moved from Dallas to Nashville, Tennessee, to be closer to most of their clients.

Musician and former 94 Rock and the Edge deejay Michael Moxey, a friend of Quinn’s, said he’s not surprised that he’s been successful. He met Quinn in 2018 at Willie Nelson’s ranch during the country music singer’s annual Luck Reunion festival.

Quinn was a photographer for the event. Moxey began following Quinn on social media and was impressed by his work. The two saw each other again at a different show in Texas, and Moxey decided to finally introduce himself.

“I tell him, ‘I’m a big fan of your photography. I’m from New Mexico,’ ” he said. “He goes, ‘I’m from New Mexico!’ We end up with this instant bond.”

Moxey said Quinn’s keen eye, laid-back personality and ability to immerse himself in the moment make him good at his craft. His background as a musician, he said, gives him unique insight and great instincts when he photographs musicians. It helps him get great shots.

“As (a) musician, there’s an instinct,” he said. “You know the moment’s coming up. He has the ability to be part of the band and anticipate what is going to happen.”

Quinn said he strives to take photographs that are not contrived but also not unflattering.

“People gravitate to authenticity,” he said. “Our (photographers’) great calling is to find that and capture it.”

Unlike Moxey, when Jon Smalt first met Quinn, he wasn’t immediately impressed. Smalt was playing a gig in Texas for which Quinn was doing both sound and photos, which Smalt thought was too much for one person to handle. Quinn introduced himself and asked Smalt if his band was looking for a photographer.

“I didn’t believe that he could do both jobs. I was, like, ‘Nope,’ ” he said. “But he sent me a few photos anyway. I was blown away.”

They ran into each other again at a different show.

“He popped in for five minutes and took my favorite photos of the set,” he said. “I said, ‘Who is this guy that keeps popping up in my life?’ ”

Smalt was won over and he reached out to Quinn. The two have toured together extensively, traveling to faraway places, including South Africa. He said Quinn’s ability to walk in and read a room and his attitude set him apart from some others in the industry.

“I think his success comes from a place of confidence,” he said. “So often we are limited by what we believe we can or cannot do. He sees the possibility and potential. That’s why I love working with him.”

More of Quinn’s work can be viewed on the website calandaly.com, the Cal & Aly Facebook page, and Quinn’s Instagram (@calquinn).

Quinn’s grandparents gave him his wanderlust, and New Mexico, he said, gave him an open mind and appreciation for embracing diversity. He credits much of his current success to the accident.

“I think the more adversity you have the more that you have to prove,” he said. “You learn that your time is precious, a resource you are always spending and never making any more of. It also teaches you compassion … which is so necessary to work with other artists in creative fields. So the concussion being a catalyst for everything I’m doing now is an experience I’m deeply grateful for.”

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