Photographer - John Shearer 1

Through the Lens: John Shearer's Top Moments from the ACM Awards

May 16, 2024 12:19 am GMT

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There's some sort of magic that happens when John Shearer pulls out a camera. Capturing split second moments like a fly on the wall and crystalizing them in time almost seems like his second nature.

The reality is, whether you know it or not, you've been a fan of John Shearer for quite a long time. From the iconic Madonna and Britney Spears VMAs photo to the key art for Taylor Swift's record-breaking The Eras Tour movie, and a long list of single and album cover art from some of your favorite modern country stars and beyond, he's been the man behind the camera for it all.

Growing up in California, he always knew his heart was set on photography. Attending San Francisco State to pursue a degree in photojournalism, Shearer moved to LA and entered the entertainment arena, nabbing a job with Getty and shooting everything from movie premieres and concerts to, you guessed it, award shows.

His repertoire is one that reads like a who's who of music's biggest giants and icons, with notable name drops including the aforementioned megastar Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Prince, No Doubt, The Rolling Stones, Katy Perry and a long, illustrious list of others.

“I try to not be too jaded and I don’t take it lightly. I really try to take it in and appreciate it, because I know not many people get to be in those rooms,” Shearer explains to Holler. “I shot rehearsals for Michael Jackson's This Is It, which was the residency at the 02 in London that never got to happen. I was one of the last photographers to photograph Michael Jackson before he passed away. Ironically, the Bad Tour in 1988 was my first concert, so that was kind of a full circle moment," he adds with a smile.

Since he and his family moved to Nashville in 2015, Shearer has found himself to be one of the most in-demand photographers in the genre, serving as the mastermind behind timeless photos for the likes of Morgan Wallen, Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs, Kelsea Ballerini, Vince Gill, Carly Pearce, Luke Bryan, Kane Brown and more. In the same respect, with over 30 album covers under his belt, country music fans can see his work across the catalogues of Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line, Jon Pardi, Tyler Hubbard and Ballerini, among others.

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Thomas Rhett backstage at the 2021 ACM Awards after winning Male Artist of the Year.

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Luke Combs in his dressing room during rehearsals for the 2019 ACM Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Blake Shelton performs 'God's Country' during the 2019 ACM Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Midland's Mark Wystrach backstage at the 2019 ACM Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“I didn't grow up listening to country music, but when I was in LA and I'd go to the country events, everyone was always so down to earth and there was a real communal feel. It felt like a big family and there weren't any egos. People always say once you work in country music, you're never gonna go back to another genre because of that,” he shares.

“It wasn't specifically the genre of country in terms of the music that drew me to Nashville, it was more the musicians themselves that I enjoyed being around." Shearer admits, "I like to switch things up a little bit here and there, but country artists are definitely my favorite I've worked with".

When not busy in his studio, Shearer's talents can also be found at a handful of events throughout the year, including the Met Gala, Oscars, Grammys, CMAs and, of course, the ACMs. Similar to everything else that you've read thus far, Shearer is credited with some of your favorite event moments from the last twenty years, and you know they're his by their signature black and white look.

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Miranda Lambert and Maren Morris during the 2019 ACM Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Dolly Parton and Katy Perry backstage at the 2016 ACM Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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HARDY & Lainey Wilson performing 'wait in the truck' at the annual ACM Lifting Lives event ahead of the 2023 ACM Awards in Frisco, Texas.

“What I think I'm more known for is black and white style documentary coverage of events," Shearer notes. "My goal is to make different looking pictures than what the other photographers are getting, so while they're using a flash and doing smiling photos, I like to do the more reportage style of the artists interacting and making you feel like you're there in their dressing room or in the audience or on their tour bus".

That goal is one that's been fulfilled a hundred times over, and one that we hope to see more of as the 59th Annual ACM Awards roll into Frisco, Texas on Thursday, May 16. As we look ahead to this year's ceremony, of which Holler has already placed our bets, Shearer is taking us back through some of his favorite moments from across the ACM Awards.

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Chris Stapleton cleans up confetti after winning Entertainer of the Year at the 2023 ACM Awards in Frisco, Texas.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, his most beloved snapshot is the now mythologized image of Chris Stapleton helping to clean up a mere matter of hours after winning Entertainer of the Year at last year's show.

Shearer fondly recalls, “After the show, his manager called and said, ‘Chris is in there and it's empty. Do you want to run back down here?’ I was at the hotel attached to the arena so I ran over in my pajamas and the first idea was taking photos of him on stage with his award in an empty arena, but then the cleaning crew came through to get all the confetti, so he grabbed the leaf blower and helped them clean up. I took photos, and it's just such a fun photo. I think it ran more than anything from the show itself!"

It's these candid, humanizing vignettes of country stars that make Shearer's work so widely revered. This is exemplified on another of his top picks, a photograph of Dan + Shay's Dan Smyers smiling next to his wife, Abby, following another successful ACM Awards for the duo.

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Dan + Shay's Dan Smyers and his wife, Abby, on the flight home to Nashville after cleaning house at the 2019 ACM Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“When you fly to these shows, you end up flying with a bunch of artists because there aren't many direct flights to Nashville, so I'll know half the plane by name a lot of time. Dan + Shay really cleaned up that year, so I shot them and their wives on the airplane the next morning,” he recalls.

It's this familiarly and warmth that radiates through so many of Shearer's ACM photographs, including the light-hearted, in media res shot of Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley in the midst of an animated discussion with Luke Bryan.

Shearer underlines, “Tyler Hubbard's one of my best friends. I got to work with FGL through their entirety and now see his solo careers grow, as well, which is really cool."

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Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley with Luke Bryan during the 2019 ACM Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ever since it adjusted its format to fit the needs of the Amazon live-stream, it's become a trickier beast to tackle, as Shearer highlights. “The ACM Awards are an interesting one because what I primarily do at award shows is photograph artists during commercial breaks interacting in the audience. The ACM Awards is a little different now because it streams on Amazon and it's a straight three-hour show.”

He concludes, “From the beginning to the end of the show, I'm not shooting much because no one's getting out of their seats and it's all on live TV. There's not the opportunity for me to be out there photographing people interacting and staying off camera. The bulk of the photos last year came from the artist's bus compound beforehand. I went around and knocked on the door to find out what their plans were, and even do little portraits of them out there before and after the show.”

As we reminisce through some of John Shearer's top ACM Awards moments, we can't help but feel a sense of excitement at what slivers in time he'll immortalize during this year's ceremony on May 16th.

For more on the 2024 ACM Awards, see below:

Written by Lydia Farthing
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