Mark Hunter

Face to face with a cobra

words: Florian Obkircher
photography: Mark Hunter

When stars like Katy Perry and Steve Aoki go on tour, they call Mark Hunter. No photographer captures a party better than “The Cobrasnake”, because he snaps away without missing a beat

Mark “The Cobrasnake” Hunter was 17 when he launched, a photo blog on which the amateur lensman would post pictures of wild party nights with friends and celebrities. At the time, 12 years ago, the idea was as new as it was exciting.

Mark “The Cobrasnake” Hunter

“Me with my trademark moustache and Hawaiian shirt. The two models are wearing T-shirts from my collection”

The site was soon attracting half a million visitors a month, and pop stars began to employ Hunter as a personal party photographer. The secret of The Cobrasnake’s success? His radical, warts-and-all approach, which gives you the impression you’re right there in the thick of it.

Twelve years, 5,000 parties and a million photographs. Mark “The Cobrasnake” Hunter talks us through his journey from bin-trawling music fan to personal photographer to the stars…

THE RED BULLETIN: So, how do you become the world’s most sought-after party photographer?

MARK HUNTER: By following my motto: “Don’t ask permission, just do it!” When I got started in photography, I was about 17 and too young to get credentials at concerts, so I’d sneak my camera past the bouncer and into the mosh pit.

Ademoiselle Yulia

Mark Hunter: “Besides Tokyo, Seoul is the party capital of Asia. The whole scene is insane. Especially when it-girl Mademoiselle Yulia is DJing”

And you started the world’s first photo blog devoted to nightlife…

It was out of necessity, because at parties other kids would ask me to email them my photos and eventually there were too many requests. So I started a website and just gave out flyers. 

Now you’re Katy Perry’s official tour photographer and regularly take pictures at the fashion parties of star designers such as Jeremy Scott…

I’ve taken pictures at 5,000 parties over the last 10 or 12 years and you get to know a lot of people. In 2004, Katy Perry was just a regular party girl who I photographed when I was out, and the two of us got along. Then, as her fame grew, she wanted me on tour because she was comfortable with me and knew that I would get great shots.

Mark Hunter
Steve Aoki

“When Steve Aoki threw a cake in Las Vegas, he accidentally knocked the flash off my camera into the crowd, too. That’s the danger of photographing him. My equipment ended up covered in champagne and frosting”

There are online tutorials showing others how to take Cobra-style photos. What’s your secret?

I never ask for permission when I take a picture at a party. I just shoot. The best shots happen when people don’t even notice I’m there, when the DJ plays some hit and everyone goes mad on the dancefloor. It would be awkward to interrupt their moment and say, “Hey, I’m going to take photos.” I like to add myself to the chaos of an event.

What if someone doesn’t want to be photographed? 

If someone blocks my camera, I don’t shoot. It hurts me a little bit, but I’m not a pap. I want to catch the night’s magic moments and show the most wonderful and wild side of the revellers. 

How do you get the girls to lift their T-shirts for a photo? 

I don’t encourage people to act wild. They’re the ones encouraging me to take pictures of them while acting wild. I only document it. The funny thing is, I’ve never smoked or taken any drugs in my entire career.

Still, why do women feel comfortable letting loose with you around?

Mostly I’m in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. I look silly and unthreatening, not like someone who’s trying to pick up women and take them home. That’s why they have fun acting out around me.

The Cobra Snake

“At the Moschino fashion party in LA, there was this big teddy bear that people were hugging. My friend AJ tried to steal its T-shirt, but failed miserably”

You get paid to hang out with models and stars. Any downsides to your job?

Lots of annoying travel and late nights. And I hate it when people pose for me. 

The Cobra Snake

“The Purple Fashion party in New York was wild. Just after this photo was taken, the ATL Twins were taking girls back to their room. You can’t beat that lifestyle”  

Any tips for aspiring party snappers?

Be proactive. Early in my career, I’d root through bins outside clubs, looking for discarded backstage passes. Instead of asking magazines to let me photograph a party for them, I created my own blog.

What does a party photographer do during the day?

I run the Cobra Fitness Club with friends. We organise group hikes and other outings. I play music, and we dance in the sun. You don’t feel like you’re working out, even though you are.

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