SOTRU Speaks to Rock Photographer Pat Graham
By Brenton Crozier
Pat Graham was kind enough to allow the Sounds of the Re:Union team to use a couple of his photographs for our Indie Rock podcast. He has photographed music’s most formative independent artists for more than two decades and published his pictures in a collection titled Silent Pictures. From Fugazi and Bikini Kill to Modest Mouse and The Shins, Pat Graham has shot countless celebrated bands from their days at tiny hole-in-the-wall clubs to playing for thousands at popular festivals. There’s a certain intimacy to his photos that make you feel like you may just be getting something more out of the show than even someone in attendance.
Busy working on his next book and photographing his favorite bands, Pat was kind enough to answer some questions. Be sure to see below for a special offer on Pat’s book Silent Pictures with a special edition print.
SOTRU: What was it that originally pointed you towards photography?
PG: I’m not sure. I think it had something to do with looking at albums and the photographs in them. Band like Kiss, Cheap Trick, etc..I was around 7 or 8 and living in a small town in Minnesota and the music and art work seemed to be from another world.
SOTRU: How difficult is it to take a good picture?
PG: If you know what you want it is not that difficult. The question is though what is a good picture and who is the judge? Millions of people on Flickr all think they have taken a good picture.
SOTRU: What are your favorite subjects to photograph?
PG: Subjects that mean a lot to me and I know them very well is what I like to photograph the most. This is rare though so anything that moves my senses. Sound and vision.
SOTRU: How did you get into photographing bands and musicians?
PG: I love music and photography. I was lucky enough to go to a high school that had a photography class that was amazing. everyone got a Pentax K1000 and lots of darkroom time. At the time I was shifting musical taste from Heavy Metal to Punk. Punk was so intimate in Milwaukee, everything was in your face. This became the thing I really wanted to photograph and document. At the time in Milwaukee there was not a lot of all ages shows.
And a lot of the bands I loved were coming out of Washington, D.C. Me and some friends had been to D.C. a couple times for protest marches. I met a lot of great people at Positive Force DC and I ended up moving to D.C. on their inspiration and the chance to see bands like Fugazi all the time.
SOTRU: What do you consider your “prize” photo?
PG: This changes all the time. For the last year and half it has been a picture at my son’s birth moment.
SOTRU: Is a good photograph a product of an interesting subject, or is it more finding an interesting aspect of any subject?
PG: Both. Knowing your subject very well can help in producing a good photograph. It depends on what type of photography. It also is really important to capture the moment, be it the environment or the emotion.
SOTRU: Can you talk about the experience of photographing Fugazi and Modest Mouse? Why so much time with those band in particular?
PG: I photographed Fugazi live 30 times I think… Fugazi and MM are two of the best live bands one could see or get the chance to photograph.
Photographing both bands is a challenge because of there spontaneity, this is what makes them great and never a bore. I have seen and photographed MM hundreds of times. Photographing both bands as much as i did it is not really easy to talk about the experience as a whole. I prefer to let the photographs talk about the experience.
SOTRU: What was the catalyst in putting together your book Silent Pictures?
PG: Silent Pictures was put out to be about photography and the music I was photographing. The book was planned and sequenced to flow like a great record..Loud parts, soft parts, and space.
SOTRU: How did it feel to see all of that work come together in one collection?
PG: What I was doing started to make more sense. It was great to step back away from my images and hand over the editing to other people to see what they would come up with. As long as it flowed like movie or record I would be happy. The end result does this. The book is about pictures and not words or history. The history is in the images I guess.
SOTRU: Who would be the subject of your dream shoot?
PG: I have had the privilege to photograph a lot of different people. I’m happy to be friends with a lot of them. Some of them I have now documented for over 18 years. When I started out I would have said my dream would be to document a band/person who’s music I love and is a great friend. This seems to be coming true. Besides that I would say Jimi Hendrix or someone like that…another time before music is what it is. And before everyone had a camera.
SOTRU: What band are you anxious to get the opportunity to photograph?
PG: I look forward to contine to document bands I love such as Modest Mouse, the Cribs, Kate Nash, etc…
SOTRU: If you could photograph any musician/band, living or dead, who would it be?
PG: Jimi Hendrix and perhaps a Black Sabbath tour in 1970, Sex Pistols first tour of the USA, while I’m at it the Beatles, The Stooges, etc. As for alive: Radiohead tour.
SOTRU: What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had photographing a band or show? What’s the best?
PG: The worst experiences are the ones where I did not take any pictures at a gig i was at.. The top 3 are:
Bad Brains at Cafe Voltaire in Milwaukee – I Against I Tour 1987
Nirvana – The Metro in Chicago 1991
The White Stripes – The Mercury Lounge NYC 1999 and London 2000.
The Best ( in no particular order)
Bikini Kill in D.C. circa 1992
Fugazi at The Sylvian Theatre (Washington Monument) 1993
Modest Mouse – to many to really point at just one. I guess the first time cuz it was the first. Olympia 1996. (Dub Narcotic and Make up also on the bill)
SOTRU: Top 5 desert island albums?
At this moment in time..no order.
1. Black Sabbath – Paranoid
2. Big Star #1record/Radio City
3. Radiohead -In Rainbows
4. TV on The Radio – Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
5. Brian Eno - Here come the Warm Jets
SOTRU: What’s next?
I’m completing my next book which is going to be called Instrument. The book is based around the Instruments that have helped to create some of the most iconic sounds of our time. Instrument will feature abstract portaits of the Instruments, as well as shots of people playing them. And the great stories/experiences from musicans about the Instrument it self. This has been in the works off and on since 1996 with the help and encouragement from Johnny Marr, it has finally become a nice collection. The book is due out on Chroncile Books in the Spring of 2011.
For further information on Pat Graham and his photography, visit his website. To order Silent Pictures with a Limited Edition print signed by Pat Graham, click here. The prints are three of Pat’s personal favorite shots of Bikini Kill, Modest Mouse and Fugazi. This book/print offer is for one month only. You choose your print.