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Pat Graham Interview

Written by Andrew Scott   
Wednesday, 10 October 2007 12:18
In the 19 years that Pat has been shooting music photos, he's been with some of the best: Modest Mouse, Tortoise, Fugazi, Elliot Smith, Bikini Kill, The Make-Up, and many more.

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Self-Portrait

Pat Graham has spent the last nineteen years behind the lens of a camera snapping pictures. Graham’s photos document life, but more specifically, the life of music and those who play it. - Tours, broken down vans, merch tables, adoring fans, blown amps, couches, busses, motel rooms, truck-stops, and the not always sensational glory of rock’n’roll. His images have graced the covers and inserts of iconic albums of bands that forever changed the direction of music. He’s driven vans all over god’s green Earth touring with bands, especially Modest Mouse. Graham’s photos have appeared in practically every major music and weekly publication in Europe and the U.S. In addition, his photographs are part of the permanent collection at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, Washington and the Arlington Cultural Affairs in Virginia. This last month a collection of his photos were released in a book entitled Silent Pictures on Akashic Books. ...Without further ado, I give you, Mr. Pat Graham:

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Fugazi, 1993

Let's start with the basics: Age, marital status, number of children, and country of residence please?

37 years old, married with a daughter and a small dog, living in London UK.

Now that you reside in London do you prefer coffee or tea?

Both coffee and tea, ...yes please, how kind.

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Elliot Smith (left), sky13 (right)

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Bikini Kill, Washington DC, 1992

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Tortoise Marquee, Lawrence, KS, 2001

What types of cameras do you use and where do you stand on the digital (photography) divide?

I use (or have used): Pentax p5, nikon 6006, 8008, n90, d200, Olympus pen ft, polaroid sx70, 600, and others, super ikonta III, rolleiflex 3.5f,pentax 6x7, fuji 645, etc, etc... I have a dozen or so film cameras and one digital camera. At the moment, I use the digital a lot because I am working on a web based project. I’m touring around with, and documenting, Modest Mouse in a photo blog project www.modest mouse.com. Digital is easier while touring, as there are significant time constraints, intensive travel schedules, and the demand to upload photos constantly.

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Bikini Kill, Washington DC, 1992

Favorite photographers (old and/or contemporary)?

Melanie Standage, Martin Parr, Robert Frank, Peter Beard, Justine Kurland, Andy Warhol, and more... I really just love photography.

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Dischord Office, 1994

What spurred you in the early 1990s to start photographing punk bands in DC? Did you move to DC with that in mind or did it come later?

I moved to DC to photograph all the great bands and gigs... DC has a lot of great venues for concerts, be it a church or the Black Cat. Also at the time, friends of mine played in DC bands and were highly involved in movements like Positive Force & Riot Grrl. They encouraged me to move from Milwaukee to DC. I found a very supportive community in DC at the time. I was taking pictures, working for Simple Machines (records), Dischord records, a camera shop, and a book store. Which were all amazing experiences. My first house mates in DC were people like Isaac Brock, Jenny Toomey, Kristin Thompson, etc ..All of whom had major influences on me, and really supported what i was doing ...and still do to this day.

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The Nation of Ulysses, Washington DC, 1992

When you were shooting bands like Nation of Ulysses, Fugazi, or Bikini Kill back in 1992, did you ever feel like you were witnessing a major cultural shift that was more significant than a simple punk rock show? Those bands have had a major impact on the state of music today.

No, not at the time I didn’t. But, I did feel like I was seeing some amazing music and wanted to capture in at least 1 or 2 photos what the band was all about. I knew that bands don't last forever, and people change, so it was important to document them...

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Tortoise, Dresden, Germany, 2001

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Tortoise, Dresden, Germany, 2001

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Modest Mouse, 1997

You've been touring with Modest Mouse for over ten years now, what's an average day on the road with the band like? Where on the planet has the last tour taken you, and what's your primary job as the tour photographer?

It's hard to say what an average day is because it's different all the time. On an overnight-bus-day, it sometimes goes like this: After the show we have a bus call at some point around 1 or 2 a.m. People hang out with friends after the gig, get drunk, or go to their bunk to sleep, read, or whatever. I’ll usually start to download all the photos from the day, so the camera is empty and ready for any night time shooting on the bus or at truck-stops at 3am (if i'm up). Then I’ll edit for a while, showing my picks for usable photos to band members - If I'm lucky I’ll get a good caption out of 'em... Then I go to sleep in a shoe box-sized bunk. The next day, I usually wake up in the parking lot of a club or rest stop. I’ll get up and have to face the public immediately (which can be harsh before that first coffee). Basically, wherever I go on tour, I’ll have my camera with me observing and taking photos of what's happening. In the old days it was more just driving, selling merch, moving gear, or whatever... Recently, we've been all over Europe, America, Japan, and Hawaii to some really incredible venues - places like, Royal Albert Hall in London, Red Rocks in Colorado, and the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. It’s been great - the scenery, the people, the shows, ...all of it.

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Modest Mouse (van), Montana, 1997

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Isaac Brock, Italy 2007

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Isaac Brock sleeping on the floor in our hotel room. New Mexico, 1998

Were you around when Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse singer) had his jaw wired shut from that brawl in Chicago (during the time they were recording “The Moon and Antarctica” with Steve Albini)? Ever witness any rowdy stuff going down on the rock band circuit?

No missed that one ...but, I have seen band members mace themselves and bizaare late night shopping sprees at Speedy J truck stops.

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Johhny Mar of The Smiths/Modest Mouse

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Johnny Mar and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse

You're having a show at Needles & Pens on Oct. 12th, what type of show/work can people expect to see? Stuff from your recent book Silent Pictures?

The show is Silent Pictures. I never realized the process of making a book could be so complicated and time consuming. This show will display the process of completing the book into a finished product. Also mixed in will be scraps of paper, zine looking things, and original final prints that were used in the book.

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(left) Silent Pictures Cover, (right) Born Against, Washington DC, 1992

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Cupid Car Club, 1993

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The Make-Up, Germany, 1998

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The Make-Up, Dom's Cafe, London, 1997

In addition to being a photographer you also run a gallery, what inspired you to open 96 Gillespie Gallery in London?

Melanie & I found an amazing space in north London - an old vacant post office. So, the building in itself was an inspiration. We’re both artists and so are many of our friends. Our ambitions seemed suited to creating an atmosphere, or a platform, for the exchange of ideas and influence between US & UK artists. Also, London has hundreds of galleries, as art is a major industry here. So we did it, and as a result have brought some dynamite US artists and exhibitions to London.

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96 Gillespie and Pat Graham deconstructing the gallery walls

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Pat Graham & Melanie Standage installation at 96 Gillespie

What are some of the art shows you've put on that you're most proud of?

Past Perfect by Melanie Standage and I which was an exhibition of 1000's of polaroids that merged our lives together into grids, stripes, and themes. I built all these crazy frames from scraps of wood that we had torn off the gallery walls. It was a little crazy, but it looked great... The whole inatallation was, and is our lives, and our experiences.Honestly, I'm really proud of all the shows we've put on at 96 Gillespie: Rich Jacobs, Gee Vaucher, Cynthia Connolly, The Doberman Family, Ben Jenkins, Winston Smith, etc.... It's really satisfying to see the mess on the gallery floor turned into something incredible on the walls. We also get to to live with the art throughout the exhibitions since we also live in the building that houses the gallery.At the moment, we have Daniel Higgs' second solo show about to go up. I'm extremely proud to have done two shows with HIggs ...His work is great. Actually, he was one of the first people who came to my mind when we talked about doing a gallery. His show was followed by London based artist Savage Pencil (Edwin Pouncey).

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Rich Jacobs @ 96 Gillespie

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(left) Art by Owen Richards, and (right) Winston Smith @ 96 Gillespie

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Allison Schnackenberg's Savage Pink @ 96 Gillespie

In March of 2008 Needles & Pens and 96 Gillespie are doing an art swap. N+P is going to bring the artwork (and hopefully the artists) of Zara Thustra, Mat O'Brien, Monica Canilao, Kyle Ranson, Chris Duncan,and Paul Urich to show in your gallery in London. What London artists can San Franciscans expect to see when Gillespie curates their half of the swap in SF?

UK artists - Gee Vaucher, Savage Pencil, The Doberman Family, Pat Graham & Melanie Standage, Pandora Vaughan, Ben Jenkins are all confirmed.

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Ted Leo in a park in New Jersey

Sounds great, I can’t wait. What can we expect to see from Pat Graham in the future?

The 'Past Perfect' book, some kind of Modest Mouse book ...or books? I'd like to put a close to my thousands of negatives and pictures by compiling them into something - perhaps a full on Modest Mouse web experience based around photography and video. I hope to continue to work with artists and musicians, be it documenting their activities and careers, or helping them to communicate their ideas. And above all, providing lots of support to my family who have always, and continue to, support me to the Nth degree.

Thank you Pat Graham!

Pat Graham's show Silent Pictures opens at Needles+Pens in San Francisco on October 12, 2007.

For more information on Pat Graham, or his gallery in London check out: www.patgraham.org and www.96gillespie.com

{moscomment}

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