Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pond

Pond, Washington, DC, Apr. 15, 1993

THE TAXI DRIVER SOUNDED CONCERNED. When he picked me up at Washington National Airport I gave him the address to my motel. "You sure?" he asked. I told him that was where the paper had booked me, so we drove across the Potomac and into Washington DC, past rows of tidy, well-kept townhouses on leafy streets and down broad avenues past imposing buildings housing government agencies and embassies and thousands of lobbyists.

I glimpsed the city's monuments as we drove, and was particularly surprised at how big the Washington Monument was, a gleaming white obelisk that always seemed to be visible above the rooftops. At some point we turned onto a road that took us across a bridge and suddenly it all changed and I was in the ruins of a city. Empty storefronts and long stretched of high chain link fences topped with coils of barbed wire. Men in layers of overcoats pushing shopping carts full of junk. It was almost a caricature of urban dereliction, something dreamed up by a set designer on a movie.

We finally arrived at my motel, which was behind yet another high fence and automatic gate and pulled up at the entrance. "Now I'm gonna wait here while you go in and make sure you have a reservation at this place," the cabbie said. "If you don't, I'm gonna turn around and find you a room at a good hotel." My room was reserved, no problem with that, so the cabbie shrugged after he took my money and drove away. I found my room, threw my bags on the bed and turned on the TV to see this:


I was in Washington DC to photograph a band called Pond for the cover of NOW, and the magazine had booked me into the same motel as the band to make hooking up for the shoot easier. Pond were signed to Sub Pop Records, which was flush with cash thanks to the grunge explosion and signing all kinds of bands, many of which hardly conformed to the flannel and hair image of the Northwest music scene - like Pond.

I watched the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas burn to the ground for about an hour while various experts tried to explain why this was happening. The band's van pulled into the parking lot and I introduced myself. I'm not sure if I even mentioned what I'd been watching, but I did remark on the compound-like nature of the motel and the dire neighbourhood that surrounded it.

We agreed that we should do the shoot downtown, near the monuments. I'm sure I probably insisted on it - if I'd been flown all the way down here I was sure the paper wanted me to deliver something that didn't look like I could have shot it in an alley behind a bar in Toronto. I think this was my first time in Washington, DC, and I was pretty overwhelmed by the scale of the buildings on the Mall - a reaction captured, I think, in the photo at the top.

Pond, Washington, DC, Apr. 15, 1993

Looking back, I think it was a pretty successful shoot - a departure from my usual close-up style, encouraged by the light on the Mall that day, bright but not harsh, with just enough haze in the air to fill in the shadows cast by the sun. The band were terribly nice guys, a bit stir-crazy from living in a van for the last month and grateful for a real bed that night. I went along to the gig that night at a club in downtown Washington and took photos of the show.

I still like the records Pond put out in the '90s, and I suppose I'd have shown these photos off a bit more if they'd gotten bigger. They left Sub Pop and recorded a record for Sony that wasn't bad at all before they finally broke up five years after I took these photos. They reunited for a gig in Portland, their hometown, seven years ago. It's a measure of their obscurity that a band from Australia is using the same name today.

I keep thinking that, once the lens of nostalgia finally turns full force on the '90s and record collectors start mining for obscurities, a band like Pond will get rediscovered; perhaps these photos will show up in some retrospective book or box set. Until then, they remain permanently bookmarked with the memory of that very strange day in Washington, DC with my motel behind the barbed wire and the burning compound in Texas.

Pond at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, Apr. 15, 1993

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