Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Sebadoh, Parkdale, Toronto, Sept. 1994

SHOOTING BANDS CAN BE A PAIN IN THE ASS. Even when it isn't, it's always a challenge, for a lot of reasons, but it's probably best expressed in a mathematical formula that states that photographing two people is roughly twice as hard as shooting one, and that every extra person added to the equation makes the difficulty increase exponentially.

I have a bunch of band photos waiting to be scanned, but I thought that before I start barreling down the home stretch of the '90s (and the effective zenith of my professional career,) I should get them out of the way. For no particular reason I thought I'd start with Lou Barlow, who I photographed twice - once when he was part of the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr., and again when his band Sebadoh were approaching their critical and commercial heyday.

Dinosaur Jr. Toronto, Sept. 1987

There's not much I can say about my Dinosaur Jr. shoot, done for Nerve magazine at very near the beginning of my career and the edge of my competence. The band were faves around the office thanks to Tim Powis' championing of You're Living All Over Me and "Little Fury Things" in particular. They were playing the back room of the Cameron House, and I showed up during soundcheck to get a portrait.

They weren't wildly enthusiastic about doing a photo shoot and neither was I, judging by the evidence. I found the only workable spot of light in the room, posed them around a stack of Marshall heads and banged off less than a dozen frames. In my defense, I was very poor at the time and economizing on film for John Lee Hooker's show later that night, on the off chance I might corner the blues legend for a portrait. Thirty years later, I stand by my decision.

Sebadoh, Parkdale, Toronto, Sept. 1994

Seven years later, and with the grunge tidal wave raising the boats for a lot of generally unrelated but interesting indie bands, Barlow's Sebadoh was getting a lot of press. I'm pretty certain I shot them for the Village Voice, but there's nothing in the big ledger so it's just a guess. (It definitely wasn't for NOW magazine.)

Sebadoh's reputation was for being contrarians - aggressively independent but bitterly sarcastic about the indie rock scene. Their proud unwillingness to make themselves palatable to major labels or a broader audience gave them enormous credibility, and their latest record, Bakesale, was a big favorite with the critics. (Writer RJ Smith wrote about the band for the Voice that year, so perhaps this shoot was meant to accompany that story.)

Sebadoh, Parkdale, Toronto, Sept. 1994

The assignment was a big enough deal that they were persuaded to go to my Parkdale studio for the shoot. I fully expected them to be wary and even distracted in front of the camera, so I didn't bother with careful lighting or an elaborate composition, but crammed the three of them onto the art deco love seat I'd recently bought on credit and parked in my studio.

Barlow and Jason Loewenstein mostly regarded me and my camera dubiously for most of the four rolls I shot, when they weren't cracking each other up. Drummer Bob Fay was the exception, fidgeting and acting up like the kid with ADHD in your middle school, so he ended up being a focal point of sorts. Today, the bottom shot comes across like my "yacht rock" take on the band.

It's an alright shoot - a brute simple exercise in problem solving with a difficult subject. I can't help but look at it fondly nowadays; the love seat is in our basement today, covered in junk and cat scratches, and I moved out of my Parkdale studio nearly twenty years ago. The rented backdrop of painted clouds was my favorite - I wish I'd bought it when Vistek cleared it out of their rental inventory.

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