Saturday, December 23, 2017


Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy, Wilco, Toronto, Oct. 1996

SHOOTING BANDS IS HARD. Taking a photo of a group of people is hard enough, but bands, with all their personal conflicts and loyalties - large and small - always inhabit a space together uneasily. Getting a decent shot of everyone at one time that isn't a collection of poses is a crap shoot, and always means taking a lot of film. (This problem might be less of an issue in the age of digital photography, but it still means more work, and there's no guarantee you'll get a single, usable frame.)

I was grateful that I didn't have to photograph the whole of Wilco when I set up in what my memory - probably wrongly - remembers as the Park Hyatt hotel downtown. I know I did this as a NOW cover, and that I was probably with writer Tim Perlich for this job, and all I had to worry about was bandleader Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett, who was probably as close to a co-leader as Tweedy ever had in Wilco.

Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy, Wilco, Toronto, Oct. 1996

The band were promoting Being There, their newest record, though I can't be sure if the duo were on a promotional tour without the rest of the band or whether this was a tour stop. I didn't know much about them at the time except that they'd emerged from the breakup of Uncle Tupelo and that they were considered a big deal in the alt country world. I'd get into the band much later, around Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but in 1996 I was neck deep in old jazz and blues reissues and not much else.

I worked hard on this shoot, doing a new setup with every roll of film, switching from colour negative to cross-processed slide film. I must have been feeling restless, because instead of trying to force Tweedy and Bennett together into a tight frame in a flattering bit of light, I went uncharacteristically wide, making their hotel room an obvious part of each shot, opting for a slightly staged candid, "documentary" feel.

Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy, Wilco, Toronto, Oct. 1996

What I mostly had to work with was the relationship between the two men, both of them around my age (Bennett was a year older than me, Tweedy three years younger,) about which I knew almost nothing, though it seemed very amicable on that day in the Park Hyatt - two musicians who'd only recently begun working together, whose mutual inspiration was obviously deep enough to have produced a double album of songs.

I was never sure if I got much, but time has filled out the context of these shots, at least for fans of Wilco, Bennett and Tweedy. The tensions that would later develop between them were documented in Sam Jones' film about the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Bennett's firing from the band and later death have given these shots the added aspect of being history, and not merely some old shots of some rock musicians goofing around in a hotel room. But even if that weren't all in play, I have to say that I like these shots now more than I did when I took them - a record of a creative challenge I made for myself, back at the end of my first decade as a photographer.

Jay Bennett died in 2009 of an accidental overdose of fentanyl.

No comments:

Post a Comment