I was on a call with the band about photo ideas for their sixth studio album and they tossed me a curveball. White lab coats and a giant, colourful backdrop! If you’re familiar with the band you’ll know that this is a big departure for anything we’d done before.
I loved this shoot because it was as DIY as it gets. Guitarist Ian D'Sa and I set up the 12x12 foot canvas on the ground in the carport outside the band's space, and he started painting. Using the colour palette from the Crisis Of Faith album art by Ryan Quickfall, the process was to layer the five colours one at a time, having to wait for one to dry before adding the next.
It was super humid and the paint took forever to dry. We were expecting a big thunderstorm so we couldn't leave the canvas on the ground overnight in case of flooding, but we couldn't move it while the paint was still wet.
So we got creative to speed up the drying process. Everything from a hair dryer at the end of a hockey stick to an industrial leaf blower! The painting took two days, then it was time to hang the canvas which had gotten way heavier with all the paint. Lucky for us their sound guy Matt Blakely popped by in time to find us struggling to hang this thing, and he saved the day!
As you you'll see in the time lapse video in the next post, we did the whole shoot in one spot and used minimal lighting. We were able to get a lot done in a short time. Felt nice to step away from the usual routine, and I think we got some great stuff.
This was a shoot where protocols dictated that I photograph each band member one at a time and paste them together later. I used this as an opportunity to get my hands dirty and revisit some analogue film techniques that I used to have a lot of fun with.
Polaroid emulsion lifts & emulsion transfers are tricky and very delicate. If successful you get a truly unique piece of art, and if not you end up with nothing.
The day of the shoot I showed the band a couple of emulsion transfers that I'd made and despite my warning that we could end up empty handed, they liked the look and said go for it. To make it even more challenging I only allowed myself to take 3 photos of each band member. The hard part started when I got home with the Polaroids.
The process involves soaking the photos in water until the emulsion layer (the layer that contains the image) separates from the paper backing. Now you have a very thin, very delicate and slimy film floating in water. The goal is to transfer it to another piece of paper with a soft paintbrush and a steady hand.
If you're lucky the emulsion ends up on the paper in one piece. Since you can only use each photo once and the process is so unpredictable, each piece is 100% unique and impossible to replicate. In the end, the two successful transfers that I sweated over in my apartment ended up on massive billboards in Toronto!
I always thought you needed to use “peel apart” professional instant film, which they don't make anymore, but I found Analog Things on youtube who shows how to do emulsion lifts using consumer Polaroid film that you can buy anywhere. It's even trickier but still works!
Thanks my pal Jason Lapeyre for getting me back into Polaroid cameras!
This Danko Jones shoot probably got postponed five times because of lockdowns. Even when the rest of the world was opening back up and making progress, Ontario's government botched things up every chance they got and Toronto had more lockdown days in the first two years than any other city on Earth.
Finally we just had to figure out a way because the band's new record was coming out soon. Full Covid protocols were in effect, so everyone wore a mask until it was their turn to be photographed. I positioned all three guys together wearing masks, then one at a time they stood alone on their mark without a mask and I took the picture.
I cut and pasted them together in post. It's not a very complicated process when you know what you're doing. The challenging part was directing each of them to interact with the others when there was no one else there. It's not like we were making Jurassic Park or anything, but it required subtle adjustments to facial expressions, posture and eye-line. The guys were great and it made the post-production a breeze.
Because of the postponements I had a ton of time to plan out the car shot. Believe it or not it's an 11 inch toy car! I meticulously measured things like the seats, windows, steering wheel, etc.. down to the millimetre, then scaled it up so I knew exactly how to position each guy in the studio.
I told them my plan while holding this little car, and they were like “uhhh okay...” haha. But they played along. I had all kinds of boxes and stands of varying heights for the guys to sit, lean or rest their arm on. The steering wheel was a piece of foam pipe insulation. The whole thing looked ridiculous, and I had to keep telling them “trust me, it will look real!”. I was probably trying to convince myself too haha.
Thank you Danko, John and Rich for humouring me and being patient while my pal/assistant Jared and I lined everything up. I’m ready for a job interview at Industrial Light & Magic.
I think this was my fifth time working with Blue Rodeo. Every few years I'll get an email from their management saying they're ready to shoot photos for their new record. The first thing I feel is anxiety. Not that I don't like working with them. Far from it. In fact I really love working with these guys. It's just that there's so many of them! No fewer than six, and sometimes as many as eight.
I'm really not sure why that makes me anxious, but it does. Just for a minute. Then I get excited to be working with such an incredible talented group of musicians.
Somehow there was a misinterpretation on my part about the concept, but it led to good things. Management said the band wanted to sit around a round table and shoot it with a fisheye lens.
I envisioned the camera being directly above the table looking straight down at the band. Before they arrived, my assistant and I rigged the camera just a few feet above the table and had a remote trigger so I wouldn't be in the shot. The lens was so wide that there was no way for me not to be seen if I was up on a ladder.
I had the band sit around the table and look up, and one of them said “The camera's going to be up there? Why?”
Because that's the concept you gave me.
“No it's not.”
Long story short we got the shot then moved onto the one they had planned, which was something totally different. In the end everything that everyone had envisioned came to be, so it was another successful day with the boys.
Ok this is a weird one haha. It was weird at the time, and feels even more ridiculous to write about it now.
On day 323 of the lockdown I shot The Hives live in Stockholm, Sweden. Did I break international health and safety regulations to fly to overseas? Of course not.
The Hives played a series of concerts from an undisclosed studio in Stockholm, and broadcast them live. Not a Zoom show with each person in their own box in different locations. This was the full band playing together just like any other show, but without a live audience. They did play recorded crowd sounds between songs, which was a nice touch.
I missed my pre-pandemic life so desperately that when the show started I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures of my TV. I felt silly but I didn't care! If The Hives could make an effort to feel normal, why shouldn't I?
Watching the show through my camera's viewfinder and concentrating really hard, I could almost block out the reality that I was alone in my apartment in Toronto.
The funny thing is, this wasn't the first time I’d done this. In 1991 I took a black & white film processing / printing class. The first part of the assignment was to shoot a roll of black & white film so we’d have something to print in the darkroom. It could be anything we wanted.
Back then I watched a TON of MuchMusic so I took pictures of music videos on my TV making them look like concert photos. This was long before the idea of being a Rock Photographer had even entered my brain, but maybe subconsciously it planted the seed.
So I had to laugh when I found myself shooting a band on my TV again 30 years later.