Life on Tour: Instruments

December 18, 2009

Pat Graham is a professional photographer who lives in London. He has spent the last 20 years working primarily as a music photographer, traveling the world with touring bands. Pat continues to tour, documenting musicians, as well as shooting for commercial clients. In this blog entry, Pat details the unique and very special relationship between a band and their various instruments.

The instrument is something most people don’t think about much while at a concert or listening to their favorite records. I spend so much time with musicians that people invariably ask me if I play an instrument. My answer is always the same; I love music, but I leave the music to the experts. If there was one thing that inspired me to start taking photos of bands, it was the person playing the music and the instrument that they were playing.

I always thought the best music photos were ones of somebody doing something to a guitar, a bass, or a set of drums. I love shots that show an artist in rapture with their instrument, completely lost in the moment.

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Musicians have an incredible bond with their instruments, one that usually has plenty of ups and downs. The instrument has traveled the same miles, played the same shows. The only difference is that the instruments and gear gets abused as it travels, slamming around the underbelly of planes and busses.

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And to make matters worse (or perhaps better) the instrument is then slammed around, drenched with sweat, stood upon, punched, screamed into, and generally abused (or caressed) until it makes just the right sound. Sometimes the musicians take a beating too.

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Isaac Brock is one of my favorite guitarist to watch and to photograph. For years I have seen him illicit the craziest sounds from his guitars from movement and bending, twisting and screaming. It is a purely physical relationship wherein the instrument and artist test each other’s limits.

It’s not only guitarists that have all the fun, as I found out recently when I went on tour with The Cribs. Ross Jarman, the tall lanky Cribs drummer, demolishes his set from night to night. One moment he will standing on one kick drum while literally beating the other one, all done with out a fall or even a misplaced foot. It’s one of those visual scenes that only adds to The Cribs live experience.

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One of my other favorite guitarists to shoot is Johnny Marr, who showed me how close the relationship between guitar and musician really is. I have always appreciated how Johnny has his guitar in hand or near by before every gig. He and the guitar leave the dressing room as a unit before every gig. I even caught him brushing his teeth before a gig with the toothbrush hanging out of his mouth, and the guitar in its rightful place in his hands.

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To me this relationship the musician has with the instrument creates not only the great sounds but even a beautiful physical landscape. At the moment I’m working on my next book which is based on Instruments, the stories behind them and the visuals they can help create. It still amazes me that a small cut on Joe Plummer’s (MM’s drummer) hand can create such a great abstract image on a drumhead by the end of a gig. Or how the repetitive motion of playing a guitar can alter the shape of the wood it was crafted from. While the sounds drawn from music can be inspirational, the visuals’ can have very similar effects.

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PS: Pat’s first book of photography, ‘Silent Pictures,’ was released through NYC’s Akashic Books and can be ordered from www.patgraham.org. His second book, ‘Instrument,’ is being published by Chronicle Books and is due for release in Spring 2011.

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