Melody and Light
13 Dec 2010
These images are a few selections from my first book of photography titled "100 Polaroids." This is new territory for me. I am a musician in my real life. I play instruments, sing songs, and make albums. I think of myself as a musician..but I have always been fascinated by cameras and by photographs.
My father used to take pictures with a medium format Rolleiflex which I now have. It is a beautiful instrument. I think I always saw it as that... an instrument. There was a musical quality about it. The rhythm of the countdown to the shot as he posed me an my sisters for family photos. The sound of the clicking of the shutter, and the winding of the film. I can still hear it all very clearly.
I feel this way about the Polaroid SX70 as well, which is the camera I have shot with the most, and the camera used for the images in my book. The SX70 is much like a musical instrument to me. Using it involves a rhythm and a tone. I like the way it feels in my hands, just as a certain guitar feels right to me as others don't. The camera vibrates in my hands as the moving parts inside are at work. Maybe it's partly this quality of the SX70 that makes me feel comfortable losing myself in the act of taking pictures.
It has the familiar feeling of playing an instrument.
Music is so much a part of my life and mind, that it is hard to separate anything else I do from it. For a time I thought that my taking pictures was a way to get away from music and musical thinking. Perhaps this happens on a very surface level, but the more I look at it the more I realize that it is just an extension of my musical life. The explorations with my camera are improvisations...sometimes successful, often frustrating, and occasionally exhilarating. I think that the images I find the most exciting are the ones that have a musical quality. A sense of flow and tone and mystery. Though I have been playing instruments and singing songs for over 30 years, music is still very mysterious to me. The way a particular chord progression will evoke a specific emotion is still very magical and unexplainable to me. I find this with color and shadow and light when taking photographs. I am going completely by instinct when I'm on my picture taking excursions, and I often don't realize what I have until looking at the images much later. I have to lose myself in the picture taking process, much like losing myself in the first moments of discovering a new melody when writing a song.
The photographs from this book were taken mostly while on tour with my bands Wilco and the Autumn Defense, exploring unfamiliar towns and landscapes, and snapping images at the very moment of first discovering them. These were mostly silent excursions, probably an attempt to have some silent repose within the routine of nightly loud rock shows. But I think now that there must have been some residue of that musical thinking seeping into the process of taking these images. Certainly not all of the thousands of polaroids I've shot over the years have the quality I am attempting to describe, but I think that the ones I chose for this book do suggest to me the kind of mystery that exists in ordinary things and simple moments...the way a very simple piece of music can be both familiar and other-worldy at the same time.
I cannot claim that any of these pictures were inspired directly by a particular song or piece of music. But i do feel that they are connected to my inner musical life in a way that I cannot quite put into words. But for me, words have never quite been able to hold melody or light in its grasp.