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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007

Pictures Without Words

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A picture can speak a thousand words, so in his new book Milwaukee-born photographer Pat Graham lets the images do the talking. Silent Pictures, a compilation of about 20 years’ worth of photographs of bands like Bikini Kill, Fugazi, Modest Mouse and the Shins, is a high-octane journey through the underground indie-rock scene of the ’90s. And it’s anything but quiet. The images are charged with tightly compacted energy and an almost hallucinogenic frenzy.

At times the momentum is relieved by more contemplative images, like the slender cables of the Brooklyn Bridge captured during Modest Mouse’s 2000 tour or the solitary figure of Cass McCombs bathed in blue light and shadows. Often Graham simply photographs performers at ease, having a smoke or just larking around, sometimes attaining that delicate balance between intimacy and distance. Graham puts this down to the relationships he’s built with his subjects over the years.

“A lot of the people in the photos are friends of mine or are bands I’ve seen a lot,” Graham says. “I think the best way of taking a photo is really getting to know the subject … then you know when the right moment is to take a photograph.”

He doesn’t see why it shouldn’t be a more decorous and less single-minded affair; a two-way relationship between photographer and subject. “People give you more when you kind of respect them,” Graham says. “When I started taking photos of bands, I would go to a gig and I would just sit in the front and wait for the ideal spot to get my shots as opposed to going into a crowded venue and pushing my way to the front.”

In the MySpace era, where anyone can post photographs of their favorite bands on the Internet in the blink of an eye, he feels it’s more important than ever to hold a substantial volume of photographs in your hand and really take the time to go through each one.

“It slows people down a little bit and forces them to look at things a little bit closer,” Graham says. “A lot of flicking through and clicking through happens these days and things are taken for granted. That’s the one disadvantage of digital. It makes everything too quick. When you slow down, I think you get more interesting results.”

Graham will be signing copies of his new book at the Harry W. Schwartz on Downer Avenue, Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m.