02 Feb 2017
Music and Photography with Bad Seed Barry Adamson
Know Where to Run LP from Central Control | Know Where to Run book created with Blurb BookWright
The term “rock star” gets thrown around a lot these days, but Barry Adamson is the real deal. He’s played with seminal bands The Buzzcocks, Magazine, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It’s with this latter band—one of my favorites—that coincidences mount up for me around Know Where to Run, the title of his recent LP and photo book. The music and photographs that compose the twin works were made after Adamson reunited with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 2013—a tour I happened to witness when they stopped in San Francisco. On that tour stop, Adamson took a photo down California Street towards the San Francisco Bay. Three years later I’d be unwrapping Adamson’s self-published photo book and self-produced LP in a building just visible three blocks down on the left.
OK, they’re not big coincidences. But music fans live for these kinds of things and so there’s a certain resonance when I get home, pour myself a drink, put the record on my turntable, and listen to Adamson’s voice—one part gravel and one part smoke—and leaf through his vivid photographs that combine the influences of Eggleston, Winogrand, Frank, Parks, and Arbus. There’s a gritty and voyeuristic tone to many of the photos that matches Adamson’s down-and-out noir-tinged narratives. In other places, there’s purposeful abstraction that echoes the sound collage of opening track “In Other Worlds.”
I reached out to Adamson and asked him about music, photography, and the dramatic appeal of hotels.
When did you know you wanted to do a book to accompany the LP?
The idea at first was to do a booklet of the photos I’d taken across America and Canada because they were the inspiration for the album itself. It then struck me to do a book so I could reveal the bigger picture(s) behind the reason that the album came into fruition in the first place.
Is a certain amount of voyeurism the common thread that connects street photography and rock music?
Look through any window! I guess mood, feeling, and visual connection can make quite an interesting cocktail—one that seems to resonate with people more and more. The picture you see through the viewfinder often begs for a soundtrack; in fact, there’s probably one playing when you hit the shutter, if you listen close enough. We can now design our own voyeuristic connections through our phones and playlists, which takes on another now quite celebrated and open style of ‘shared’ voyeurism.
It then struck me to do a book so I could reveal the bigger picture(s) behind the reason that the album came into fruition in the first place.
According to the introduction, many of these photos were taken with an iPhone and you started the music simultaneously on an iPhone. How does this immediacy change the creative process versus how you worked in the beginning of your career?
It’s a whole new world out there! I used a Canon 5D Mark III as my main instrument. I used various senses but mainly an 85m with an anamorphic adapter to get a cinematic look. I also, yes, used an iPhone with a killer app called Hipstamatic, to realize a different style. The music began indeed on my phone as notes in GarageBand and then developed in Logic and then an analogue studio when I got home. At the beginning of my career I might have used a Pentax K1000 and a cassette recorder and then straight to the studio in a much longer process and maybe the results would be similar in the long run? I can’t help thinking though that the immediacy of the technology is also an inspiration and a way to work quickly so you are able to keep up with thoughts and ideas as they arrive.
You and I have something in common: We both spend a lot of time in hotels and we seem inspired by them artistically (though you’re a touring musician and I just travel around for Blurb events). What does the “hotel” evoke for you?
A hotel is like the ultimate film set to me, an anomaly if you like. The imagination is stimulated in many forms, from the mundane to the erotic. So many ideas have been written (in this movie style sense) around and inside the idea of what a hotel offers its guests and what the guests do with that service. It offers many stories, millions of characters and no one the same in any given moment due to the transitory nature of the what a hotel provides (and does not). I’m fascinated by hotels whether it be the cheapest chain or, dare I say, Trump Tower, where I got to stay in a very grand suite in Vancouver on this tour. The other guests provide endless projected ideas in this movie of eternal strangers and strangeness and when empty, the hotels atmosphere hums with things seen and unseen. Events await to unfold where there are none. The camera is able to capture all this and more, from a single frame, to a full-length movie
I can’t help thinking though that the immediacy of the technology is also an inspiration and a way to work quickly so you are able to keep up with thoughts and ideas as they arrive.
There’s a photo in the middle of the book that seems to me to be really key: There’s a man in a suit, sitting at a café table, and he has iPhone headphones going into the most beat-up looking radio you’ve ever seen. What do you see in that image?
This photo is of a homeless man in Washington. I noticed that, outside of a cafe I went into, there was a shopping trolley overrun with newspaper stacks. I had to almost limbo around it to get into the door! Inside after ordering some breakfast, I sat next to a man who seemed to be an out-of-time CIA agent, with his cheap cassette and note taking. I snapped him. He stood up to leave and didn’t have enough money to pay for his coffee. I offered. He absolutely refused. The cafe owner told me he was a regular and often refused help from anybody and it was kind of a routine he had. I watched him leave then watched him push the huge shopping trolley up the hill.
You thank Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in both the book and the record sleeve. What was it about being back with them that was so crucial to this project?
Well, my gratitude to them in this case is because without being involved with the band, I would not have had the chance to go to America and Canada for the extended period that I did. And although I packed my cameras and knew I was headed west, I never envisaged putting this kind of project together until I was actually in the field, so to speak. Therefore, I will be eternally thankful to them for the opportunity to realize the work that has come out of such a fantastic opportunity.
Kent is a writer and visual artist who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. His work has appeared in various forms at 826 Valencia, 111 Minna, and many places across the web. He also obsessively journals with photos and words while traveling the world as a Blurb brand ambassador. In his spare time he tracks down Warhol shows, takes oodles of Polaroids, and is working to perfect the gin martini.