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Spotify Playlist: The Singer Not The Song Photo Exhibition
Ben Hewitt , November 6th, 2009 07:45

Rock photographer Cat Stevens discusses her exhibition at Rough Trade East, accompanied by a tasty Spotify playlist

Click here to listen to our Cat Stevens - The Singer Not The Song Spotify Playlist

Photographer Cat Stevens will unveil her The Singer Not The Song exhibition tonight at Rough Trade East from 6pm-9pm, followed by an after party at The Castle.

Featuring snaps of artists including Bat for Lashes, Cat Power and Slayer, it's certain to be a top-notch event.

The photos can be seen at Rough Trade East, Dray Walk, The Old Truman Brewery, off Brick Lane, East London and runs from now until January next year.


PJ Harvey and John Parish '15, 14, 13' Fucked Up 'Year Of The Pig (Japanese Edit)' Bat For Lashes 'Prescilla' Cat Power 'He War' Gang Gang Dance 'Princes' Greg Weeks 'The Waves' John & Jehn 'Oh My Love' The Knife 'Pass This On' No Age 'Everybody's Down' Slayer 'Dead Skin Mask' Deerhunter 'Nothing Ever Happened' Atlas Sound ft Laetitia Sadier 'Quick Canal' Scout Niblett 'Drummer Boy' David Berman 'Let It Play' PJ Harvey and John Parish 'A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Children Go'

But as well as knocking up a Spotify playlist by Cat's subjects, we caught up with her for a chat.

Hi Cat. Tell us about tonight's exhibition at Rough Trade

CS: The exhibition The Singer Not The Song takes its name from a Rolling Stones song and will feature a selection of my portraits of musicians from the past five years. It came about after Plan B, the magazine I was working for, closed. I needed something to focus on so an exhibition was born.

How did you get interested in photography?

CS: My dad bought me a toy camera when we were on holiday when I was four years old. I remember going to the woods and spending ages composing photographs of bluebells and being fascinated by the whole process of taking a photograph then waiting for it to be developed.

I started getting work the way most photographers do; by getting out there and working with people you know and doing work for free to build up a portfolio. It was Sarah Bowles, who was photo editor of Plan B that started giving me regular work on the magazine when it first started so props to her! It can be tough at times working in the fickle world of music and editorial but there’s always a way of getting through.

Which music photographers were your favourites when growing up?

CS: I’ve never really looked to rock photographers for inspiration so I wouldn’t say they’ve had a great influence over my work. I think the photographer who really changed the way I thought about photography was Diane Arbus. I discovered her photograph of the identical twins and was completely haunted by it. I still am. Her portrayal of freaks living on the fringes of society was a big inspiration. The way she approached her subjects was inspiring too — you can tell she had a great deal of love and affection for them and was also daring to go where other photographers had previously feared to tread.

How do you go about planning a shoot?

CS: A lot more planning goes into a shoot if I work with a stylist because it becomes a collaboration and more time and energy is put into developing a story. I have to say I would never work with a stylist in order to beautify my subject in some way. For me, styling is about expanding on something that is already present within the subject, like emphasizing their personality or existing identity.

Ultimately though, I’ve found that the most carefully planned out shoots never turn out the way you think they will. I think working with musicians a lot of the time you have to expect to catch them whilst they are on tour, between shows or soundchecks or whatever. Most of the time I just turn up with my kit and work with whatever's there in locations I’ve never been to before. I like working in a spontaneous way though — it keeps it fresh.

Which photo shoot are you most proud of?

CS: I’m going to have to say PJ Harvey because I’ve been a fan of her music since she released Dry when I was 14 years old. I’d always hoped that one day I would get to photograph her and I got the opportunity to do so earlier this year when her and John Parish released their new album. The shoot itself went well but there’s one photo from that shoot that I’m really proud of for very personal reasons.

Who's been your favourite subject to photograph?

CS: I honestly don’t have a favourite. I like them all! I just like to turn up to a shoot with somebody and let it unfold. I think that’s the beauty of portraiture — it’s much like making a new friend. Ha.

And who's been the most difficult?

CS: Bradford Cox was pretty awkward but also quite endearing. I turned up to photograph his band Deerhunter last year for a magazine and he was in a foul mood. He wouldn’t interact with me at all. It felt like a game that had to be played out — he was the sulker and I was the observer. I just rolled with it, taking photos of the band whilst he literally spat all over the place. At the end of the shoot I thought I’d get some individual portraits of the band and when it came to his turn he just sort of crouched down and curled into himself and hid behind his hands giving me the death stare. I took the photo, which has turned out to be one of my favourite photos in the show.

Have you had any disastrous experiences while on a shoot?

CS: I went to photograph Espers before their show in London a few of years ago. They were in the middle of a European tour and I literally had about 15 minutes with them. I had borrowed a light, which turned out to be broken. I didn’t get one single photo. The lovely people at their label, Wichita, took pity and flew me out to Utrecht for a re-shoot. We ended up having a wonderful time, took some good photos, they played a great show then we went out and sampled the delights of Utrecht. I made some firm friends out of that broken light.

Who's the most intimidating subject you've had to photo?

CS: I had no idea what to expect when I went to photograph Slayer. I met Joe, who was interviewing them, in the lobby of the hotel where they were staying in Soho. We were both pretty nervous, stealing drinks from the bar whilst waiting to be called. He was popping his girlfriend’s feminax in a bid to calm down. We ended up taking them up Percy’s Passage for the shoot, something we both still find amusing to this day. I think what was most intimidating about that shoot was the fact that they didn’t say one word to each other the whole time. I asked them at one point if they ever spoke to one other. My question was met with a deathly silence.

Who would your dream subject be? Either past or present!

CS: Oh gosh. Damo Suzuki. Past or present.

What do you have in store after the exhibition?

CS: To continue what I’m doing with more stories / documentary type work. I also have plans to self-publish a book of personal photographs.