Isolation Party

These photographs were made in Olympia, Washington from 1993-1995, more or less. Bands needed photos for their album artwork and promotional materials. Many of these images appeared in that form, while some have never been published before. Some of the people in these photographs were and still are good friends, while others were part of a loose tribe of collaborators within an ecosystem of creativity and production. This book doesn’t fully describe a complete picture of what was going on in the music scene and music scenesin Olympia during this time. A lot of great bands were around that I never took photos of and there are many photos in my archive that didn’t end up in this book.

The negatives and prints used to make this book had been sitting in my mom’s basement for almost 20 years. Only recently, because of other people’s projects, did I get them out and start to look back at them. I want to thank the people who are in this book. Thank you for asking me to collaborate in making art with you and trusting me with your image. Thank you to those of you who asked about what happened to all those photos I took.

I studied Photography and Art at The Evergreen State College from 1989 to 1993. When I was 19, I took my first black and white photo class to get outof a math class. Early on, I was influenced by the traditions of strong graphic composition and ordinary strangeness of Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank and Hilla and Bernd Becher. Later, I started to move away from documentary photography and began experimenting with studio set- ups, color film and collage.

During my last year of college, I worked as a tech in the darkroom. Sara Lund, the drummer from Unwound, worked in the darkroom also. Unwound needed band photos for their next album and she asked me if I could do it. I said yes and that’s how this started.

As I ended my time at Evergreen, I had been increasingly going to see local bands and meeting the people I would eventually photograph. After graduation, I kept one foot in the darkroom by volunteering to train newstudents in exchange for access. That’s how a lot of things functioned, trading for what you needed. I was also maintaining a studio practice working with sculpture, screen-printing, photocopying and painting. Occasionally, I assisted a photographer on commercial shoots, which mostly involved corporate portraits, advertising images and architectural interiors. I also began playing music with people, starting a few short-lived and rarely heard bands.

My friend Justin Johnson was planning on putting out a three 7-inch box set with KARP, godheadSilo and Fitz of Depression. He asked if I would take

the photos to be used as package artwork. Of course I said yes. You always said yes to making art with friends. We only got around to taking the KARP photos and the project never materialized. Through this, as well as just generally hanging out and going parties and basement shows, I started to become better friends with Chris, Scott and Jared. I eventually ended up taking the photos used on the KARP records Moustaches Wild and Suplex. I was also their roadie on two US tours.

These first few projects led to me becoming known as a person who could take band photos. This work ended up being primarily for K Records and occasionally for Kill Rock Stars, Yoyo and bands that released their own records.

Usually we would meet at practice spaces, which were mostly in the basements of well-worn punk houses. These basements were like secret caves of artistic potential and utility, timeless spaces where people would meet to make anything happen and no one would ever complain of it being too loud. These subterranean vaults were also places of vivid and rich visual detail, hidden from the outside world.

Cheap rent in a town of decrepit houses with full basements combined with long dark winters allowed the space and time for prolific artistic production with little concern for economics or ambition. It was almost a barter economy where resources were shared and traded from whatever you could sneak out the back door, let in for free or scam off the bottom. A few of these photos were taken in the laundry room of The Martin apartments, which was like a downtown

hub. Usually, at least one person from a band lived there and this room served as an improvised photo studio for myself as well as other people taking photos at the time.

I only took photos of people who asked me to and for the bands I photographed, I was either their friend or suggested by the record label. Bands that I didn’t photograph had closer friends with cameras or other means of producing images. Because of this, they simply didn’t ask me. You turned to the people you were closest to and trusted and made what you could make. A lotof bands would often produce their own images through tour photos, bedroom Polaroids and the four-exposure sequential strips of coin-operated photobooths. I was also looking at and influenced by the overlapping work of other photographers like Jeff Smith, Tammy Rae Carland, Charles Peterson in Seattle and Cynthia Connolly and Pat Graham in DC.

There are a few live performance photos in this book. They are all from the first Yoyo A Go Go festival in 1994. I was asked by Pat Maley of Yoyo and Candice Pedersen and Calvin Johnson of K to document the shows. I never really liked taking live photos. It was too much pressure and time sensitive. You kind of only get one chance. Live photos were pretty common and itdidn’t seem too interesting to me as an artist to make more of the same typeof images. It also felt like an imposition on the performance, especially for the type of images I favored making, ones that were close to the subject, more intimate and connected. I was never someone who brought a camera to shows

and I didn’t really take too many photos of life around me. It wasn’t as muchof a culture of constant documentation as it is now. Everything was youthfully insular and present tense, in that it was a life of close active engagement and my relationship to using a camera was partially informed by how it could separate experience, distancing the photographer by turning them into a removed viewer, one that stood outside looking in. I was both a friend and a fan. I wanted to participate as an audience member, not working or distracted by the demands of producing. What is great about being a fan at a live show is that you can let go of responsibility and become unconcerned, totally present and connected, moved to a collective ecstatic state. Attention to proper exposure, composition, dead batteries, running out of film, etc. would be barriers to this experience. For me, taking pictures was a deliberate and intentional process that was by its nature delayed and mechanical.

A lot of photo-shoots would often start with the vague idea that I would photograph them practicing. This felt too close to live shots and I would usually take a few like this, but eventually try to get into taking portraits or more directed situations, experimenting with backdrops, location or props. For photos that needed a white background, I would duct tape up a wrinkled bed sheet. I tried when possible to avoid typical band photos. There were tons of those going around and I was attempting to put forward a more considered take on image making. I always tried to see it as an opportunity to make interesting art together. If we were going through the trouble to make and use these photos, why not

have some idea or direction behind it? Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t. The Unwound and Fitz of Depression photos, among others, turned out really well from this process. Initially we started without a plan, but the bands were open to trying out some ideas and ways of being photographed. Some bands had more of a specific concept of what they wanted and we collaborated to make their vision into photographs. This was the case with Kicking Giant and KARP.

I only used a Pentax K1000 35mm camera with a 24mm wide-anglelens. The K1000 is considered a “student camera” and it was the first cameraI bought. It’s a workhorse and couldn’t be a more simple and stripped down machine. It only has three controls: f-stop, shutter speed and film speed. Light metering is just getting the needle in-between the plus and minus. Because a lot of the photos were taken indoors, I used a handheld flash connected by a sync cable. With the few exceptions when I used color film, everything was shot on Kodak T-Max 400 film. For better or worse, I just stuck with the same set-up.It was versatile, basic and worked. The use of a wide-angle lens produced a slightly pulled or curved distortion around the edges as well as allowed for a lot of surrounding space to exist within the frame. Also, I would have to get really close to the subjects. Using a flash up-close would often caused my negatives to be unevenly lit or over-exposed. Printing these in a way to produce a recognizable image would require long exposure times and anything that was in the background or not caught by the flash would be rendered as deep areas of black.

Some photos would be half or almost all black with the figure or partial figure showing. I would also print with a high degree of contrast, which emphasized the graphic qualities. I liked how this looked and they would also hold up well under a wide range of reproduction methods, which was the ultimate purpose of these images. I wasn’t the best when it came to technical proficiency, but I think my strength was in composition, timing, editing and making it work in the darkroom. In the context of this scene, being a good technician was not necessarily given primary value. What was valued was making it happen with what you had available – making the most of art and expression with often rudimentary abilities and tools and almost no money. The attitude was expression over expertise, where style emerges from prolific output, which is fueled by enthusiastic urgency and shaped by the limits of skills and resources. Talent and finesse come later through perseverance and practice. As for concepts of mastery or success, each person had to measure and navigate those in their own way. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t a competition.

It was a great experience to have done this work with these people, to collaborate and contribute to part of what was happening at the time. After a few years, I stopped. Stopping was as unintentional as starting. It sort of faded out for me and wound down. Things had shifted. A few years later I moved to San Francisco to go to art school and these photos went into a box in Tacoma. Some of these images were able to extend out into the world beyond the limited social boundaries of Olympia, woven into and carried along by the music made by

friends. They appeared at tour venues, record stores, and college radio stations. They were strewn on bedroom floors and would show up in music magazines and local papers. Boxes of records, records made not only of music, but music in league with visual art, would travel around in vans from show to show. They’d be laid out on merch tables in the hopes of maybe earning just enough gas money for tomorrow’s drive. Some other kid from some other town, some other scene, would be won over by the ecstatic state. After the show they would buy the record, take it home and not only listen to it, but also look at it. It was always rewarding and sometimes unbelievable to see how these images would expand outward – cast out into the culture of like-minded co-conspirators. Hopefully, this book serves to continue and honor that process of creation and expansion, those basement notes in a bottle and shots in the dark. It was the best to make art with friends. It still is.

-RLM 2016