For many years Lauren Dukoff has been photographing close friend and musician Devendra Banhart and an extended loose-knit international family of artists who share inspiration variously from folk Tropicalia and each other, as well as a range of other musical influences. This lovely hardcover album collects Dukoff's striking portraits and candid images of Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Bat for Lashes, Feathers, Espers, Vetiver, Bert Jansch, Vashti Bunyan, and many others individually and together in performance and more private spaces. The 150 full-bleed color and black and white photographs are complemented by a foreword by Banhart text and artwork by the musicians, artist biographies, and a digital download featuring songs by some of the artists in the book.
Read a Q&A with Photographer Lauren Dukoff and Singer-Songwriter Devendra Banhart
Devendra Banhart: Do you see any connection between Photography and Magic?
Lauren Dukoff: I remember the first time I looked through the lens of a camera, it felt magical. I was about 11 years old and I was in Bali with my family. I woke up really early one morning, due to the time change, and found my father out on the balcony photographing the sun rising over the ocean. He handed me his old 35mm camera and said “Lolo, take a look through this.” I panned the camera across the horizon and then pointed it at my father’s face and I got this overwhelming rush of excitement. Somehow everything looked even more beautiful when I looked at it through the camera lens. I guess things just seem more intense though the lens because you’re focusing all of your attention on the visual and putting your other senses momentarily to rest. I remember I thinking I never want this to end; I want to stay here forever. Even today, because I still shoot film, there’s always this element of surprise and mystery to the process. I don’t get to see my images right away on a screen, like you do with digital; I have to wait for my film to be processed. You never really know what's going to come out of a roll of film once it goes into the developer. When I get my film back from the lab it reminds me of the feeling of seeing a magician pull a 10-foot handkerchief from his pocket. Sometimes the results are not what I expected and I’m like, “Where did that come from?" But that's part of why I love to shoot film; that imperfection and unpredictability can be magical.
DB: Is the camera your friend? When you wake up in the morning, do you say something along the lines of "Hey pal! Good morning, how did you sleep? Good! It's gonna be a long day of takin’ pictures. Let's just try and have fun no matter what, OK?" to your camera?
LD: I guess in some ways my camera is like a friend—or maybe more like a companion that goes places with me and makes me feel like I’m not alone. It can make me feel braver, and give me a sense of purpose. I remember photographing Ramblin' Jack Elliott in our hotel room in Camber Sands England at ATP. He was performing right there in front of us and I just felt so nervous and awkward in his presence. I mean, this is a guy who learned how to play guitar from Woody Guthrie and influenced Bob Dylan! But when I held the camera up to my face, I felt a sense of calm and purpose being there in that room; I had a job, and that job was to document that beautiful moment. I'll never forget that night. At the same time, a camera is only a tool. The real magic is what happens between the photographer and his or her subjects. The tools you choose to use--which camera; which format; which type of film--all affect the outcome of the image and it's an evolving process of trying different combinations till you feel you've kind of found a style of your own. I've been told I have a distinct style, but I still feel like I'm still trying to figure it out. I want to keep learning and growing. In the end, it's the emotion and the connection you make with your subject that makes an interesting photo. You can buy all the fancy and expensive photography equipment in the world but it won't change the core purpose of your work, and for me that is to tell the story and express the emotion of a moment that has passed.
DB: Could you tell us a little bit about this book of yours that Chronicle is putting out?
LD: It's called Family. As you know, we tried out all sorts of different titles and you even helped me brainstorm for other ideas, but Family was the only title that really explained the experiences I had taking these photos, and the feelings I get when I think about all of the artists in the book and their relationships with one another. I've done hundreds of photo shoots, but I've never experienced as much warmth and kindness as I did when I was shooting the people in Family. Some of the artists--like you and Matteah [Baim] and Isabelle [Albuquerque]--were already close friends and practically family, but there were other people who I’d never even met before but who still welcomed me into their most intimate spaces: living rooms, bedrooms, recording studios, and favorite secret spots. From Vashti Bunyan's kitchen in Edinburgh to Natasha Khan's bedroom in Brooklyn to the Feathers' favorite riverbank in Brattleboro, Vermont, I was accepted with open arms and treated like an old friend or even well, family.
DB: Do you know how much I love you and think yer the best photographer ever?
LD: Yup! Do you know how much I love you and think you are the best subject, muse, friend, and musician ever. I sure hope you do.
Take a Look Inside Family
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