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Life Through A Lens

09 April 2018, 07:45
Words by Victoria Parkey
Original Photography by Alex Cameron

Alex Cameron talks Victoria Parkey through his Polaroids.

Alex Cameron has made a name for himself with performative records that blend elements of humour and darkness through the character of a sleazy pseudo-rock star over an infectiously catchy soundtrack of '80s synths and sweeping saxophones courtesy of his best pal and "business partner" Roy Molloy.

Cameron has been documenting his life and tours over the last few years through his passion for analogue photography, first using disposable cameras included on his rider, and over the last twelve months, transitioning into Polaroid photography.

I’m curious to know whether photography is a hobby he’s always enjoyed or whether it surfaced from having downtime when travelling between shows on tour. “Photography’s something that I’ve always enjoyed," he says. "I’m just drawn towards it, I guess it’s a natural kind of inclination of mine to take photographs. My father took a lot of film photographs and I was always around a lot of film cameras as a kid. It’s probably the one thing I’ve taken from my family – it’s something that I guess I’ve inherited in a way.”

With Polaroids bridging the gap between the satisfying instantaneousness of iPhone photography with the aesthetics of film photography, it’s no wonder the format has become so popular once again in the last few years. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m out for those likes, baby, but any excuse for me to look away from my phone and I’ll take it.

I’m too impatient for 35mm or medium format and I can’t fathom clicking a button and not getting to see the result. I love the frames, especially the Spectra type that I use. Essentially all I’m doing with these photographs is finding the frame - trying to find the shapes and figures that fit in a pleasing way, but it calms me.”

"This set of photographs really does feel like much more than just memories, I feel like they’re telling their own stories forwards."

“When we first started hanging out, my girlfriend [actress and artist Jemima Kirke] took me through a whole box of thousands of Polaroids that she has and that kind of retriggered my interest in photography because I’d been on the road for so long and didn’t have a camera. We were just kind of getting to know one another and she showed me these photographs – some from years ago and some recent - and I was just amazed at how you could have these instant memories. Some of them were really artful and emotional, some of them were really sexualized and others were really classic and pretty.”

What sets Cameron’s music apart is his talent for storytelling, which is something he finds reflected through his photography, to the point where his photos have begun to play a part within his songwriting process. “I like to make the most of having a moment and I have hundreds of these things now. It serves as a really engaging thing away from music for me, which at the same time helps me write songs so it’s becoming part of the process for me. This set of photographs really does feel like much more than just memories, I feel like they’re telling their own stories forwards. I think they’re going to end up carrying me forwards instead of dragging me back.“

Jemima Kirke on the shoot for "Studmuffin 96"

"We shot a video in upstate New York in a small town. We found a Laundromat that wasn’t disused but certainly not busy and Jemima had this vision in mind to film it on VHS and to make it really homemade [in a way that] I guess that would highlight how perverted the video was.

"The idea was that if we could make the outfits and costumes we were wearing beautiful, and then nothing else would matter. So the idea was to make something that was quintessentially trashy but at the same time really pretty and touching and inclusive in a way.

"Everything Jemima and I have worked on so far has had film involved: we did a video in 16mm, DV and VHS and we weren’t able to watch the footage back while we were shooting it, so having the Polaroid was kind of perfect because if we wanted to know what a certain scene would look like, we could just take a photograph of it."

Alex Cameron Polaroid unnamed 1

Angel Olsen in Bologna, Italy

"That’s backstage, just before Angel went on stage in Bologna, Italy. We were on tour together and I’d just come offstage and I found her and her band getting ready. I’ve got two versions of that same photograph - one where Angel’s very pensive one moment and the next she seems jubilant and happy and that’s the one I really love; that’s how I know Angel - as having this explosive luminous quality. She’s luminous and glowing. When the flash goes off and catches something and the reflection happens, you have this beaming quality, so she ends up looking like she’s up in bright lights when really it’s just the power of these types of cameras - when the flash explodes at the right moment it almost blows it out and can come close to ruining a photograph from time to time but with that one… that’s the feeling when I get when I think of touring with Angel, that photograph takes me right back there.

"I was pretty amazed by the way it turned out because there’s a timeless quality to what Angel does I always think that she would have been big in the ‘60s and she would be big in fifty years time. She has that voice and quality to her music - it’s the kind of music you’d send to aliens."

Alex Cameron Polaroid unnamed 2

Alex and Roy, video shoot for "Politics of Love"

"Roy is supposed to be dead next to me in the driver's seat. The person that took the picture was the co-director of the video, Britt McCamey. I treasure that photograph – it has a lot of grit to it. The difference between that picture and the one of Angel is the way the Polaroid captures heat… in the strangest way to me it somehow captures temperature and spirit. But that photograph is in the desert in New Mexico and the shot of Angel is in Italy, so the different climates somehow bring out a different quality in the film and you can feel the searing heat in that photograph – it was over 100 degrees, they were cancelling flights it was so hot when we shot that video."

Alex Cameron Polaroid unnamed 3

Roy and Holiday Sidewinder, New York

"This was just before we went on stage at Madison Square Garden. We were on tour with The Killers and Roy and Holiday were just standing there ready to go on stage, jiggling out their muscles and warming up. I just told them to turn around so I could take a photo of them. That was probably a minute before we went on stage - I take the camera with me right up to the stage.

"I look at that photo and Roy looks like he’s from Fleetwood Mac or something! Roy turns up in a photograph, that’s one of his main strengths. He always kills me in photos, when it’s me and him, I’m always like 'How the fuck did he do that?'

"He’s fucking killing me here!'"

Alex Cameron Polaroid unnamed 4

Henri Lindström, Detroit

"That’s a portrait I took of Henri. He has a great face for it, he’s from Finland and for whatever reason I like taking photographs of Henri from really quite close. I turned the flash off and it’s low light, that shot would have been open for two seconds so it has that painterly quality to it which is an old trick but I’ve found that as Polaroid cameras are getting older and the film is getting newer, it’s not really communicating very well with itself, so that one in particular came out with blotches because it sits in the thing too long and I have to yank the film out.

"Whatever happens happens, and I’m not afraid of that. I actually prefer to have something interesting about it. There are some photos where I’m like 'Fuck, why couldn’t that have been sharp and pretty?' but most of the time I’m satisfied with any mutations – it just adds to the story. It certainly has a way of capturing the vibe without me intentionally wanting to or trying to."

Alex Cameron Polaroid unnamed 5

Brandon Flowers, New York

"I caught Brandon in the hallways of the stadium and he was walking back before an encore. He was really gassed up and ready to go and I asked him to stop for a moment and he just looks so supercharged in that photo.

"I mean, that guy has an intense energy about him when he’s playing – it’s unique but it’s also classic and I see it in other iconic performers, but actually being in hallways of the arena and hearing him walk down the corridor before he goes on for an encore in a gold suit with aviators on it’s like 'something’s happening!', and in that photograph there’s a sense that something’s about to be risked.

"The photograph has this quality where his body’s going through some sort of anticipation and I look at him on stage and it’s like it it’s there, it’s supposed to be happening, it’s all laid out in front of him."

Alex Cameron Polaroid unnamed 6

Cows in Scotland

"That was in Scotland and I asked to stop the van when I saw the pen of cattle because I was raised in part on a cattle farm, where my mother grew up, so I have a love for cows that makes sense if you’ve been around them when you’re a kid because they’re such gentle and calm and beautiful creatures - they’re very caring creatures.

"I think if you grew up around them you have a certain thing with them that other people don’t – other people see them and go 'wow a cow!' but I can’t wait to hear it, and I can’t wait to smell its breath and pat its little wet nose, I can’t wait for it to be nervous when I approach it, because they always are looking at you sideways. I’m in love with them and I took that photograph for my mum.

"I’ve got this romantic thing with them because it was my mum’s brother’s farm - I just spent summers there, so she’s also got this soft side to her with animals. She’ll see an animal like it is what it is – it’s just an animal – but when one of them dies and we have to bury it and get rid of it she’ll be quite emotional. I’ve seen her cry next to a dead cow so I know what her emotions are."

Alex Cameron Polaroid unnamed 7

Jena’s Hair Salon, Louisiana

"Jena’s Hair, I love Jena’s Hair. Doesn’t the building look like it’s on fire?

"It was hot, it was stinkin’ hot and you could hear the crickets. It was just steaming and I guess that’s why the photograph looks like that. We were in Louisiana and I just saw Jena’s Hair at the side of the road – we’d pulled up to get gas, and I saw this thing and it was like a memory in a film, like a building that had burned down, especially after I took the film out and I noticed it had those flame like burns or light leaks. It just looks like a shocking memory - it’s quite haunting. The colours are really dry and rickety.

"I love that photograph. It’s probably one of my favourites, I always thought about getting my hair done at Jena’s Hair or picking up my girl from Jena’s Hair. It’d be a great song title."

Alex Cameron Polaroid unnamed 8

Alex Cameron tours the UK from 10 April with a headline show at KOKO in London on 12 April and he's also at Latitude this July. Full dates on Songkick.
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