Moby has been a musician for 35 years, but he picked up photography when he was just 10 years old. He speaks to Olivier Laurent in an exclusive video interview ahead of the release of his first photobook.
Author: Olivier Laurent
03 May 2011 Tags: Photography books
There’s a lot of dilettantism in the art world, says Richard Melville Hall, who is better known as the DJ and musician Moby. “Actors want to become musicians, musicians want to become actors. I was hesitant to put myself out as a photographer because I could clearly see the criticism that could be levelled – ‘Oh, another musician that thinks he would be good at something else’.” Moby started playing music when he was nine years old, one year before his uncle gave him a Nikon F camera, and he’s not stopped taking pictures since. Now, he’s coming out with his first photobook – Destroyed.
“The book Destroyed and the album Destroyed were made at the same time,” Moby tells BJP in a video interview. “The music on Destroyed was written in hotel rooms late at night when I was on tour, and the images in the book were all shot on tour.” Destroyed is Moby’s way to show that side of touring that is often unexposed, he says. Secluded time spent in artificial spaces such as hotel rooms and backstage waiting areas – images that he contrasts with scenes of vast swaying crowds.
“Everybody else in my family was a visual artist so from an early age I decided I would be a musician in public and I would be a visual artist in private,” he tells BJP. “I was constantly taking pictures – I grew up in darkrooms – I just never showed to anybody the work I did.”
Moby was influenced by photographers such as Irving Penn, Dorothea Lange and André Kertész – “photographers who shot black-and-white,” he says, “because I only knew how to process and print black-and-white. I didn’t even look at colour photography.” What he loved about Kertész’s approach was the fact that he could be casual and formal at the same time. “The classic photograph of the woman with an umbrella jumping across the street – for that shot, he leaned out of his window, so it’s quick, it’s casual, but almost accidentally formal at the same time. The composition is not accidental – that was really inspiring to me.”
But a turning point for him took place 20 years ago when he first saw Wolfgang Tillmans’ pictures. “Up until he came along, craft was such a huge part of photography. You’d look at an Irving Penn picture and you would be amazed about his greyscale and the richness of the picture, and you wondered what film was he using or how he printed it. Then Wolfgang Tillmans came along and said ‘you know what? Craft is great, but you can also have a compelling and amazing picture taken with a 110 instamatic’. That sort of changed my perspective on the process of putting photographs out onto the world. Craft is really nice, but sometimes the most compelling images are not supported by remarkable craft.
“I also find his work to be really emotionally generous and vulnerable at times, whereas a lot of photographers aren’t,” he adds. “With his work, you get the sense that he’s trying to make sense of his environment and trying to communicate his perspective in the hope that people might respond to it. There is that continuing human quest for a universal language. Einstein believed it was numbers. Photography, I think, is a pretty close second as a universal language. Clearly there’s a semiotic issue – if you’re French and you see a picture of a French soldier, it’s going to resonate differently with you than it would for an Indonesian. But there are certain archetypal universal elements in photography that can resonate with a lot of us.”
Moby never intended to show his own photography to the world. “Two or three years ago, I had this idea of going on tour and documenting it, but from a different, idiosyncratic perspective. When I was done, I showed the work to some friends of mine and they were surprisingly encouraging.” From 3000 pictures, he came back with an edit of 200, and to another of 75 that form Destroyed.
In the following video, Moby discusses the current state of the photobook industry:
“I hope that the book makes sense separate from the album, and I hope that the music makes sense separate from the book,” he tells BJP. “As a creator of work, you put the work out there and it’s up to people how they experience it. Some musicians and artists really want to control how people experience what they’ve made. For example, some musicians will put out albums without breaks between the songs, so that you have to listen to them from start to finish. I think I have a more relaxed approach towards how the work is experienced once it leaves my hands.
“I’m quite comfortable putting music out there and seeing how people respond to it, but with photography, it’s my first book and my first shows. I find this makes me nervous. It’s daunting,” he adds. “But I’m also comfortable with the fact that when you put a piece of work out there, it’s a document of the time in which that works was made and of the person who made it, and to an extent you have to be okay with its imperfections. Walking in a gallery where my images are printed, of course, I will want to go back and make them better, but they are what they are. There’s a lot of vulnerability.”
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