DWG: Everyone who has seen ‘Bedroom Rockers’ absolutely loves it. To kick off with, what is your personal background and how did you get started in photography?
CW: I was born in San Francisco and grew up in a small town about an hour north of San Francisco. I moved back to San Francisco in 1996 to complete school and pursue my interest in photography and music. Eventually, I went on to complete an undergraduate degree from the San Francisco Art Institute and then a few years later a MFA from the University of California Davis, which I just recently completed.
My family has always been interested in photography, both as a hobby and as a way to document the family. There always seemed to be cameras around at family functions, on holidays, and other important events. I loved looking at the pictures after they were printed and going through the images and picking out the best ones. Curating them into family albums was an early influence and really got me interested in photography.
Also having a subscription to National Geographic from an early age fascinated me as well. I love flipping thorough magazines, album covers, and photo books just to take in all the images. So having always been interested in visual culture and photography in particular, I jumped at the opportunity to take photography in high school. I was completely seduced by the procedure, both making photographs with a camera and the experience of the darkroom, developing film, and making prints. I just knew that I had found my calling.
How did the Bedroom Rockers project begin? Did you approach this from an interest in music as much photography?
The idea was initially developed as a style piece for XLR8R Magazine with David J. Weissberg, the Art Director at that time. It was David who came up with the name Bedroom Rockers as the title for the piece. Instead of shooting fashion on figures the idea was to take a different approach toward the style section. The focus became the empty bedrooms and music spaces of local DJs. We wanted to capture the uniqueness and individuality of each participants turntable setups complete with all the clutter that you would find if you were to happen upon it.
Did you present it as a finished project to XLR8R magazine and adidas? Or were you commissioned to do it?
All the organization and coordination of participants was done by Vivian Host and Brianna Pope who were the Editor and Art director of XLR8R during the project. Before we would arrive in each city there was some preliminary research contacting publicists, friends, etc. about who would be a good person to include and who had a good record collection. Sometimes there were obvious people that we wanted to include, often times it was word of mouth. We tried to cover a range of styles of music and a variety of people. We wanted a cross section of each city’s scene. So, the project progressed and gained momentum as we went along.
The book is divided into chapters of vinyl collectors from five different cities in the US: Boston, Miami, New York, Portland and Washington D.C. What made you choose those five cities as the focus?
The five cities in the United States that Adidas had their Original stores were chosen as locations. To expand on this XLR8R put together a series of book release parties at the Adidas Original Stores featuring performances from people from the book.
DWG: Whilst there have been a few books and articles that have tried to capture the spirit and visual elements of vinyl culture, your work remains the definitive chronicle. Were you surprised by the acclaim and feedback the book has received?
CW: Glad to hear that you feel that the images capture the spirit and visual elements of vinyl culture. My intention was to make photographs that operated like portraits, conveying the essence and details of each individuals space in the greatest amount of detail that was possible. Additionally, I wanted each image to have a sense of presence to make it look as if each DJ was just using the turntables and walked out of the room for just a minute so you will notice records cued up and light on the tables and mixers glowing. If you look really closely you can see the movement of the stylus much like the hands of a clock as it tracks across the records.
Since the project encompasses such a large group of stylistically different DJs, my intention was to photograph each location the same as the last. Creating a typology, approaching each space in a uniform way so you notice their uniqueness.
What surprises me is that after 5 years the project still peaks people’s interest. The project’s success was all about collaboration, both with everyone at XLR8R and Adidas, but also connecting to such a superb group of DJs who would give us their time and allow us into their homes.
Your cityscape/building photography from your general portfolio (some of which was used for the chapter dividers in the book) have a very serene/relaxed feeling to them… I like the idea that the buildings are empty shells until you get to see the interior shots. Did you shoot those pictures at the same time as the rest of the book?
The cityscapes were shot at night after we finished shooting for the day (which often ended late into the night!). I would go out into the cities and look for locations to photograph in the downtown areas at night. I do a lot of my other work like this. It was a nice way to balance the hectic pace of the project and to get out and spend some time exploring in solitude.
Everyone loves a good background story: were there any particularly interesting stories to go behind any of the shoots? Any particularly memorable, difficult or enjoyable episodes?
Well, there were lots of interesting experiences, most of which occurred after we were done for the day. But shooting the whole project with an antiquated process and equipment was very memorable and always seems to make an impression. I think people who are into vinyl can appreciate that process is important and that it takes time. Shooting the project with a 4x5 inch (9x12cm) field camera was incredibly slow and cumbersome. On average, each exposure took about two minutes to expose, some were as long as eight minutes. Usually I would cram myself into a corner of the room just large enough to move and stand as still as possible so that I would not shake the camera or vibrate the floor. I am certain people thought this was a little weird- myself alone in their studio usually for half an hour or so. But I think the final results were worth the effort.
Were there any shots that didn’t make the cut?
There were very few shots that did not make it. I would speculate that we used about 90-95% of the images that were shot during the project. We had to be incredibly efficient in every way. I think from the go ahead with Adidas till when we shipped the final layout to the press was just over two months.
What else have you worked on since the book – and where can people see more of your work?
My work can be be viewed at www.cw-photography.com and is available through the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York.
Currently, I am working on several different photographic projects and commissions. I have been working on a project for the University of California by day and exploring the mountain ranges of California by night.
At some point I’d like to continue working in the spirit of Bedroom Rockers collaborating with musicians and artists on an expose of unseen creative spaces.
DWG: So the first edition of the book was printed in December 2004: how did the project begin from your angle?
JW: I had worked with a guy named Andrew Smith over at XLR8R magazine who came to us with the idea. I had always told him that straight-up advertising is cool for us, but ‘let’s do something more innovative and exciting - what have you got?’. So he came at us with this idea. He knew, through XLR8R, a lot of DJs and his pitch was, ‘Look - this is our consumer, it’s your consumer – let’s do something that’s not overt and overly branded and in-your-face’.
So we liked that idea and said ‘Go ahead!’. And his photographer Christopher Woodcock went off and shot, y’know, a hundred DJs – big, small, mom’s attic down to guys who had like milkcrates or really nice studios. It was really an introspective look at what DJs call home.
Did they put it together and present you with the finished project?
Yeah, I gotta say, it was a pretty easy project as far as our involvement went. They took it and ran with and would send us images and we’d say ‘That’s sweet!’. The only thing we asked was not to have competitive brands products showing all over the place, which we thought was a fair request. I mean, we obviously like to think that the Bedroom Rockers are wearing the three-stripes, but you would never really know because this was an insight into their passion for music.
It resonated well with me because I liked the fact I didn’t pick it up knowing it was an adidas project. As soon as I did, I had to commend the ‘genuine’ qualities it has as a authentic piece of work. There aren’t adidas logos and Trefoils all over the place. It felt more supportive.
The funny thing was, we went back and forth about whether we should put an ad in there at the back of the book. Our original thought was ‘no’ and I think my boss at the time was like, ‘Hang on a sec: you’re gonna spend all this money?! You have to throw a little ad in there!’. And the funny thing to me is... that one solitary ad at the back of the book feels really out of place!
I’ll be honest: I didn’t even really notice the ad. It certainly didn’t detract from the book in any way.
Y’know, that’s what had to happen! But, whatever, it’s such a cool look at how vinyl has become involved in peoples’ lives. I’ve got a vinyl collection, I’m sure you have too, and I was looking at some of these big vinyl collections like, ‘Oh my God!’.
So, the guys finished the book and we did an initial run of 1000 copies in paperback in December 2004. We sold through them - well, we gave them away - so fast that we did a second run of 500 hardback copies in June 2005.
So they were only given out in adidas Originals stores?
Through Originals stores to start with and then some were distributed by XLR8R’s online network. XLR8R sent a bunch to all their fans and we sent them out to all our retail stores globally.
It’s the perfect example of a great project that’s almost turned folklorish. So many people are still like, ‘Wow - have you heard of that book with the photos of DJs collections in it?’. There’s another great book called ‘Behind The Beat’, which focuses more on studio set-ups and creative environments, which is amazing, but it’s not the same as ‘Bedroom Rockers’.
We had launch parties in each of the cities featured - Portland, Miami, New York, Boston and D.C. - and XLR8R hosted those and we invited DJs to come on in and spin. The cities we chose for the subjects each had an Originals store in them – that was why those particular locations were chosen from our point of view. In Portland (where adidas are based in the US), we have got to know all of the DJs featured in that chapter and as a result they come and DJ in the stores occasionally. We work with guys like O.G. One and Evil One quite a lot through this project.
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