Our interview with photographer Ruvan Wijesooriya on following LCD Soundsystem for seven years
Best known for capturing snippets of NYC nightlife and portraits of art-world celebrities, New York photographer Ruvan Wijesooriya also served as the official photographer for music label DFA. While shooting for them Wijesooriya worked closely with its co-founder, James Murphy—perhaps better known as the founding member of LCD Soundsystem. For seven years, Wijesooriya followed the band around the globe, documenting tours, parties and get-togethers in private homes, right up until they threw in the towel in 2011. Now, he's releasing a collection of his best shots from the road in "LCD," which hits bookshelves this December. Complete with exclusive interviews and never-before-seen snaps, the new book pays homage to the band while offering up juicy new material to its die-hard fan base. We talked to the photographer about the book, life with LCD and how he felt about his favorite band's break-up.
How would you describe yourself as a photographer?
Self-taught. Subject-driven. In the moment. Artsy-fartsy. Adaptable. Lucky. Professional.
How did you end up working so closely with LCD soundsystem?
Their sound and songs are exceptional—they were my favorite NYC band and I sought them out to work with. They all happen to be positive, smart, supportive people who have great taste in music, enjoy a good time and actually know what they are talking about. I always learn new things from hanging out with them. And almost always laugh. After working on press pictures for the DFA DJs—James Murphy was one of them—they had me take pictures at their parties and backstage for LCD. I was around a lot and they liked my approach. I made the picture-taking process really fast, simple and casual enough to be natural and unforced. Like a good dentist. I think also they had been to my exhibitions and understood I had my own thing going on and genuinely enjoyed what I was doing.
You've been working on other things too: fashion photography and moments of NYC nightlife where one can witness famous art-world people in very intimate contexts. How does this book relate to these experiences?
LCD and I have many places where our worlds cross over, fashion and art being among them. This book relates to that quite naturally. However, I made a point of not bringing too much industry into the book—I wanted to keep it real and very LCD and not sceney or whatever. Lots of celebrities were cut from the book in order to preserve a certain idealism.
The LCD pictures reveal more of a relationship than the ones of the New York nightlife. Since I know the people in LCD, they know what I'm doing and they trust me—perhaps far more than I realize. The art world snaps are more fly-on-the-wall and feel somehow more contrived to me because they were shot on assignment, and many of them shot digitally rather than on film. The pictures of LCD were literally what I wanted to do while hanging out with them. I can't help but take the pictures. Very few of the pictures in the book were planned or discussed. The fashion stuff I do, although feeling spontaneous, is always scheduled; however, my fashion work is more interesting the further away it gets from that schedule.
How do you interpret LCD 's decision to quit?
I interpret it as James Murphy wanting to relieve himself from the pressure of touring with 15 people and also having the time to work with other bands on production and try his hand at new mediums such as film. He's a smart man and understands opportunity very well. LCD is bigger and more known now than ever, and one could argue it was through their break up.
You've shared a lot of time with LCD. What was your most memorable moment with them?
I think the time we spent in LA together when they were recording "This Is Happening" is easily the most memorable. It was fun, crazy, old-school feeling and surreal at times.
James Murphy wrote the introduction for this book. Did he see it? What was his reaction?
He's a very busy guy, so I had to stalk him to get him to write the intro. After hanging out, running errands and catching up for half a day, we finally sat down for me to interview him, and when he looked at the book, he smiled to himself, looked at me and told me there would be no interview. That night, before leaving New York for months, he sent me an email at like 3am with the intro. He talks about me stalking him in the intro. There's an immediacy in the way he wrote it, and an honesty.
What kind of camera did you mostly shoot on at the LCD shows?
I use Contax systems, so everything was shot on T3s, G2s, Arias and some modified Yashicas. The film stock has ranged, and when I was initially putting the book together I was able to see the progression of my style, sense of color preference, and so on since it is organized chronologically.
How many images would you say you have taken in total over the years of LCD Soundsystem?
The "master edit" for the book had over 3000 "usable" pictures in it. I would have no way of being accurate, but I could see the total being just under 10,000 images on film.
Now that the band has quit, what are your upcoming projects?
Besides the handful of editorial stuff and some advertising jobs, I have a yearbook I shot in Afghanistan which the school's founder, Kyleigh Kuhn, is putting out independently fairly soon. I'm working on a book about Sweden and coming up with some new exhibitions. I've also been selling more and more prints, so I'd like to focus on that a little more. I'm also hoping that having this book will allow me to work for other established musicians like Radiohead or Jay Z. As well, I should probably find an agent and a gallery to help me out. Oh—I just shot the marketing material for the Brooklyn Nets today. Fucking hell yeah! You'll likely see those pictures everywhere.