• Spread1

    Ewen Spencer: TV, Sydney Australia 2002/Pensive, Sydney, Australia 2002

  • Spread2

    Ewen Spencer: Untitled

  • Spread3

    Ewen Spencer: Valves, Manaus, Brazil, 2005

  • Fan_mail

    Ewen Spencer: Faxed Fanmail, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, 2005

Photography

Ewen Spencer: Three's a Crowd Volume II

Posted by Rob Alderson,

In 2001, photoographer Ewen Spencer went up to The White Stripes in a Bristol bar and introduced himself – what followed was a rock n roll fairy story which saw him work with the band for four years, documenting their meteoric rise to fame with unprecedented access. To mark the release of Three’s A Crowd Volume 2, Ewen’s second collection of photographs from his extraordinary time with one of the world’s biggest bands, and his new show at KK Outlet in January, we caught up with him to find out more about the the project and an utterly bonkers night in Brazil…

What you did with The White Stripes is so many people’s dream – was it as amazing as we would imagine?

Of course – it was an incredible time for the band and all associated with them. Wherever they went there was a sense of excitement and occasionally that excitement became hysteria. If you were at a music festival other bands would be keen to meet them. Jack was great at holding court, full of confidence, a great musician. I feel very fortunate to have been friends with them at such an exciting time.

I never wanted to make pictures of a rock n roll band – I was interested in looking for a journey and I think I might have been fortunate in guessing that Jack and Meg were embarking upon a great trip.

What was the most rock n roll thing that happened to you when you were with the band?

The most rock n roll moment was at a gig in Manaus, Brazil, which is a small city in the heart of the Amazon forest. The band were playing at the small Opera house in the old part of the city (the building of this Opera House was the genesis for the Herzog film
Fitzcarraldo.) 

The last artist to play at the venue was Willie Nelson around 10 years prior. I think any kid who had a guitar or had listened to a record in a 500 mile radius was at that concert. They erected video screens in the square in front of this majestic venue – it was quite a sight.

The venue was stunning built by European rubber barons a hundred or more years earlier to tempt the great singers and conductors of Europe across the Atlantic to perform.

The band did the setting justice, the best I’ve seen them play. They came off stage, Jack turns to Meg and suggests going outside to play to the crowd in the square. So they walk back out on stage and leap into the audience. The audience parts and they walk out of the venue onto this vast terrace that overlooks the square – cue a small riot.

Jack sat with Meg, their feet hanging over the ledge looking down into the square and begin to play We’re going to be friends . 500 people do themselves credit by going silent. The band complete the song whilst venue security and police restrain hundreds of bodies, hands etc trying to get a piece of Jack and Meg. We make a dash back into the venue and the mini riot becomes full blown, cops laying out hysterical teenagers as we try and make the 50 metre sprint across the terrace back into this beautiful building that is still full of an adoring audience. It was bedlam.

At last we ended up in the dressing room each taking separate routes through the venue. Champagne shenanigans ensued, then we have to leave the venue – everyone outside knows this of course. We leave by the rear, good start, jump into the vans and take off as kids are hurling themselves at the vans. That was the scariest moment, the thumping on the windows, people on the roof, that’s the only time I’ve seen Jack looking a little concerned.  

Very early the next morning I received a call from Jon the road manager asking: “Are you awake?” “Yes.” “Jack’s coming to get you" Ok – knock on the door, open the door (not yet dressed) and there is Jack with Dave Swanson pointing a video camera at me.
“Quick put some clothes on, I’m getting married. Will you take some pictures?" So we spent the day at the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers on a beautiful old wooden, two tiered boat as jack married Karen Elson. 

Does the second book follow chronologically from the first? On what criteria did you select the pictures?

It is chronological but the first volume has dictated to a degree what we can use in the current book. With Volume 1 we used early images showing a build up to the band’s popularity, in only eight images. This volume has around 50+ images so it is a lot more comprehensive. I was toying with the idea of producing three volumes to correlate with the band’s love of the number but I have to concede that self publishing is a labour of love, there is little fiscal reward and it is purely a form of communicating your work. If you believe in it publish it – let the viewer decided its validity. A new photographic democracy.

What’s next for you?

More and more self publishing. We have recently collaborated with a distribution company in London called Antenne so were looking forward to working with them. 

I have began compiling a data base of street cast, young folk from around London to be viewed on my online archive. We have an assistant who goes out around the streets every Thursday and makes straight-ups and quick videos of likely candidates. We compile them and then edit the images here in the studio. I will then be collaborating with a guest stylist each month choosing one person from the database and producing a photographic biography with that individual.

Step into their world for a day or two and see what it provides. Just as the images for Three’s a Crowd can sometimes show the banality of life on the road with a rock n roll band. I enjoy making sense or at least capturing something interesting in the everyday life of ordinary people therefore making them less ordinary!

I don’t believe in making pictures through broken windows or going to war. I’m still very enthused by youth culture/sub culture – I like to think it’s at the heart of everything I do.

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Photography View Archive

  1. List

    A couple of weeks ago, Channel 4 aired a documentary (below) which saw photographer Giles Duley (himself a triple amputee) meet some of the disabled victims of the war in Syria. It was a difficult watch but an extremely important story to tell, and one that meant a lot to Giles. He got in touch to say that although The Guardian ran an in-depth piece on the same theme, he had some photographs which weren’t used that he was really keen to get out there.

  2. Main1

    Every once in a while it’s worth having a good old stare at the architecture around us. Often we simply stop noticing buildings because they’re so good at doing what they’re supposed to do; which is a shame because as well as functionality, there’s an overlooked beauty within those structures we can all appreciate.

  3. List

    If you ask me, the beauty of Maciek Pozoga’s work lies in the fact that it can’t be pinned down. He’s eternally “juggling between documentary, art and fashion,” as his website explains, resulting in a style which grows “from a specific conception of documentary images, naturalistic and authentic but tinged with poetry and humour.”

  4. Main

    I’m super into these portraits by Maya Fuhr, I think I spent about 45 seconds staring into the pond-coloured eyes of the guy two pics down. Maya’s got this magic touch when it comes to photography, her work is so simultaneously humble and powerful, making her the perfect candidate for quietly strong editorial and personal work. We’ve covered her editorial before – a brilliant photo shoot of girls in messy bedrooms – but something about the power of her portraits made us want to write about her again. She also recently opened up to us about her days as college a fresher, and the perils of choosing the wrong degree (with some brilliant photographs of her in 2008 to accompany it, naturally).

  5. List

    In December last year we received a zine in the post from Yorkshire-based photographer Christopher Nunn that documented a small selection of images he’d gathered in Ukraine. Kalush offered a unique perspective on a region that was thrust suddenly and violently into the public consciousness, showing us the quiet, everyday side of a place that – from television coverage at least – you’d have been forgiven for assuming was razed to the ground.

  6. Main_15.08.13

    Another one pilfered off Haw-Lin here I’m afraid, (I can’t help it if their taste is better than everyone else’s can I?). This charming selection of photographs of aesthetically-blessed chaps hanging out with pedigree dogs is by Philippe Jarrigeon, the man who once charmed us with square oranges back in the day. This shoot was commissioned by the spectacular Double Magazine, and is testament to why they’re currently on their 27th issue – they clearly know what they’re doing content-wise. If you think cute boys and pups are click-bait then I’d be inclined to disagree – the world needs happy photography, and you don’t get much more joy in an editorial than this. Like what you see? Let me point you this way to another fantastic shoot with a similar concept from 2012.

  7. List

    Unless you have self-consciously wacky parents, it’s likely you’ll have met someone with the same name first name as you. When you’re younger this can make you feel a less special but these days we just have to grin and bear it. The commonality of first names is a theme Tim Morris has focused on in his George series, which brilliantly catalogues famous Georges in visual form.

  8. .jpg?1413390909

    All too often these days we stumble across a jaw-dropping example of set design, only to discover the impressive final image is actually the result of some clever visual trickery and digital manipulation. That’s an impressive art unto itself, don’t get me wrong, but pure CGI can leave me feeling a little shortchanged.

  9. List

    The Daily Nice is one of those online phenomenons that’s been sizzling away in the big internet frying pan since 2004, and this month sees it celebrate its tenth birthday. If you’re not familiar with site (where have you been??), the idea is simple: every day its creator Jason Evans uploads one photograph of something that made him happy. There’s no archive, no social media feeds – just that picture taken by Jason on the site for 24 hours.

  10. Main

    Anyone who’s worked for Ryan McGinley is probably covered in a lil’ pinch of magic dust when it comes to photography. Eric Chakeen proves this point – his personal and commissioned shots are a wild mix of humour and professionalism that is hard to come by. Working in New York, Eric’s skill lies in his ability to roam the streets and take portraits of people with true personality. From a guy munching on a cigar on a scooter to a dog in a post-vet neck cone, anything he turns his lens on turns to gold. You could argue that it doesn’t take much to get a good shot of Alexa Chung, but would many people choose to photograph her in such a stripped-back way? I think not. How great to see someone doing something that so many people are experimenting with right now, but adding that extra bit of style and wit. Cool guy.

  11. List

    I’ve had a soft spot for Akos Major’s photography for a long time now and his project Waters has been added to my virtual ‘like’ pile with no hesitation.

  12. List

    In a world packed full of photographers focussing their lenses on the young and the beautiful, Andi Galdi Vinko is the antithesis. The Hungarian photographer has a penchant for the strange and the grotesque: a bare-arsed man embracing a tree, a fur-clad woman browsing a garish supermarket aisle, the thousand-yard stare of a wild-haired dandy, and that outright creepy chap with his taxidermy collection. Aside from being regularly unnerving, Andi’s photographs all manage to achieve a profound sense of spontaneity, each representing a moment of reckless abandon from her subjects or simply a chance encounter with something visually arresting – testament to her quickfire camera skills. She’s currently on the move between London and New York, planning her escape from Hungary because “the art scene here is kind of sad.”

  13. List

    There’s something incredibly beautiful and natural about Gráinne Quinlan’s series White Crane Spread Wings where she captures the elderly community of Hong Kong practising Tai Chi throughout the city.