The opportunity to take a glimpse into what happens on a band’s tour is always an exciting invitation. Looking at photographs of your favourite musicians hungover and sleepy eyed from the night before, taking a nap while travelling cross country, or celebrating post-show, positions these characters who seem so far out of reach as familiar.
Robin Laananen’s book, Us / Then (published by Setanta Books), does this tenderly, documenting her relationship with the band Warpaint, described as their “tour manager/photographer/dear friend/long-suffering sister”. “If you’ve been to a Warpaint show, you’ve likely spotted her snapping surreptitiously from behind a rise,” says drummer Stella Mozgawa. “Her blonde lion’s mane gracefully swanning across the stage to capture the material you see here. At the crack of drawn she’ll be on a pilgrimage, sacrificing precious hours of rest to explore the details of a city that to the rest of us blend into a single indistinct metropolitan experience. This book is as much a testament to her reverence for life as it is a frame for ours.”
Besotted with the book, below we get to know Robin and her journey with Warpaint, and the uplifting and warm book of friendship, music and travel that has developed as a result.
How did you first meet Warpaint? What’s it like working with them so closely?
I met Jenny when I moved to Los Angeles in 2006, for a brief two months, we both lived in the same house called “death camp”. I met the rest of the ladies in 2010, when I joined them on tour as they supported The XX.
It’s very inspiring to work with them closely, they’re always looking to do things differently, to continue to challenge themselves as a band and as individuals. Everyone is very supportive of each other, and I’m included in that equation.
Was there a point in your time where you thought I need to start documenting this?
From the beginning I wanted to document them, so I was taking photos from day one. I never tour without my cameras, and I’ll ease in with bringing them out, reading each situation. Those moments resemble meeting someone for the first time, with some, it clicks, there’s a connection and nothing is forced. I’m very respectful of private moments and use intuition.
What elements would you look for to photograph?
Light will usually catch my attention first, and I keep my eye out for more natural moments. I’ll stay aware as to when their surroundings: the architecture, the lighting, the atmosphere, when it compliments each other one way or another.
Could you describe a day on the road with Warpaint?
I’m typically the first to wake, whether it be in a hotel or the bus, and I’ll spend the morning exploring the current city with a camera, in a haze, looking for snob coffee, juice and any vegan deliciousness I can find. Come early afternoon, the crew will load in and build for the show. The ladies start appearing, ready to wander, to find nourishment, to maybe find moments to themselves, only to return for sound check and any press scheduled.
Once the doors open, the rest of the night flies — with a meal resembling dinner, compiling a setlist, quality time with computers — ending with the show, the event of what brought us all there in the first place. That’s the best part. Every show is different as is the audience, Warpaint fans are awesome. The night closes with the bus pulling away to the next city. Rinse and repeat.
How did you collate the book together?
We actually didn’t have any prior discussion as to what photographs would be used or which ones would be left out. They were very supportive with having me do the edit on my own. They trust I would choose what made sense, knowing I wanted to show the more genuine aspect of life on the road. The band didn’t pull any photos from the initial layout, which was extremely satisfying, to know we were on the same page after such a long process.
I worked with a photo editor, Alice Dison, and she was very helpful with getting me to look objectively at my own work, along with teaching me to see how different, sometimes unexpected, elements of photographs compliment each other.
What would you like to work on next?
Music has played a heavy role throughout life, so I’d be interested in working with other artists, whether it be travel, in the studio or any other scenario that calls for a fly on the wall. With that being said, I’m very inspired by creative people in general and would enjoy working with other forms. When a tour ends near somewhere I haven’t been or have been interested in, I’ll usually rent a car and take a road trip. I’m intrigued by landscapes, cities, barren lands, so I’d love to shoot travel pieces.
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