In 1992, photographer Pat Graham took his first photo of his then roommate Isaac Brock—a man who would go on to front the rock band Modest Mouse and leave a lasting impact on the music world. Graham saw Modest Mouse perform for the first time in 1996 and captured photos of that show, before touring with them off and on for almost two decades while also making a name for himself as a photographer. Modest Mouse broke into the mainstream in 2004—and Graham was there for it. His intimate relationship with the band provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chart the path of the young hopefuls’ rise to stardom—and now, Graham has assembled many of those images in his newest book “Modest Mouse.”
Graham couldn’t have predicted Modest Mouse’s success—nor did he want to. But he did recognize something in Brock. “At the time [he was my roommate] he was really young and just seemed like a super creative guy. We were just working on interesting art projects and doing things for the sake of music, art and photography.” The two parted ways as roommates but remained friends. “In 1996, I saw the band for the first time. I never went to take photos hoping they would become famous. I just wanted to see what they were like. I thought that what he had to say and the way he was delivering it was special—to me it was very interesting. As I was working with him I started to realize more and more what they could or would become, by the way that people reacted to them and their music.”
In some ways, Graham was a member of the band, and his camera was his instrument (Instruments were the subject of his previous book). “In the beginning, I came out on tour as a friend and someone to help with activities—and I also happened to be a photographer. We knew we would do something with images eventually, but it wasn’t the main goal at the time. I was with them. I was a photographer pitching in, helping them get from point A to B. They were the reason we were on the road.” As the band’s popularity grew, Graham’s duties became more singular. He focused on photographing the band and creating some of the show’s visual projections, and ultimately the photoblog.
Graham’s style—of course—progressed and matured over time. “My style became less timid and I was more willing to get in there and get more interesting shots. I wanted to document a band on tour across America. As I shot things, photos in that situation start repeating, so I needed to push myself further. I began using different cameras and focusing on different parts of the tour. My style became more adventurous.”
He likens photographers to musicians in the want to explore new equipment. “I love photography and I love cameras. The touring gave me an opportunity to try out all these different formats and see what they can do.” Some, he notes, lend themselves to storytelling and others more to mood. However, he was also always shooting Polaroids—many of which appear in the book. “Before the iPhone, it was a Polaroid. You shared with your subject and talked about it. You could come up with ideas together. As time went on, there were video cameras and then the band members themselves starting using cameras.” In the Instagram age, Graham shares that “the Polaroids themselves—to me and the band—they are still very special. You have this object that you’re sitting with that travels with you on the tour. The ones we liked the best we’d tape up on the van.”
Not every moment could be captured, however. When asked what moment he had missed out on, Graham shares, “There’s a story in the book about the first tour, where we got caught in a blizzard. In that incident, I was driving the tour van through Montana and it was the last road that was open—we were out of our minds from exhaustion and crazy obsessing with getting to the second gig in Chicago. The snow is hypnotizing. And then I see this dark figure in the road. I look up and my stomach turned. A cow was frozen, just standing right in the road. We all just looked at it.” He continues, “I just drove around it and kept going. I was kind of in shock. I didn’t take a photo of that cow. To this day I wish I would have, but I was a lot younger then. Photography now is about capturing everything, but then I was frozen out of my mind on my first tour, and I was also driving.” That said, many of the photographs Graham snapped of the terrain those following days are some of his personal favorites he took while on tour with the band.
Pat Graham’s “Modest Mouse” will be available on 7 October 2014, but you can pre-order the book on Amazon for $22. Graham will also show the photos at an exhibition at London’s House of Vans this fall, with a date still to be determined. The show will include original prints, as well as his Polaroids.
Images of the book by Cool Hunting