Moby, the musician talks about his love of photography
United States, written by Andy Romanoff
In addition to his long and successful career as a musician, Moby is a serious photographer. His house is filled with cameras and there are photographic books everywhere. Currently an exhibition of his photographic project Innocents is running at Project Gallery in Hollywood. He sat down recently to talk with Andy Romanoff about his love of photography.
Andy Romanoff: Let’s begin with this Nikon that’s so special to you. How long have you had that camera?
Moby: About 38 years. My uncle, Joseph Kugielsky had been a photographer for The New York Times. When I was ten or eleven years old, one year for Christmas he gave me this camera, one that he had used for work but wasn’t using anymore. I think he felt that rather than having this Nikon F collecting dust on his shelf, he would just give it to me. It’s in many ways it was far too sophisticated of a camera for a ten or eleven year old to have, but it kind of raised the bar and forced me to learn how to use it and how to use a light meter and then learn how to develop my own film and print at a really early age.
AR: So you’ve been shooting forever then.
M: Yeah, for 38 years.
AR: But you also wandered into music a little bit along the way…
M: I started playing guitar and taking pictures around the same time. I just focused more on music largely because my uncle was a very talented photographer and I felt like I couldn’t compete with him. So yeah I did photography on the side. Also, it takes a lot longer at least it took a lot longer to be a good photographer than it did to be an okay musician. Like a year after learning how to play guitar, I could play cover songs and I could play in a punk rock band. It took years of shooting and printing and developing to actually get good enough at it that you’d want to show it to someone. So I actually felt that by the time I was a decent photographer I had already become more of a proficient musician. Nowadays, the exact opposite is true. It takes a much longer time to learn how to play guitar than it does to learn how to take nice pictures on an iPhone.
AR: Why do you collect cameras?
M: Well I collect lots. I also collect old synthesizers, old guitar amps, and old drum machines. I like technology that I grew up with that is now kind of obsolete. I mean I even like looking at old phones. Things that existed in the very physical analogue realm now exist wholly in the digital world. I think I can be really nostalgic about things but I also appreciate the craft in them, I mean like the craft of creating, digital camera is beyond my understanding, but everything about it is computers. It’s designed by computers, it runs by computers, its utility is based on computers, and when things exist in the manual realm I feel like there’s like a weight to them that I really appreciate.
Even like winding it, putting in the film, feeling the gears working together – there’s something so satisfying about that. I really appreciate the digital world but this stuff reminds me more of the physical world that we actually inhabit.
AR: But you shot digital when you did your new project Innocents.
M: Oh I haven’t shot film in years. I like film and I feel bad because you …miss it but…like for example a lot of people who love the idea of DJing with vinyl, a lot of those people have never had to carry records through an airport. The moment you carry 30 or 40 pounds of records through an airport, you never want to DJ with vinyl again. It’s the same way a lot of people miss film, I find that many of them never worked in the darkroom, because if you’ve worked in the darkroom it’s hard to miss film too much. Because the chemicals involved in developing the film were so disgusting and when I worked in a darkroom I was always sick to my stomach. And (when I was young) the film was expensive the paper expensive and when I had to mix my own chemicals that was expensive too so digital photography is great. I do miss looking at the grain of a beautiful 35 mm print. I miss the look of a super grainy black and white Andre Kertesz style image. When I see that, it makes me want to go out and start shooting film but clearly I don’t because the benefits of shooting digitally, working in Lightroom or working in some other program like it is just amazing. The control that you have, the stuff that used to be impossible — done with just a click. I guess there was something to be said for film, the happy accidents you got. Cause you never, even when you were dodging and burning you never really knew how it was going to turn out.
AR: You spend a certain amount of time in Photoshop?
M: I mainly use Lightroom. Photoshop is amazing but a lot of what Photoshop does — I don’t need it to do. Especially like the show that I have up now, a lot of the prints are very large. And to get files or images to the point where they can be printed that large it requires a lot of work.
AR: Did you do all the post work on Innocents yourself?
M: Yeah, all of that, everything. Because it’s finding this healthy balance between noise and softness and like I’m thinking I’m completely stating the obvious but there’s so many manipulations you can make that if they’re on a relatively small screen they seem fine, but when you start blowing pictures up to like five feet by eight feet all of a sudden information that you weren’t even aware of…like suddenly there’s a purple in the picture and you hadn’t even been aware of it.
AR: I’m curious about all the old cameras you have around here. Do you use any of them?
M: No, I just like their qualities. They aren’t special models or anything, there’s nothing precious about them. A lot of them are like 20 dollar cameras from eBay.
AR: So these are art objects for you then rather than photographic tools?
M: Oh yeah, when I collect them my criteria for choosing has nothing to do with whether they work or not. I just love their…do you know the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi? I wish that there was an English version of it and I’m just gonna give like a half assed ill-informed description of it but wabi-sabi is like their spiritual entropy. The idea is that as things age they actually take on more interesting qualities. And that the more that human creation resembles the natural world, the more interesting and informative it can be. An example would be a stone house that’s 150 years old where the rain has been coming through the roof and it’s mildew-y and it’s sort of falling apart. As opposed to like a brand new subdivision in North Hollywood…but if one of these gets dropped it’s just a piece of metal and it will probably hurt your foot more than the camera…
Interview and photographs by Andy Romanoff
AR Website - http://www.andyromanoff.zenfolio.com
Moby’s website - http://www.moby.com
Project Gallery - http://projectla.net
Until March 30th, 2014
1553 N Cahuenga Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028