All in the Family
Published June 17, 2009
Lauren Dukoff has practically made a career out of photographing Devendra Banhart. The two have known each other since before she was an established chronicler of rock n’ rollers—like Kim Gordon, Mary J. Blige, and Morrissey—and he was hailed as “Freak Folk’s Very Own Pied Piper,” back when Dukoff took photos of whatever was around her, and Banhart, then a budding musician, was around her. Dukoff has translated her experiences with Banhart and their colorful band of artist and musician friends into the appropriately named Family (Chronicle), her first book of photography, which spans years of friendship and multiple tours at home and abroad. In addition to Banhart, Family features photos of Joanna Newsom, Bat for Lashes, Vetiver, Vashti Bunyan, among others; a foreword by Banhart; as well as text, artworks, bios, and songs (on digital download) by some of the artists in the book. (LEFT: LAUREN DUKOFF AND DEVENDRA BANHART. PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHRONICLE BOOKS.)
I called Banhart and Dukoff at the studio, where he was laying tracks and she was hanging out, camera ready.
LUCY SILBERMAN: So we’re recording… Are you guys in the studio together?
LAUREN DUKOFF: Yeah. I’m outside, he’s inside. [LAUGHS]
DEVENDRA BANHART: You’re outside, I’m going to go outside too ‘cause I want to get a cup of [IN A NEW YORK ACCENT] coffee. Look there’s [musician] Adam Green. Hi Adam!
LS: You know each other from high school, right?
DB: Yeah, when I first moved to America, Lo was like my first friend.
LS: Do you remember how you met?
Beau Raymond, Pete Newsom, Devendra Banhart, Luckey Remington, Andy Cabic, Greg Rogove, and Noah Georgeson as the Cockettes; West Hollywood, CA, June 2007.
DB: I’d give her rides and she’d teach me English and help me get rid of my accent. Accent Removal.
LS: So Lauren, how did you get started taking photographs?
LD: My dad’s a photo director and cinematographer and also did still photography, so there were always cameras around the house. And then around 13, 14, he gave me my first camera and I just started taking pictures of what was around me—and Devendra was around me, [GIGGLES] so you know.
LS: So do you have old pictures of when you guys were growing up together?
LS: How has your photography changed and how is it different photographing Devendra now?
LD: I think the major difference is that people are looking at the photos, other than myself. [LAUGHS] Starting out it’s so innocent; you don’t exactly have a style. It’s an evolving art form.
DB: In those early pictures of us, we’re all just kind of developing. This book is sort of the beginning of Lo being a super comfortable photographer and knowing what she’s doing and me being good at not knowing what I’m doing…
LS: Do you think there’s sort of a collaborative aspect to the book?
LD: Subject matter. (LEFT: DEVENDRA BANHART; WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA, JUNE 2008)
DB: It takes a lot out of you being a muse, you know. [LD LAUGHS]
LS: Lauren, how do you get people to relax in front of the camera?
DUKOFF: I hate having my photograph taken and I try to keep that in mind when I’m photographing other people. But the best photos that I’ve taken are the ones when people have forgotten that I’m there. [If] I’m in a recording studio with a musician, for example, maybe I’m not photographing them in the middle of a take but I can just get that stolen moment of them resting and they glance over to me…
LS: Where did you guys take the photos that are in the book?
DUKOFF: They’re [from] all over the world, pretty much. U.S. tour, European tour, and I photographed a lot of the musicians in their homes and natural environments. I photographed Vashti in her home in Edinburgh; Sobel in London; I went to Philly to photograph the Espers; Brattleboro, Vermont for the Feathers…
DB: Lo comes on every tour that we do and is always part of that experience at least some of the leg of the tour, ‘cause we love having her around. She’s our friend and she’s like my little sister, you know?
SILBERMAN: You guys all kind of roll with the same people, right? You’re all friends?
BANHART: Yup. It’s pretty gross.
SILBERMAN: Devendra, how do you feel about having your photograph taken by Lo?
BANHART: I don’t even notice when Lo takes the pictures. I either don’t notice or it’s the most fun in the world because, fuck, when you just can like let it go and put your guard down and be normal, I mean that’s when real work happens and that’s when real art happens. The challenge that I presented to Lo is make the photos look like the music. She has been challenged and it’s a duel.
DB: And that’s challenging for her anyways, having to work with such terrible music—
LD: Oh come on.
DB: —and such a shitty—
LD: Shut up.
DB: —older brother. You know, I just pick on her, I just pick on her. She’s got a baritone voice, did you know that?
LS: So, Lauren, are you up to the challenge? You going to make the book reflect the music?
DB: Make it look good. Yeah, I actually have to get back to mixing, but why don’t you guys keep talking.
LS: Good luck with the tour and everything.
DB: OK, talk to you later. [HANGS UP]
LS: [TO LD] You there?
LD: Yeah, hi. It’s their last day in the studio today.
LS: And then they head out on tour right away?
LD: They’re just doing a mini tour, and then off to another one, but everything is kind of up in the air right now.
LS: Are you going? LD: I’ll shoot Coachella, you know, wherever they go next, probably.
LS: What else should people know?
LD: I guess if there is anything else about the book, there’s one thing that I want to be clear about: the media has really labeled this group of musicians as like ‘freak folk,’ but the intention of this book is really simple: it’s a documentation of a moment in time amongst friends that make music. I’m not making any kind of statement about their music. The bottom line about the book is friendship and family and people supporting each other and collaborating. I’m afraid when the book comes out people are going to be like, “Oh, it’s a freak folk book.” That would break my heart.
LS: I don’t even get that at all looking at the book. It seems really intimate. After the book do you have any upcoming stuff?
LD: I think I want to do something non-music related next. I’m thinking about doing something about the American West, [maybe] cowboys and Indians. On to the next adventure, you know?
Starting July 18, Chronicle Books and Spin Magazine will kick off a month-long celebration of Family at Space 15Twenty in Los Angeles, featuring some of the photos from the book as well as curated events and performances by Banhart and others. Space 15Twenty is located at 1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd.