If you spend a lot of time on Facebook like I do, you see a lot of “huh?” fly by. You know—out-of-focus snap shots, narcissistic questionnaires, in jokes, Farmville crapola. Blah.
But one day, out of the FB blue, came my savior—the incredible photography of Sarah Morrison.
Sarah Morrison is just so overwhelmingly talented, it makes my aesthetic pre-conceptions crumple and deflate.
She takes everything that’s grand and mysterious from the past—in this case, Germs’ drummer Don Bolles—and, through fabulous styling, clever angles, great coaching/direction, and a judicious amount of post-production enhancement, burnishes the tarnished bits and voila! You’re witnessing the most eye-poppingly iconic portraits to come out of L.A. or anywhere in a long long time.
Sarah Morrison is not technically a musician, but her photography is as clever and unshakeable as the most golden of hit records.
Photographer Sarah Morrison‘s unforgettable images may seem like bolts of lightning shot out of the sky, but take more than a few glimpses and an exceptionally visually-gifted artist who has put a ton of time and soul into her work is revealed. I wanted to be able to see the world—if only for a few moments—through Sarah’s eyes, and I was very thrilled when Morrison agreed to my interview request…
How long have you been a photographer, Sarah?
I’ve been shooting professionally for about a year and a half.
Do you make your living taking photos?
Are you from L.A.?
No, I’m from The Bay Area.
What neighborhood do you live in?
I’ve lived in Laurel Canyon for the last three years. I live in the oldest standing structure in the canyon. It’s an actual log cabin built in 1918 and was originally used by the Hollywood set for weekend getaways. They would come here to hunt game in Laurel Canyon back in the ’20s! The cabin has a very interesting history (as do most places in the canyon) in fact, Marlon Brando lived here briefly before he became a star. My landlord bought the cabin in the late 60’s and was friends with a lot of the famous musicians who lived in the canyon during that time. He has some amazing stories about partying with Frank Zappa, The Byrds, The Mamas and The Papas, The Doors…the list goes on. To me, Laurel Canyon is still a world apart from the reality of L.A., and combined with such a rich musical history, living here has greatly influenced my work.
How would you describe your visual aesthetic to a stranger?
I usually describe it as “conceptual portraiture.” Kim Fowley described it as “creepy elegance” which I rather liked. I am very interested in creating a world for my subjects to reside and I think that comes through in some of my more conceptual work or dreamscapes. I have also been described as a “compositional/surrealist photographer.”
Who are your biggest visual influences?
Kubrick, Gaudi, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Ken Russell, F. W. Murnau, Alfred Hitchcock, Hammer Films, Melvin Sokolsky, Tim Walker, Hipgnosis, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Mick Rock, Cecil Beaton, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Tanning, along with various surrealist painters.
Who are your biggest artistic influences (non-visual)?
I get a lot of inspiration from the music I listen to, I also do a lot of day dreaming. Romanticism, Victorian gothic literature (especially Edgar Allen Poe and the novels like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre), DIY punk ideology, the Dada and Surrealist movements, mythology, the occult, silent film stars, string theory, the underground, ’60s and ’70s pop culture, outer space, nature and animals.
What’s your attraction to musicians as subjects for your photos?
I have always surrounded myself with music and most of my friends are musicians, so when I started shooting people, I naturally was drawn towards the more colorful people in my spectrum, which just so happens to be musicians.
How did you meet Don Bolles?
When I first moved to L.A,. about four years ago, I happened to stumble into a tiny little tavern near my place where Don holds a weekly night called Ding-A-Ling. He saw me there and introduced himself.
What’s your favorite Don Bolles band?
The Germs are classic of course, and I’m pretty interested in checking out his current project, Fancy Space People. The recordings sound pretty far out.
How many times have you photographed Don?
Twice, I shot him when he performed live at Sky Saxon’s Memorial Show about a year ago and then again for the most recent portrait sitting.
When did you shoot the latest set (with the rad wallpaper and the “golden worm”)?
How long did it take?
About 6 hours.
Who collaborated on the shoot with you?
Danielle Walch, who is a fabulous makeup artist that I work with regularly, my lighting assistant for the day was Daniel Poultier aka Daniel Darling (of the Australian band, The Dolly Rocker Movement) and Wes DeRaven was the snake wrangler (he is one of Don’s flatmates and plays drums in Don’s Alice Cooper cover band, The Earwigs.). And Don styled himself!
Where did the concept come from?
There was no set, we were on location at Don’s residence. It’s a three-story Art Deco building south of Downtown L.A. He and a few others live there. This will be the home of “Unisex,” Don’s new recording studio.
How was Don as a model?
He is a total natural in front of the camera. He went along with ALL of my ideas and trusted me completely—what more could I ask for in a subject? We had a lot of fun during the shoot especially towards the end when he went psycho in the kitchen and wrestled the creature!
Do you enhance your photos after taking them?
Yes, I do enhance my photos in post, but I couldn’t describe how or why I do what I do because it’s different for each photo.
What are you working on now?
I will be shooting Miranda Lee Richards, David J, The Electric Prunes, Nick Zinner, Rodney Bingenhiemer plus more in the coming months.
If you could set up your “dream” photo shoot, who would star in it and what would the theme be?
The Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper. vs The Rolling Stones circa Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus with Syd Barrett as the referee. The theme would be psychedelic dandies in outer space (with ponies). Maybe they could be painting them or something… Oh! And the best pony painting wins! Yeah, and then I get to keep the ponies!
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