The Singer Not The Song

Cat Stevens exhibits her portraits of today's musical icons at Rough Trade East

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Photographing from Bat For Lashes, Slayer and Effi Briest to Joanna Newsom, Cat Stevens has generated an ever-expanding portfolio of acclaimed musicians over the last five years. Having worked at Plan B Magazine as photo editor, she moved on to shoot portraits for press and record companies including British Vogue to Island Records. Stevens will be exhibiting her photos at one of London's best loved independent record stores Rough Trade East from November 5th.

Dazed Digital: When did you decide to focus mostly on music photography? Was this by accident?

Cat Stevens: I've always had a great love of music and photography but was unsure which path to take. I worked at a record label for six months after college and it was then that I realised I would be much happier taking photos of musicians rather than working in music in any other realm. It's what comes most naturally to me.

DD: Who did you admire the most before you photographed them?
Cat Stevens: PJ Harvey. She's an amazing artist and I've been listening to her music since buying 'Dry' when I was 14 years old. Working with her and John Parish on a press and video shoot was a dream come true for me.

DD: What was it like working with The Knife, being so mysterious in the media hiding behind their masks?
Cat Stevens: Working with The Knife was great. They've created a strong identity for themselves with the masks and if thats done in order to shy away from the media then I respect that. The masks actually made composing the photographs far more interesting with the strong shapes and silhouettes they create.

DD: Which act(s) were most interesting or had the most presence to photograph?
Cat Stevens: Bradford Cox made his presence felt when I photographed him last year. He was in a really bad mood and I could tell he didn't want to be photographed. He just crouched down and hid behind his hands. I took the photo and it's one of my favourite portraits in the show.
It was fun getting drunk and running around the park with Scout Niblett on a sunny autumnal afternoon. She took on the persona of Angelina Jolie and spent the day telling me all about her husband Brad Pitt... Warren Ellis from the Dirty Three was so engaging in conversation that I forgot I was there to photograph them.... I like it when a band can be themselves and act naturally on a shoot as opposed to being self-conscious and stiff.

DD: What do you try to achieve with your personal photos?
Cat Stevens: I always have my compact camera to hand and enjoy catching the small details as things unfold before me. I can't imagine not being able to look back at things from the past in photographs. I think I can be nostalgic and sentimental, which keeps me taking personal photographs. Taking photos can also lend a narrative to the everyday, a way of escaping maybe.

DD: Do you prefer to use friends as subjects?
Cat Stevens: I'm lucky to have a large circle of friends around and like to document the times we share. It's good to catch them off guard but I also love creating spontaneous photo shoots with them. I think it's about trying to find a balance between being silly whilst remaining honest. It can be just silly stuff to look back on but also a way of keeping friendships fresh and alive.

DD: Why Rough Trade East?
Cat Stevens: Because I'm showing a selection of portraits of musicians all of whom fit the DIY aesthetic that Rough Trade has championed over it's 30 year lifespan.

'The Singer Not the Song' will be showing at Rough Trade East, Dray Walk, Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London from November 5th to January 30th 2010.
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