Three's A Crowd: White Stripes On The Road

Ewen Spencer documents the iconic duo's tour across a period of four years, intimately delving into the lives of the band

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In a recent interview with the NME, Courtney Love announced that The White Stripes were the best band in the world. Now, we know that she is by no means the sole authority on such an accolade. Jack White made no.17 on the Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists of all time – no small feat for someone just 35 years of age – but then again have you listened to Under Great White Northern Lights? Exactly. Photographer, Ewen Spencer, developed a close relationship with the band over the four years that stemmed from their first UK tour, culminating in a body of work which will go into four volumes dedicated to the journey he took with The White Stripes. We spoke to Spencer to find out what the relationship within the band was like and how he managed to gain access to two such intensely private individuals. 

Dazed Digital: What’s the book about?
Ewen Spencer: The book is about the White Stripes, but probably more about my experience with them. It was at a time when you could still do that with a band too, you know? They’d just come out over here and were promoting their third album, White Blood Cells. I was working for magazines like I-D, Sleazenation and The Face, and was introduced to them through a guy who’d moved to NME. I ended up following them round for about five or six days on a whistle-stop tour of the South East of England and it grew from there and they invited me to make more pictures with them and they let me into their fold a bit which was nice.

DD: Are they private people?
Ewen Spencer: Yeah, I think by the very nature of that band they’re like that. I mean he’s not really called Jack White is he? He’s called something else entirely. Then there’s the whole brother - sister thing, which we didn’t know the truth about at the time. They had this drama about them, it was quite good fun. On the one hand they didn’t take themselves too seriously but at the same time their music was fucking serious. It was great.

DD: Do you think the Internet has changed the intimacy you can have with a band?
Ewen Spencer: Image making and photography were seen as something very different back then. I’m not sure if people were more trusting back there, I don’t know. People seem more apprehensive when they see a camera; they’re far more aware, more visually literate. The Internet has changed things irreversibly, for good or bad.

There was a naivety there at the time too. There were just those two and the tour manager, who himself was a fan. Their success was inevitable so the scene around them had to change, they’d start selling out stadiums, and I couldn’t really make the pictures I wanted to anymore and so the relationship ended in 2005. We all sort of moved on.

DD: How would you describe your photography style?
Ewen Spencer: I try to be quite honest. I just pick up a camera do what I do you know? I like to use a bit of humour, a bit of irreverence. I like to photograph people, I guess. That’s what I like to do - It’s biographical isn’t it? I like sub-cultures and multiculturalism. I’ve been doing very British things and the White Stripes were quite nice because they were American and took me all around the world with them. 

DD: Why ‘Three’s a Crowd’?
Ewen Spencer: Well, the number three is synonymous with the White Stripes. It’s their magic number. His label is ‘Third Man Records’, he always talks about the number three, and he’s often quite cryptic about the number. I like that idea, so I called it ‘Three’s a Crowd’. It’s obviously a little bit of a play on the relationship too.

DD: What is their relationship like?
Ewen Spencer: I think they were married very young. When you’re with them they just seem like they’re great mates, very amicable pleasant people: to themselves and those around them.

DD: This book is the first in a series of four. How would you describe this one?
Ewen Spencer: I’d say it was the beginning, and my experience of that beginning. It was when they first came to the UK. They’re aware that this book is happening and they know that I’m doing this but they haven’t got any input or association with it. It’s about my experience making pictures with them. I think they’re one of the last great rock bands and the pictures have an intimacy which you wouldn’t be able to get nowadays.

Three’s a Crowd is out on 22nd October from www.ewenspencer.com

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