• UO Interviews: Caitlin McCann

    Caitlin McCann ditched her college graduation from the School of Visual Arts in New York City to hit the road with Boston garage rock outfit Vundabar as their touring photographer just over a year ago — and she never looked back. 

    “I moved to Philly, shot a couple tours, had a creative crisis where I hated all my photos, picked up bass for a hot second, snapped out of my creative crisis, made a couple zines, did another Vundabar tour, and now I’m working on that zine and a big portrait project,” Caitlin says.

    All of the photos amassed from her travels with the likes of Vundabar, The Districts and Sun Club — intimate slices of life from the musicians’ time off the stage rather than on — result in a tangible medium, one, even more, palpable than just a film capture. She’ll make 2x3” prints and hang them on her walls and scatter them on the floors, she’ll sift through each one to create a combination that’s conducive to a visual narrative. And then she’ll publish it in a zine. 

    “The images and sequence determine how I choose paper and size,” she explains. “When I’m done with all that, I throw the photos into InDesign and start making the layout.”

    We caught up with Caitlin, who just wrapped up the creation of her latest zine, Cake, a 60-page collection of photos from The Districts and Sun Club’s fall U.S. tour, to talk about her creative process and the beauty of the physical medium.
    Photos by CJ Harvey, lead photo by Caitlin McCann

    (Photo by Caitlin McCann)

    What is your photography background?
    I took a darkroom class in high school and became totally obsessed with it. I grew up drawing and painting, but once I had a camera in my hand I felt like I could get my ideas across better. I’ve always been super into music, so once my friends started forming bands and playing shows I would take all their pictures. Then I went to Syracuse [University] for a year and a half and hated it. I transferred to the School of Visual Arts and that was rad. I would take weeks off every semester to tour and shoot and they were always cool about it as long as I was constantly showing prints.

    What brought you to Philadelphia?
    My friends! I started shooting a lot of Philly bands right after I moved to Brooklyn — weird but that’s just how it happened — and I found myself going there almost every weekend, whether it be to shoot or to just hang out. I didn’t like New York and Philly started feeling more and more like home. New York has that every-man-for-himself-vibe, whereas Philly is way more about the community and that appealed to me way more. Plus, it’s affordable and everyone is way nicer here.

    When did you start putting your photos into zines?
    I don’t remember the exact moment where I was like “I want to make a zine” but it was probably when I got my hands on a copy of Cole Barash’s photo book Talk Story. It has a couple different papers of various sizes and texture and it just feels good to hold — and Cole’s photos are also amazing. I’ve always valued tangible art and I think making books and zines are the best ways to explore that in photography. Something about viewing photos on a screen is so unsatisfying to me — like eating a Clif Bar. It holds you over but you don’t feel like you got everything you need out of it.

    How do the people you’ve photographed react to seeing their faces in print or hanging on a wall?
    I’d like to think that most of them think it’s pretty cool, but I know some of them feel weird about it [laughs]. I would if someone was photographing me all the time. I’m basically taking my friends lives and using it for my art so, yeah it’s a little strange. But they continue to let me do it and I’m very grateful for that.

    Do you think having a physical photo or zine helps foster an artistic conversation?
    Yeah, totally. Everything about the sequence, the size, and the type of paper brings in more aspects of artistic conversation. When you give someone something they can hold, it becomes a personal experience, which I think is extremely important in this day and age because so much art is digested via the Internet. It all feels cold and the same. I admire artists who are constantly putting out books and zines and having shows because it means they’re thinking about presentation and process and ways to actually absorb the art rather than just settling for likes and followers.

    What kind of music do you listen to when you’re making a zine?
    I’m inspired by my friends more than anything else, so I like to work on their tunes, especially since they’re in most of the photos. A lot of them have new records coming out soon like Vundabar, Pine Barons, The Districts, Bilge Rat, which they graciously showed me, so I’ve been listening to those a lot and they are straight up fire. Crag Mask, Slow Pulp, Sun Club, Haggart McTaggert, Straw Hats, and Tangiers are some other homies who are killing it right now too. I’m so proud of every single one of them.

    (Photo by Caitlin McCann)

    What are you working on next?
    A lot of the bands I usually tour with are recording so I don’t have any major tour plans at the moment. I’ve been working on a black and white portrait series recently and I’m having a show with those in January, which is months from now but I know it’s going to sneak up on me. I’m going to put together a zine for that project too.

    How does the music made by the bands you tour with affect the photos you take?
    I think my photos reflect more about the people and my relationship to them than the music. I stopped taking live photos a long time ago because I got tired of taking the same picture over and over, and taking the same picture as the other 15 photographers in the pit. I never thought I could fully capture both the musician and the music in a way that felt fulfilling while taking live shots. Beyond being musicians, these people are human beings with their own unique personalities, flaws, and habits. I realized I wanted to show that the best way I could through broadening the scope of what many other photographers may leave out. I was always told access is key but I think that leaves too much room for being there for the wrong reasons. Having genuine relationships is key. When you’re driving across the country in a van, eating and sleeping and spending every waking moment together, you’re going find value in way more than just the shows.

    (Photo by Caitlin McCann)

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