Digging Up Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith, color clip test, April 1998

Many of my contemporaries made names for themselves, and good money, shooting for record companies in the nineties. It made sense that I should go that direction too as I started out shooting musicians almost exclusively – but for a number of reasons it didn’t go that way.

In retrospect, it’s probably for the best as my friends now complain of sessions made inaccessible or lost by their music clients. These were the days when most color was shot on transparency, so lost is lost. This was the fate of one of my rare music PR shoots, Elliott Smith. I shot him for DreamWorks in 1998, in the run up to his XO album.

Elliott was living in Brooklyn at the time and known to be camera-shy the record company recommended that we do the shoot low-key and keep it local for him. But having an editorial background I thought of the images first and my sitter’s comfort second. I had a couple of friends who had just moved to rural New Jersey and together they provided perfect backdrops – one had an old unrenovated farm house and the other an empty in-ground swimming pool. If our subject wasn’t going to give much it wouldn’t matter – the locations were interesting looking.

More Elliott Smith clips tests -until Dreamworks unearths the actual session, this is it

Elliott was pleasant and cooperative but seemed eager to move on and get home (and he made early dinner plans – perhaps revenge for being made to travel to a location) so things were cut short.

I thought that the whole session was lost but I came across the four rolls of black-and-white negatives six months ago (and made gorgeous 16×20” contact sheets) and then fell upon the clip tests of the color rolls a couple of weeks ago. Of course, these are not the selects for the session but they’re pretty fun nonetheless – it’s like seeing those rare early-twentieth-century color images that turn up on the Internet once in a while – but the 90s indie-rock version. And it’s nice to see, even in this truncated way, that my visual locations paid off.

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17 Responses to Digging Up Elliott Smith

  1. Lovely work, sir…they may not be the session selects, but are so very dear to us fans. Thank you so much for sharing… x

  2. deb says:

    well done! These are beautiful and capture an innocence lost…….

  3. colet says:

    elliott sings the soundtrack to my life….

  4. Thank you for posting these.

  5. Claire says:

    post the black and white ones!! these are gorgeous…

  6. Cat Black says:

    Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou so much for sharing these pics. I love Elliott’s work and am thrilled to have anything on him. Cheers X

  7. Thank you for sharing these

  8. These are absolutely wonderful. Elliott got me through a bad panic attack last night. Perfect timing 🙂

  9. Ahmed Samy says:

    really great work, however the title is so cliche’ and offensive…

    • Rachel says:

      agreed – great photos, but don’t want to share them with that title on them…tacky and – made me cringe. too bad because the photos are a gem

  10. Kirt says:

    Thankyou so much. Great story and pictures. Its tough to come by quality memorbilia from elliott these days.

  11. Kevin says:

    These are great! I used to have one of those big couches from the first picture and I remember when XO came out, I got one of the promo posters for it, and was wowed to see my couch juxtaposed with my favorite musician. Ha! Thanks for posting, Chris.

  12. Great pictures of Elliott – you shot the photo that’s on the cover of the Waltz #2 (XO) single, didn’t you? When you mentioned an empty swimming pool I knew that had to be the picture you were talking about – I am an ardent admirer of Elliott Smith and his music, and I have a couple poems I wrote about him on my site – check it out if you get a chance – thanks for sharing the photos!

  13. Domenique Buxton says:

    I remember seeing all of your photos from this shoot at a meeting, Dreamworks Records has them! Lucky you to have captured these moments.

  14. These are beautiful! You were so lucky to meet him!

  15. Record companies. Meh. But the bands can be just as bad. Did an editorial shoot w/Metallica in the early ’90s, and had to send the shots to them for approval. Everything but their approved shot came back with a cigarette burn neatly through the middle of the transparency. (Luckily I snuck a roll of 35mm black and white that I never sent for approval. Not great shots but it’s the feeling of revenge.) Then there was the DownBeat cover shoot that Pat Metheny requested for approval, then lost in his luggage. I never worked for them again (tho’ why they blamed me and not Metheny remains a mystery.)

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