Rachel Demy is someone that keeps me inspired daily by her amazingly beautiful photos and the fact that she pursues her dreams at full force. I love love love what her website says about her so I am going to quote it because it is beautifully written.
“EVERYONE WANTS TO BE REMEMBERED, BUT MORE THAN THAT, EVERYONE WANTS TO BE SEEN.
Today we are more public than ever, more visible, but harder to truly see. The moments we choose to show are packaged and polished, and these are the ones that reveal the least. Rachel Demy strives to break past the contrived, which is why her photography is largely portraiture. Portland bred and Seattle based, she got her first camera at age 7 and started filtering the world through its lens. And so began a lifelong obsession with what she found there. Touring with artists like The National, Richard Swift, Death Cab for Cutie, St. Vincent, and more, trained her eye to find the in-between moments, where her innate ability to make her subjects comfortable produced honest photos. Her goal is to give people photos where, instead of analyzing their appearance, they see a photo that reflects who they are as a complete person. Her desire is to really see people and show beauty beyond curation. This is where she does her work; in the oft-missed substance beyond the pose.”
Rachel and I are newly acquainted. However I have followed her for some time. I first discovered her through the feed of Death Cab For Cutie, due to the fact that she tours with the band to be near her main squeeze Ben Gibbard. I then discovered her other photographs. The photos of people, animals, landscape and more. There is something comforting about her work that makes me feel as if I know the people in her photographs….as if I am there with them in some way.
I was beyond thrilled when I was able to interview her. I hope that she inspires you, the reader as much as she has for me.
Without further adieu, let’s get to that very interview!
You first fell in love with photography at age 7 when you laid your hands on your very first camera. What is the story behind that moment? Do you remember what kind of camera it was?
I don’t remember the exact moment because it wasn’t particularly remarkable but I do remember the camera. It was a hot pink Kodak Mickey-matic, complete with flash cubes. I think my love of photography started growing slowly from that moment but wasn’t fully realized until I was a teenager. When I started going to shows at 15, it was before the time of strict camera policies so it was really easy to keep a camera in my bag at all times, shooting shows 3 – 4 times a week. It was those teenage years in venues that solidified my love of the medium. I suppose I’ve been doing some version of that ever since.
What would you say your favorite moment is that you have captured on camera and why?
I honestly couldn’t choose just one. I think every time I get a shot I love, there’s a healthy amount of amnesia that comes with it. It’s hard to describe because it’s precarious. I never have an implicit knowledge in the moment that THIS IS IT. It’s mostly intuition and impulse. It all happens too fast to think. Sometimes I’m right. A lot of the time I’m wrong. There’s a lot of skill required to be a good photographer but I think there’s a bit of luck involved, too. If I only had one favorite shot, I’m not sure there would be an impetus to keep shooting. I love the pursuit.
It is well known that you do a lot of touring with Death Cab For Cutie and a few other bands. How did you find yourself on the road and what do you love most about it?
I started tour managing bands 10 years ago after I left my job as a booking agent’s assistant in 2006. Since then I’ve been privileged to work in a professional capacity with a lot of bands I admire, but I was never officially a tour photographer until recently. I took photos alongside the job I was hired to do, whether as a tour manager, assistant tour manager and/or merch. And ONLY when I could find the time and energy to do so. I wanted to document my travels to keep my sanity and presence of mind, but also to have a something to share with my fellow crew at the end of a tour. I find it important to reiterate that point – it was a hobby alongside my profession.
Touring as Death Cab’s photographer was a nice byproduct born out of the decision for Ben and I to spend more time together, as we spent the first 2 years of our relationship passing each other on tour and sometimes not seeing each other for months. I thought that if I was going to be spending that much time on the road with Death Cab anyway, I might as well make a contribution. I think both the band and I have benefitted from that arrangement in different ways. They’ve been so amazing and generous with the moments they give me access to and I’m super excited to see what we make out of this pile of photos. Also, being able to tour, pursue my creative passion and spend time with my significant other all at the same time is a dream come true. It’s something I never thought I could have. It sure beats saying goodbye all the time.
(Death Cab For Cutie)
I know that there are so many gals out there who would love to be able to be a traveling photographer. What is it like being a woman on tour where the majority is men?
I suppose it’s like working in a lot of male-dominated industries; the only difference is that you’re constantly having sleepovers with your coworkers. I’ve definitely dealt with my fair share of sexist aggressions, whether they be classified as “micro” or more “in your face”, but I loved the job too much to let it bother me. One of my favorite parts of the music industry unlike, say, the service industry, is if someone is shitty, you can dish it right back at them. You can stick up for yourself. You don’t have to be a captive audience to someone’s bullshit. I am incredibly fortunate to have toured with kind, talented, progressive men and women alike. The touring industry isn’t all about groupies and cocaine anymore, thank god, so my grievances are relatively minor. The stuff I would get most annoyed about being on the road with a bunch of dudes was the small stuff. The lack of privacy is a pain in the ass for everyone but for women, we can’t even change clothes effortlessly. Women on tour can’t just walk around shirtless on the bus like guys do. I’ve gone WEEKS on tour without seeing myself naked. Or trying to get dressed in steamy bathrooms because I can’t walk around in a towel after a shower. The stuff you take for granted at home is always a chore out there, no matter your gender.
(Chvrches & Death Cab For Cutie)
What tour has been tour all time favorite so far?
Honestly, nothing compares to the European tour I did with Broken Social Scene in 2007. I was doing merch and it feels like all of us were in a 3-week love affair with each other. I think if you were to ask anybody from that tour, the irrefutable Best Night of Tour was when we rolled into Heidelberg, Germany at about 1 in the morning and DJ Jazzy Jeff was spinning in the venue we were playing the next day. Everyone got off the bus, even if they had already been asleep, to dance until the sun came up. I think cutting a rug with Andrew Kenny and Kevin Drew to DJ Jazzy Jeff spinning “Summertime” is something I will never forget. It felt like teenage love.
You mentioned to me before that you loved that I interviewed bands like MXPX. Are there any bands that you would love to photograph that are on your list?
Oh man, I love that you interviewed MXPX because alongside so much other music, pop punk was a staple in my high school music collection. However, I have different criteria for bands I want to photograph. I think I’m more visually compelled by women on stage these days and if I could spend more time photographing Chvrches or St. Vincent, I would absolutely take that time. I also love musicians who physically use the stage, forcing me to chase them around. Beyond that, it’s more important for me to love the bands I shoot and have a relationship with them. It’s why I love documenting entire tours rather than just shooting multiple bands at different venues in Seattle. I want the in-between moments backstage, the repetition, the depth and subtlety that comes from getting to know a band through my lens. So if I had a choice to shoot a new band or keep shooting bands I’ve shot before, I’d probably pick the latter. For now anyway.
When it comes to photography, do you prefer film or digital?
I like both for very different reasons. I have been devoted to film my whole life because it was the only thing available. There’s comfort in that. I had yet to find a digital camera that felt as good as my Pentax. These aren’t new ideas but film also makes you decisive and forces you to get things correct in-camera, rather than on a computer afterward. The last thing I usually want to do is sit in front of my computer for any reason. We’re beholden to too many screens these days. But I have a newfound appreciation for digital photography because the learning curve is steep with little financial consequence. I’ve been able to experiment more with my Leica and it’s helped me get technically proficient very quickly. Both have value and both are artful. But more often than not, my favorite photos tend to be film. Chemical reactions are so much more interesting to me than ones and zeroes.
What gear do you currently shoot with? (camera/ lenses / film stock?)
Film: Pentax K1000 / Pentax 50mm 1.4 / Kodak Tri-X, Portra 400, Fuji Neopan 1600 (RIP) and Fuji Pro 800z (RIP)
Digital: Leica M240 / Summicron 35mm 2.0 or Summarit-M 75mm 2.4
I know very little about gear but film stock I could talk about all day.
Ben Gibbard & Jenny Lewis, The Postal Service. Seattle, WA. 2015.
Who is your favorite photographer?
There are so many. I’d be remiss not to say Autumn de Wilde. She’s been shooting bands and artists for decades and has been such a kind and supportive friend. She makes people so comfortable on shoots and is able to draw real intimacy out of her subjects. Her work with Elliott Smith is a great testament to that. She’s also got a wicked eye for art direction and she always goes the extra mile to make whatever she does look amazing, even if she’s just sending a card in the mail. Robert Mapplethorpe’s technical proficiency inspires me to focus on mastering the basics of the medium. Anton Corbijn’s black and whites changed my life as a kid. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the video for Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”. I could keep going…
Who or what are your inspirations?
I grew up in the Pacific NW so any mountain, grey day, mushroom or body of water will have me occupied for hours. I feel most inspired when I’m in a natural environment. When I’m out on long runs in the woods, I always remember to stop and take photos. The practice centers me on just about every level.
My romantic relationships have always been a source of creative expression for me. I understand that many people follow me on Instagram because I take photos of Ben but I’ve been photographing all of my partners since I started having serious relationships (which also makes for a lot of burn piles after breakups). I’m not the kind of person who creates well out of sadness or depression. Love and happiness are the best fuel for me. I love observing the people I care about (friends, family, bands, crew, pets, etc.) and capturing all the small moments/twitches/idiosyncrasies that make them who they are. I do it with everyone, but especially the people with whom I spend the most time. That person, now and forever, just happens to be Ben and I couldn’t be more grateful.
(Ben Gibbard- Band Room)
Also, nothing makes me happier than someone who doesn’t take photos of themselves too seriously. There are so many bad photos of me on the internet and I really don’t care. I also saved the worst photo of me that has ever been taken (10 years ago in Lake Louise, Alberta). I look at it from time to time and laugh my ass off. It’s really liberating. I don’t have much interest in trying to cover up the physical toll my life has taken on me. I have bags under my eyes and grey hair from touring too much, sleeping too little and not drinking enough water. These are my battle wounds but they’re also my tokens of a life well-lived. I don’t try to hide it and it rarely bothers me if these things show up in photographs. One of my favorite projects this year was when I was able print out a bunch of photos of the terrible faces Ben makes when he’s singing or playing guitar on stage. I had a friend put them on 2-inch buttons for his 40th birthday, as party favors for our friends, hoping it would elicit a good laugh. A small part of me was worried he might be offended because they’re so grotesque. You just never know. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen him laugh that hard the entire time we’ve been together. And it was at himself. It was perfect.
How do you capture an honest moment with someone?
The most honest moments happen when I let my camera be visible for so long it becomes invisible. Once someone forgets it’s there, I can do anything but it’s very important to work fast.
Being northwest born and bred, what is the best part of being home?
Being able to cook food for my friends in a warm house on a cloudy night is the best part of being home. No question.
What’s next in your world? Have you considered doing a show of your work or any projects coming up that we could see more of your work?
There’s some stuff in the pipeline professionally but I can’t really talk about it right now. There will definitely be a few projects in 2017. On a personal note, I’m considering going back to school for an MFA in photography. The thought of pursuing photography in an academic setting is really appealing right now since I’ve never taken a photo class. We’ll see!
What advice would you give to anyone out there who is just learning the world photography and want to have fun with it and be successful?
Look at what others are making (because it’s easy to do in this day and age) but ultimately put on your blinders and make what you want to make. You have the power to create whatever you want, but you don’t necessarily get to control how people perceive or receive it. And since you can’t control that, you also can’t let people’s opinions control you. Ignore the think pieces and fads and the Culture Vultures selling our lifestyles back to us. Get messy. Learn the rules and then break them.
Sometimes in dark moments I ask myself, “Am I really trying to be a professional photographer in 2016? Why am I doing this to myself?” and the answer is because I still love to take photographs. One of my lifelong truths is that I have always loved to take photographs, regardless of whether or not there was an audience for them. I didn’t have an audience for the first 25 years of my life. I think if you are ever curious about what you should do with your life, look back on all the things you did for fun when there was no paycheck attached and no one was watching. Your answer is in there somewhere. I know that if the internet or Instagram suddenly didn’t exist, I would be perfectly happy toiling away in obscurity, burning images onto whatever I can find. I’m not sure what that world would look like but I’m fairly certain I could find a way.
I want to thank Rachel for taking time our of her busy bee life to do this little interview for me! You’re seriously awesome. <3
To the readers, thank you for reading and please go checkout her work at www.racheldemy.com! You won’t regret it!
Follow me on Instagram for more upcoming interviews!
Christie Gee- Kellems