Musical Eyes: Birkwin Jersey on Lo-Fi Photography

UK sample sculptor, Birkwin Jersey (or as his parents call him, Graeme Coop) has been hard at work this past year, releasing both an EP and LP on rising digital label Absent Fever. His sound is deceptively honest—organic, self recorded samples that twist and reverse under the precise influence of electronics; it’s a formula that’s setting him apart from other young producers. When I asked Graeme to share with us some of this visual inspirations it came as little surprise that toy camera photography was up his alley. His vision is clear.

In addition to sharing some insight into his sound, which includes some of his own photography, Graeme has gone above and beyond and composed a new track for this feature aptly titled, Think or Smile.

Birkwin Jersey – Think or Smile "Birkwin Jersey – Think or Smile"

Aesthetically, what attracts you to lo-fi photography?

For me, the imperfections really make the images. There is a certain honesty to them, really capturing a moment that otherwise would have passed in a way that couldn’t be replicated. The colours, even if they have been purposely manipulated, still have that element of chance which really brings the images to life.

Many of the images you’ve selected are double exposures, layering man-made with nature. How does this idea translate to your music?

I’ve always loved that juxtaposition of man and nature living beside one another like tolerant neighbours, like when you see the roots of a tree force it’s way up through the pavement. In that way I like the idea of combining acoustic instruments and found sounds with electronic production. Opposing the natural sounds of acoustic guitars and banjos with constant kicks in a regular pattern with some sloppy recordings of me hitting various objects, but set out in an almost mathematical way, l think it makes a nice balance sometimes.

Light leaks and color aberrations account for some of the ‘look’ of lo-fi, there’s beauty in the randomness. You’ve used many unconventional objects as instruments (lampshades, books, glass) which no doubt behave unpredictably, how important is the element of chance to your creative process?

It plays a pretty big part, so many ideas have started from accidentally moving a bunch of samples or playing a wrong note! In terms of sampling a lot of the sounds I use as percussion on tracks have been offcuts from other takes, like the noise of putting an instrument back or someone knocking on the door, everything has a sound, it’s just a case of recording it (intentionally or otherwise!).

I once sampled my cat purring with an idea to use it in pieces as bass hits in the percussion of a track, but the recording came out totally different, more like slow thunder, which gave the whole song a different feel and a whole new direction. I enjoy that unpredictability, going off on musical tangents gives the process an organic feel, if I actually managed to make the kind of track I originally have in mind it might not be so much fun!

With an overabundance of photo apps and the prevalence of easily accessible recording programs it seems it’s never been easier to get started in the arts, visual and sound alike. What advice do you have for someone just starting out, someone who may still be in search of his or her voice?

I’m still starting out myself so I’m not sure I’m qualified to advise, but I’d say listen to loads of different genres of music, and experiment!

If you’re not sure what kind of direction you want to go down, play around with combinations of styles to see what fits – you may only make a few tracks and then move onto something else but each time you’ll be learning different techniques and developing your sound.

With certain artists I like to think about what it is that really makes them stand out and what makes certain tracks feel the way they do, and try and learn from it. I used to try and avoid using constant kicks in any tracks as I saw it as being kind of obvious or lazy, but listening to the way Four Tet uses them in his tracks to give it a driving force made me realise that as long as it sounds good and fits with the song well there’s no reason not to do anything.

It does seem to be super easy for anyone to do anything creative now there’s an app for everything, but hopefully it will inspire people who enjoy making music or whatever to get involved and make something from scratch.

Thank you Graeme!

You can download Birkwin Jersey’s latest Old Hands EP and his full length Time Doesn’t Exist, Clocks Do for free on Absent Fever’s bandcamp or explore demos and older material on his soundcloud.

Images from top down:

  1. Graeme Coop – “Leaves”
  2. Graeme Coop – “Poles”
  3. Graeme Coop – “Houses”
  4. ina nasovich - ”Dryviaty Lake”
  5. Amy Fichter - ”deer, landscape”
  6. Semen Penya - ”science x art”



Time lapse of Yosemite National Park

Let’s be motionless. We’ll take turns blinking, making certain that not one millisecond is spent in darkness.


Victoria Masters: Music Felt Through the Lens

I believe in a soul; not necessarily in a religious context, but certainly in a spiritual one. Places hold them—people, ideas, events. I believe experiences enter their purest state when souls are communicating, and this happens often within art. Musicians understand this shared energy. And with live performance, they hope to inspire it. There are shows when a room can collectively glow or charge or even gravitate. These are beautiful yet fleeting occurrences, and rarely ever documented truly. But some have a gift…

Through photography, Victoria Masters is able to send you to that suspended realm, whether you were once there before or not. I’d admired her work for some time, as she’s one half of the music blog Stadiums and Shrines, but it wasn’t until I stood next to her at a Julianna Barwick set during SXSW that I fully understood. Looking over at the tiny screen on her camera after each shot, I realized she was capturing not what was in front of us at face value, but the images of our perception. Each time I return to one of her pictures, I don’t simply see a night, I feel it.

The images that opened this piece were selected to represent 2011; in other words S&S has decided to host their annual Year in Photos here, and even more kindly, Victoria was down to chat about her craft, process, and future plans.

Can you tell us a little about your photographic background and how you started shooting shows?

It started with a photojournalism class I took in college. I went to Senegal for a summer abroad program where we documented current events in and around Dakar. It was instantly so inspiring. I was taken in by all the colors and skin tones, and the way the French African culture juxtaposed with poverty. I went on to major in graphic design but never really stopped studying photography. After school I took six months to travel Southeast Asia and shoot. Upon return I participated in some small gallery shows and an international touring exhibit about children living in poverty. When I moved to New York six years ago, I began more classes at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan and have kept taking them since. Somewhere between then and now that background blended with my love for music and living in Brooklyn, and I started shooting shows. Then when S&S entered my life there was good reason to continue.

When I learned that you don’t use Photoshop to alter your images I was utterly amazed, still am. Without giving away any secrets, can you share some of your process?

Yeah there was some concern that people were going to think these were just altered in post which felt untrue to my process. Similar to photojournalism, there’s a story to be told, an emotional connection between subject and audience, we all want to feel that intensity and beauty, and it’s your responsibility to capture it evoking as much emotion and realness as possible. So, well, yea that’s what I try to do—I use some slow shutters, flash delays, and soften edges to get the vision all better realized. I work a lot with the lighting of a space, you really need to adapt to it to feel comfortable.

You’ve developed a very distinct and effective visual language. How do you prepare for a night of shooting and how much of the outcome is a result of simply being in the moment?

I usually bring a bag that has my Canon 7D, a few lenses, vaseline, red lipstick and my hotshoe flash. And I’m usually groaning about how I dont want to be out until 2am on a Tuesday, but once I get there my mood just flips. I start to feel what’s happening and it all just comes together… eventually. Certain venues, crowds, and lighting can really determine how challenging a shoot it will be. I can get frustrated at times and that’s when I just try something totally different, and then pass my screen over to Dave for the smile of approval (I have a scale of reactions to rate from) and carry on.

Do you have any favorite bands to photograph? Any particular qualities you’re inspired by?

Shooting Handsome Furs was my highlight of the year but I think my favorite band to photograph is Twin Sister. We’ve covered them a number of times and I’m always taken by Andrea’s presence, and their lighting is always rad. Second would be Born Gold, for obvious reasons. I like the energetic bands. It can get more tricky when shooting some of these one-person electronic acts, where there isn’t much going on, that’s when I really try to translate more of a sound or mood.

Lastly, what do you see yourself working on in the future? Are you exploring any new avenues your work could travel down?

Seems I am never not starting a new project. There’s this ongoing Portraits project that includes shooting friends in their environments, and I’ll be doing more band press photos this winter. I rarely pass up opportunities, I’m addicted to this whole lifestyle. I’ve also been experimenting in film this year—I shot/edited a live visual projection for a 45 minutes dance performance and a few months back did a music video feature on our roof. We’ll see where video goes…

Thank you Victoria.

Bands pictured from top down: Dirty Beaches, Two Bicycles, Grimes, Big Troubles, Braids, Born Gold, Julian Lynch, Megafortress, RxRy, Pictureplane, Born Gold, Dustin Wong, Handsome Furs, Blue Hawaii, Holy Spirits, WU LYF, Julianna Barwick.


Microscopic Worlds: Ecosystems invisible to the naked eye

Human eyes are the great window into a world surrounding us, but what a universe we would see if they were capable of 100x magnification. If witnessing a brachionus rotundiformis’ meal pass through its translucent body or seeing a water fleas’ heart beat were a daily occurrence, what an astounding awareness we would have. Realizing the vast scale of nature and how vital each element is to our chain of existence, both up and down the evolutionary web is a powerful thing.

Explore more notes from Daniel Stoupin’s dreamworlds or support his vision by purchasing prints.


A History of the Sky: Time lapse over San Francisco

Every 10 seconds, everyday for a year, an image was captured of the sky above San Francisco. Collected and chronicled, each day passes in perfect synchronicity, displayed next to its neighbor as if comparing themselves against one another. They all watch as the winter solstice sacrifices its hue before the rest and takes its precious time waking from night. They watch each others cloud cover slowly disappear in noon’s heat and wonder what distant ocean current is shifting their winds this day. But somewhere over the course of a year they stop watching, comparing, thinking and simply exist. Day becomes days, year becomes years.

I highly recommend watching this at full screen. Learn more about Ken Murphy‘s time lapse project History of the Sky here.


Think or Smile | Nathaniel Whitcomb © 2011