Some people spend their lives chasing fame, others are happy just getting in close enough to capture it, even for a milisecond. Ruvan Wijesooriya, whose retrospective photobook LCD was released earlier this month via the Brooklyn-based powerHouse Books, falls into the latter category.
“[I’d] pretty much show up, take some pictures, have a drink, chat about what’s been going on and ask how the girlfriends were doing, maybe see if anyone had gotten pregnant.”
“I started shooting [LCD Soundsystem] because I was a fan of their music, and then after that, I guess they liked my work and they knew that we had similar ideals and a similar sense of integrity,” he says. “I sent them a picture I took at a party they threw, and from there, they wanted to use it for a poster for a single, which they did. After that, they were like, ‘Let’s have this guy take our pictures.’ At some point, it just became what I did.”
Wijesooriya had been in James Murphy’s New York clique for a minute before he started shooting the band in 2004. So it was no surprise that after months of persistent nudging, the frontman reluctantly agreed to pen the introduction for the 216-page hardcover book (he did so for Wijesooriya’s other self-published book, All Night New York). Murphy also let the photographer slip behind the curtain to capture his intimate, not-so bright moments, including one candid shot at the piano. The two “recognized a talent in each other” and shared a proclivity for parties “where you stay out late, and fall in love and dance until your foot bleeds,” Wijesooriya says.
Beyond that, they were simply good friends. The work never felt like work, and despite achieving a measure of cult status, Wijesooriya says LCD never seemed too drunk on its ego or self-possessed culture of late ’70s gritty NYC cool. “For me, they’re a bunch of people I hung out with, and at some point, whenever they were selling out concerts, it was, ‘Oh wow, these guys are a big thing,’” he says.
When shooting, Wijesooriya would “pretty much show up, take some pictures, have a drink, chat about what’s been going on and ask how the girlfriends were doing, maybe see if anyone had gotten pregnant.” He captured everything on film on stage, but occasionally stood off to the side or tucked away in a corner. One year, he got so “bored” with watching the band that he trained his lens on the audience instead. Another year was spent tinkering with saturation and style, which helped him evolve as an artist and led to more lucrative gigs like a London campaign for Burberry. “I got to be backstage, not give a shit and drink for free, but I think at some point it did become work, especially when they were playing for four nights in a row,” Wijesooriya admits. By the time the band split up in 2010, he felt ready to move on as well. Doing the book was closure, he says, albeit a strange and bittersweet kind.
After sifting through nearly 3,500 photos for weeks, he settled on the ones that were “emotional and took you to a place” and which “captured that feeling of being in the audience.” “I wanted it to feel like it was done by a fan,” he says. “The intimacy and quality of it makes it different; a lot of other band books look staged.”
Wijesooriya: James is backstage in this shot. I think he just ate some pizza. He looks considerably younger, as this was before the two tours that put that dashing salt and pepper in his hair. It was one of the first times they actually hired me—or at least paid for my film—and had me shoot the show and backstage. I was psyched.
Wijesooriya: James and Pat [Mahoney] do DJ sets together under the name “Special Disco Version.” They’re awesome, and their Fabric Live mix is incredible. Anyway, while we were at the mansion in L.A. we decided they needed press photos. This one is it, though I’m not sure if they ever used it for press. I think Pat was blowing water out of his nose for some hours and kept mentioning how much it hurt.
Wijesooriya: This is James fiddling around and thinking about making a hit. We’d go out and party in L.A. quite a bit and he’d come home and do this for an hour, regardless of what the time or his level of intoxication was. I remember he was really into it and I snuck in, took a few pictures and left. It was a moment where I believed I was invisible, but I’m pretty sure he knew I was in the room.
Wijesooriya: This picture is one of the most beautiful portraits I’ve ever taken. This was a deliberate shoot and James flew me out to L.A. to stay at the mansion for a second time, but also to get this epic shot. I always wanted it to be the cover of the third album, but I think the beauty of this wouldn’t have been as iconic as the black and white image for This Is Happening.
Wijesooriya: It’s the Three Amigos or Musketeers or whatever. I love them so much, and this picture kind of shows their camaraderie. It was shot right after the last scene in the “Drunk Girls” video shoot.
Wijesooriya: James at Coachella. What a good show. They rocked the fuck out of that place. And I think they were all psyched to be playing before Jay-Z. That show was proof of how much that band rules. Being on stage shooting that was also kind of a trip. I was jealous I wasn’t in the band!