Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur has been taking photos since her mother gave her a camera when she was young. Focusing mostly on self-portraiture, the university-trained photographer said her "boxes and boxes" of images have created a catalog of memories, the soundtrack to which is provided by her group's music. Auf Der Maur's photos were published recently in Spin and Alternative Press.
SonicNet: I know you studied photography in college. Where was that and what did it teach you? (RealAudio excerpt of interview)
Melissa Auf Der Maur: Montreal, Concordia University, which had the best fine-art photography program in Canada because ... [it] was a more alternative university, especially in the photo department. [They] took a lot of pride in it being treated only as a fine art, never as a commercial art. It was more fine-tuning your voice and you finding your own tools that helped express your vision. I had gone to a more commercial one a few years earlier and all they did was stuff like lighting and [they shoved] the most boring, anal-retentive technique down your throat. Those people probably left there with no vision of their own, because they're given all this vocabulary and they don't know what they're trying to say.
I spent all three years at school doing self-portraiture because I had decided that photography was the perfect tool, because I had been documenting my life since I was about 10. My mother gave me my first camera when I was 10 or 11. I've been photographing my surroundings nonstop and accumulating them in big boxes. I'm obsessed with not losing any of my memories.
Meanwhile, I'm making music, which is the soundtrack to memories. So those two together, that's all I need, and I never panic and think I'll forget anything and I know I'll be able to show my kids all of it ... My whole thing is I always go in and out of times. There's a lot of frames within frames and references to old Renaissance paintings and women who might look a bit like me but from the 1600s.
SN: So, you started taking photos before you were a musician?
Auf Der Maur: I've been playing music my whole life, too. My mother was smart and sent me to a visual- and performing-arts school. It started in the early '70s as an experiment and ended up becoming one of the bigger high schools and elementary schools in Montreal. It was founded by hippie freaks. It's our equivalent of "Fame."
SN: Kind of parallel paths, then?
Auf Der Maur: I've been studying music since I was 7 and painting and collages. So I'd been seeing the direct relationship between music and visuals from the very beginning, because I was making paintings, learning how to do linoleum prints, at the same time as I was singing Mozart in our choir ... I don't feel like I'm split between photography and music because they go hand in hand ... I would love to go into film scoring, because I love soundtrack, weird, soundscape music. Moving pictures would be the same as still pictures.
SN: It seems, for you, to be a natural combination between music and film. Why do you think it's such an easy, natural leap for a lot of musicians to make?
Auf Der Maur: The interesting thing about my musical life is it meant involving other people; it was no longer a solo study of photography or music ... It was all about the relationship going on in there ... Especially as a bass player, it's about connecting with all the other people because the bass is the thing that glues everybody together.
Meanwhile, I was living this completely solo life in a darkroom all by myself, doing the same thing, expressing myself from the deepest pit of my gut but all by myself. And I was in my band looking to open up for people or looking to play in front of big crowds ... My tour with Marilyn Manson [Hole dropped off a co-headlining tour with Marilyn Manson in March] is the least private thing I could ever be doing in my whole life. In my hotel room now, I'm looking at my tripod and my five cameras, waiting to take pictures of the dustball in the corner.
SN: Do you carry around a lot of your photographs with you?
Auf Der Maur: All the time, as references, in fear that I will forget.
SN: Are there certain images you've taken lately or things you particularly think captured something?
Auf Der Maur: I got a new camera recently and every time I get a new tool, a whole new world opens up. I got this incredible Russian camera called the Lomo. It's completely unpredictable ... I took a picture of my 95-year-old grandmother and for some unknown reason, she completely evaporated ... the chair is there that she's sitting on but the picture is just of her hand waving a little dove angel in the air. You can't see the rest of the body. All that came out was her teeth and this weird, waving hand that looks like little angel wings flying away.
SN: Do you have a favorite subject? I know you do a lot of self-portraiture.
Auf Der Maur: It's not at all like [an] I'm-obsessed-with-Melissa
thing. I'm obsessed with human development and human life, and what
better subject than myself? I have the rest of my life ... to watch
myself grow and change. And I'm learning about my future husband and my
kids by learning about myself.
When I was back in Montreal, it was much more about an inner world of me
that I was documenting. Since I've been in this band, it's much more
about the world around me. It's about the fact that I have 2 million
more people in my life than I used to. And I photograph all of them. ...
I've been taking close-ups of the fans at every single show ... Imagine
in 30 years what you'll be able to learn from an entire book of just the
front of a crowd at a Marilyn Manson show. You can see our fans. I did
it in Australia too, when they were waiting backstage or outside in the
alleyways. These beautiful, beautiful young girls gushing with love for
me. I put out my camera and they feed my camera with these incredible
reactions to whatever they think we are.