In 2014, photographer Laura Lewis accompanied Gold Panda on a number of trips around Japan, visiting suburbs and residential areas away from prominent tourist sights. Lewis’ photography was employed as artwork for the electronic musician’s sublime record Good Luck and Do Your Best, and the images taken during their travels have since been turned into a photobook of the same name.
Gold Panda has always had the unique ability of transforming moments, colours and places into aural vignettes, whether a Sao Paolo taxi ride on Brazil, or a golden October dusk on Autumn Fall. Likewise, Good Luck and Do Your Best sees Lewis refine an approach to photography earlier employed on her outstanding People. Places. Things. collection. Instead of a voyeuristic ‘documentation’ of another culture, Lewis’ style encourages comparisons to Vertov’s kinoprava or Jean Rouch’s Cinema Vérité. That is, stills of mundane and everyday occurrences are not presented as objective 'reality’, but are reworked into enchanting tableaus which tell us less about Japanese culture than they do the universality of the human experience.
We were thrilled to chat with Laura, whose recommendation comes in the form of Joni Mitchell’s seminal record Blue.
When did you first listen to Blue?
I was 19, feeling sad, depressed, and going through a really bad patch when a friend first suggested I listened to 'Blue'. It was sold to me on the strength of the song 'River'. Which I listened to. And then again. And then repeatedly. It wasn't long before the whole album felt like my best friend, someone who identified with what I was going through, my thoughts and fears. The layers of Joni's songs were so rich that they kept peeling away and revealing more upon each listen. I still spot new things about it with every listen, and it's been part of my life for donkey's years!
Is there a specific aspect of Blue which stands out for you? I was immediately struck by Joni’s vocal range...
Joni's range is incredible, as is her amazingly articulate look on the human condition, relationships, love, fear, hate...you name it! Her musicianship is second to none - her instrumentation is perfect for each song, her backing vocals are intricate and so thoughtful. She can go from understated to almost operatic in a heartbeat. She successfully tackles a range of emotions from elation to immense sadness throughout the album both musically and thematically. The last chord played on the album (on 'The Last Time I Saw Richard') hangs so solemnly in the air it almost punches you in the gut. It haunts me every time I hear it. It's such a knowing punctuation to an album named 'Blue'.
Do you have a favourite song from the record?
It changes all the time! I've had many a joyful car journey singing along to 'Carey' with pals, a few cathartic tears to 'River' over the years, and I think some friends and I even tried to sing 'This Flight Tonight' at karaoke once. We learned quickly that it's Joni and only Joni who can do her songs justice! Oh, and try saying 'Canada' without a massive operatic crescendo in your voice after listening to 'Case of You' a few times. It's catchy stuff.
To me your photography seems very personal, both with regard to subject matter and style, whilst also encapsulating the universality of humanity (People. Places. Things. comes to mind). Likewise in Blue, Joni’s sorrow is both singular and relatable. Does this dichotomy appeal to you, both in Blue and your own work?
Absolutely. To be a photographer one needs to be an observer, and Joni is an incredibly talented and articulate observer of the human condition. I love the line 'part of you pours out of me in these lines from time to time' in 'Case of You' - I feel like it's her nod to people from her past and their influence, be it bad or good - acknowledging we all learn from the people we're close to, that our creativity can come from places we didn't even know we had places. Finding out what makes people tick is one of the most interesting parts of photography for me. I enjoy the beauty of what naturally 'is' - people's natural quirks, movements, the way they hold themself or an expression unique to them. Humans and humanity are fascinating to me. I'd hazard a guess that they are to Joni Mitchell, too!
As a photographer, what are your thoughts on the artwork?
Well it's the colour blue, so it does exactly what it says on the tin! Perhaps in more ways than one. It was art directed by Gary Burden, who's worked with a whole tonne of people like Neil Young, Laura Nyro, Stephen Stills, The Mamas and the Papas, and The Doors to name but a few over the years. Joni painted a lot of her album covers, and the 'Blue' cover almost feels like a painting, too. It is, in fact, a black and white photograph taken by Tim Considine printed in blue. Joni looks melancholic and beautiful all in one go. It's a simple yet powerful image. A collaborator and friend of mine, Natalie Sharp, actually painted her face to replicate 'Blue' for Record Store Day and it was amazing!
Blue delicately balances romanticism and idealism with a more cynical outlook on life and love. Is there anything you could recommend as an antithesis to Blue?
Oh gosh, where to start?! I co-run a club night named 'SKIRT' with a friend and our mission is to always play fun music to dance to. Whilst I'd love to drop 'California' by Joni Mitchell in the middle of our set, it's much more likely to be Tupac and Dre's ode to the Golden State!