We’re excited to be celebrating one of our favourite creatives and humans – photographer and documentarian, Jamie Wdziekonski (Sub-lation) – as he looks towards his first solo exhibition opening this Friday night (May 5) at NGBE Gallery in Naarm/Melbourne.
Jamie is also releasing a photo-book, For The Record: 2013 – 2023, which highlights Jamie’s photos that feature on albums from bands including, Amyl and the Sniffers, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Kikagaku Moyo, Parsnip, Tropical Fuck Storm, Traffik Island, Zelkova and many more. Pre-orders for the book quickly sold out online, so the only way you’ll be able to get one is heading along to the exhibition. Don’t miss out, you’ve been warned. We love you Jamie!
After doing what you do for over a decade, why is now the time to finally have your first solo photography exhibition along with accompanying book, For The Record: 2013-2023?
JAMIE WDZIEKONSKI: There was a rush to do it. I got told that the building (53 Lygon Street, East Brunswick) that I have a studio in was being sold; the whole block is going. We have a gallery downstairs that we can use for free (they don’t take commission) and I thought I may as well have a show.
I’ve framed up these Traffik Island offcuts from tests we were doing for the Shrug Of The Shoulders album cover we did at a photo booth; they’ll be at the show. Things basically started with me framing them up. I was going to put those online to sell, but thought they’d look nice in a show.
I’ve always wanted to do a big Sub-lation ten years of photography book. I knew I couldn’t afford to make something that big, so I decided to make a condensed version. I was thinking back to the Traffik Island frames and because they were taken for a record cover, I got the idea to put images in a book that were used in album artwork.
I had thought that when I got back from the Kikagaku Moyo world tour in December, I would start planning it. It’s borderline killed me to get everything together so quickly [laughs], but I’m still here!
Yes, you’ve done it! Yay you!
Wasn’t Kikagaku Moyo the first album art your photos were featured on?
JW: The first one was The Murlocs’ Loopholes, which was a poster insert with the record, and there was also a lyric booklet with the CD version. There was an image in the gatefold and the front cover of the lyric booklet.
Nice! There’s 58 records featured in the exhibition and book?
JW: Yeah, that I know of [laughs]. I may have forgotten some! I was trying to keep it under 100 pages but then there were just so many releases so it’s now over 300 pages!
Wow! Do you remember how you felt the first time your photos were featured on a release?
JW: It felt really nice.
The Murlocs’ Loopholes came out in around 2014, right?
JW: Yeah, I think. Let me check the book index… [Picks up a proof of the book and flicks through it].
Is that the finished book? Exciting!
JW: Yeah. Each release has a title page and I’ve written what was happening back then and details of labels and when we took the photo.
Have you got notes you’ve written from over the years? Was it easy to get all the info together?
JW: I’m so bad! I call myself a documenter, but haven’t done that properly [laughs].
Same! It’s only recently I’ve started labelling all my interview files properly with date/time/notes etc.
JW: I pulled out my old iPhone and looked back at texts or Facebook messages. Finding a gig is easy, you can type in something like ‘Amyl and the Sniffers, America, 2021’ and you should find information. But, shoot dates for when it was just me and Amyl at Merri Creek; what was that?
The metadata on the files fucked me up because it shows the date something was edited, not taken.
The text bit of the book is what has killed me, the detail that went into the text was definitely an undertaking!
Congrats on all of the hard work! It looks amazing!
JW: Thank you! I’m happy with it. Ben Jones designed the book cover for me.
It’s very cool. Let’s talk about some of the images featured in For The Record. What can you tell us about the shoot for The True Story of Bananagun? That cover is so beautiful.
JW: Nick from Bananagun found the location, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Naarm/Melbourne.
We went out there one day with the intention of shooting without booking a boat and found out you have to book. The guy operating the boats said we could sit in the boat while it’s docked for a couple of photos that we used for press photos, but we had the intention we’d go back for a proper shoot.
We rang them up one day and said we wanted to book one of the gondolas and the guy there goes, “It’s not a gondola it’s a punta.” [Laughs]. You can hire them for an hour and they take you around the lake. The guy that was steering the gondola was picking all of the nice spots to show us. It was one of the easiest shoots because everything was so beautiful and you couldn’t really take a bad photo.
I especially love the photo on the back cover where it’s a bit of a longer distance shot of the band on the boat and there’s like reeds in the foreground.
JW: I took that photo when I first got there. We were going to meet at Fed Square but they all went ahead because I was late. They were already on the boat when I got there and I took that photo as I joined the group. All the colours came up so nice.
Totally! What are some other shoots that you have vivid memories of?
JW: The Amyl and the Sniffers’ Big Attraction & Giddy Up split EP has a photo of Amy in red. It was from my first night watching Amyl & the Sniffers. I had heard their name around and had checked out their ‘70s Street Munchies’ clip on YouTube and thought they looked really cool and that Amy looked really interesting.
They were opening for The Murlocs with Parsnip at Howler. I didn’t meet them until after they played. I didn’t know what to expect – at that point I had never seen a punk band. Amy came out on stage and she was darting back and forth across it, jumping off the foldback speakers. It was the most energetic thing that I had shot at that point. I had only been shooting psychedelic bands, even though everyone is moving they’re still kind of stationery in their spot, this was the first time I’d shot someone that wasn’t—Amy was upside down and everywhere!
I have fond memories of that night. I love Amy, Amy and I are close. I love the Sniffers too. I really connected with them, they were so genuine. It was the biggest show that they had played at that point. They were all wide-eyed and like, ‘You get chips backstage! That’s crazy!’
Amy is totally lovely! I spied the comment she left on your post about your exhibition and book. She said: “You change lives” – and that you’ve changed hers.
JW: That was so sweet. It’s a mutual feeling, they’re changed my life as much as she reckons I’ve changed hers. There’s a mutual uplifting to both of our creative outlets – I love their music and they love my photos and they gel well together.
I know that a lot of people’s introduction to many of the bands you shoot is via the compelling and genuine images you’ve captured.
JW: Amyl and the Sniffers are really fun to shoot!
Your images are really important in raising the visibility and profile of the artists you shoot.
JW: That was the idea and intention behind photographing music. I always wanted to just promote the music that I like and hope that other people will like it too. I never did it because I wanted my work to be in Rolling Stone or something [laughs].
I know that Traffik Island’s album A Shrug Of The Shoulders was a big one for you, as you did the entire layout as well as shooting the photos.
JW: From concept to doing the shoot to layout, even suggesting track listing, which was cool. I’m probably the most proud of that one and the Leah Senior cover for The Passing Scene. They were the albums whose art was my concept. For them to put that trust in me means so much, I really wanted to deliver something cool for them. I think both covers really suits the mood of the album.
Is there specific things you take into consideration when working on a cover project?
JW: Other than those two, most of the other times my photos were used for album covers were photos that I took not knowing they would be used as artwork for a cover; they were live or press shots that were used later.
Are you ever surprised at the photo/s that end up being used?
JW: Yeah. There’s some where I would have chosen different images, but that’s just down to personal taste.
In a way, this exhibition I’m having is curated by everyone – all of the bands that chose those images for their artwork.
That’s really cool to think of it in that way and it’s very much in the spirit of something really important to you—community. I remember you telling me about the studio space you work from in Lygon Street being a real creative community hub.
JW: I don’t love too much attention personally, I much prefer the attention to be on the bands.
Same! That’s how we are with Gimmie too—it’s all about the bands, not us.
JW: [Laughs] Yeah, you know what I mean! It’s weird people asking me for radio interviews and stuff; I feel out of place. It’s nice they care about what I’m doing though.
What you do is totally art, Jamie! You’re an artist in your own right… even though you’re uncomfortable with that…
JW: [Laughs] I feel like if I call myself an artist though I have to deliver.
I was working out that in the last decade your photos have been featured on around ten releases per year.
In 2021, I think there were around 13 releases with your photos. That’s a lot! Very cool. On the opening night of your solo show there’s two bands/artists that you’ve shot photos for their releases that will be launched – Howard Eynon and Zelkova.
JW: I shot a single cover especially for Zelkova, which was cool. It went so well.
Yeah, you showed me the mock up that you’d made in preparation for the shoot and because it was outside I was crossing my fingers all day for you that it wouldn’t rain.
JW: It was a really fun day! There’s a lamp post beside the bridge and it lights it all up at night. They brought screwdrivers with them and unscrewed the little plate in the lamp and under it was the power supply, so we hooked up an extension lead and they played live, which was so cool. It was just me, the band, and the guitarist’s girlfriend that was helping out. I thought to myself, ‘Fuck, I wish more people were here to see this, it’s amazing!’ The sound was reverberating around the bridge. We shot it out in Riddells Creek a couple of weekends ago.
It was the quickest turnaround for me in terms of coming up with a concept, shooting it and designing the artwork for it to be in the book. We shot it on the weekend, I developed the film on Sunday, got it back Monday evening, and had to design the cover Monday evening to be able to put it into my book and submit to the printers in the morning. It was tough but we got there!
Howard is putting out a single, which is really cool. It’s his first official release since his 1974 album.
That’s amazing you were able to inspire him to do that!
JW: I called him and I was like, ‘Howard, I really want you in this show, so I think you’ll have to put out one of your songs in the next two months’ [laughs]. I told him, ‘It’s 2023 – 23 is your favourite number – it’s your year to do it!’ He told me he thought I was right and that he’d really love to.
So good! Howard is so lovely. Thank you for introducing us, it’s always inspiring chatting with him.
JW: Yeah, I’m really stoked that’s happening.
Is there any other albums we can find your work on that you’d like to share a little about?
JW: The Traffik Island one [A Shrug Of The Shoulders] was very involved. We were up at Howard’s place in Tumbi Umbi and it was the last time we’d be going there because Howard sold that property and moved down to Bruny Island. We were having a send off party, there was a stage outside and all the locals they go swimming with, their doctors, dentist and everyone came out for the house show.
Howard was throwing out a bunch of stuff like books, lamps and trinkets; there was a book, Photobooth: The Art of the Automatic Portrait. I ended up keeping it. I loved flicking through it.
Before we went up to Howard’s Zak [Olsen] had asked if I could take a photo for his new album cover. We couldn’t really come up with a concept though and we thought we might just take a photo out in nature. We thought to shoot Zak from a distance and that I’d shoot the trees. I don’t think we even got to try though.
I saw the photobooth book and thought of the idea of shooting the title of the album spelt out in the photobooth. Zak and I still shared a studio at that point so when we got back from Howard’s we knuckled down into planning it out. We went down to the photobooth to measure it out. I stuck up giant post-it notes against the wall of the booth and drew out lines with numbers and shot the test shot so I could see where the frame fits. Luckily the letters needed to be on an A2 size. I brought a bunch of A2 sheets and painted the letters in the studio for ages. We winged it, one night we went down to the booth and it took us three to four hours and put $200 – $300 in gold coins through the photobooth. A few people came up to us thinking we were tagging the photobooth. People were telling us that its heritage listed. Then I took the photobooth strips home and had to scan them into the computer before I could start making the cover. It was really fun! I was so stoked I could do it for Zak because I love his music. He’s probably one of my favourite song writers.
It was really nice too because I had known those songs as demos for so long. He sent me a few tracks years ago. Sharing a studio I’d asked him, ‘Whatever happened to those songs? Why aren’t they on a record?’ It prompted him to think about other demos he had and he decided to make an album.
It’s so cool that you can inspire those whose work inspires you!
JW: I’ve been lucky in picking bands before they take off. Even for me now, it’s quite difficult to shoot a bigger band. I can see why some people that are starting to take photos now would struggle. If you’re starting out now and try to go on tour with Amyl and the Sniffers, it’s difficult. If you pick bands that aren’t popular and that are looking for photographers then you have to put in the yards and fund yourself. Pick bands that you think are going to pop off and that you have a good feeling about and follow them and see what happens.
I’ve only ever really shot bands that I believe in. I don’t want to be a photographer that gets hired to shoot Pitchfork Festival or Coachella. I’d hate to have a list of bands to shoot that I don’t know or like, it would be terrible. I do get to see a lot of cool things and go to really nice places that I probably would have never been to on my own accord. Getting to do that with friends is really nice; it’s so nice getting to know each other and know personalities.
Aside from actually taking photos I think a big, important part of your job is your relationships with people.
JW: Yeah, you have to have a good relationship with a band in order to be in so many situations that others wouldn’t normally be privy too. A greenroom can be such a sacred space for a band, to have unfamiliar photographer in there with you you’re not going to get the best photographs because the band might not be comfortable around you, there could be a barrier. You have to get to know people and you let your guards down and get to know each other—that can really get some nice photos together.
You can tell that, especially from a lot of the Amyl and the Sniffers photos you’ve taken.
JW: I’m lucky that we came together early, and asked if we could go to Adelaide together, which was our first time travelling together. One thing I really remember about them is, how many questions they asked me in the van on the way to Adelaide. They were actually interested in trying to get to know me. Often you’re in a van with a band, and not to say people aren’t interested in you, but with Amyl and the Sniffers they really wanted to get to know me. I was like, ‘Are these guys Suss on me?’ [laughs] ‘Why are they asking me so many questions?’ I’m not that much of a talkative person at best!
I love when people want to really engage and they care about getting to know you and it’s not just about what you can do for them. With Gimmie we never want things to be all business, the humanness is very important.
JW: Yeah, when they’re interested in you and care about what you’re doing. They respond to what you say and don’t go, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, cool.’ They actually ask you questions!
Totally! I hate when people pretend to be your friend just so they can use you to do something for them.
JW: Absolutely. You can generally smell that from a mile away [laughs].
Yep. These days I can usually spot someone like that before they even open their mouth.
JW: [Laughs] I’d believe that.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
JW: Thank you for writing the foreword for the book.
It’s my pleasure and it was also a privilege. We’ve been a big fan of your work before we even knew you and we became friends. Your images are incredible and important AND besides that you’re one of the loveliest, genuine people we know. When you find incredible people like yourself in life, it’s important to keep them close and look after them. We love you!
JW: Hell yeah. Love you guys too!
Check out more of Jamie’s work HERE and @sub_lation. More info about For The Record: 2013 – 2023.
FYI, an in-depth interview with Jamie appears in our print issue Gimmie #2.