New Project – 2022-08-26T113152.876

“This is an intriguing band, one that is far from the norm” – Sheffield photographer Duncan Stafford on touring with Fat White Family

Sheffield-based photographer Duncan Stafford speaks to Exposed about co-authoring Fat White Family: Pictures for Our Mothers, a new photobook documenting life on the road with one of Britain’s most notorious bands.

Interview: Joseph Food

How did you come to get involved with Fat White Family?
A moment of serendipity, I think. The first time I saw the band was at Leeds Festival in 2015. I’d never heard them before, but as soon as walked into the tent I knew, almost instantly, that they were what I’d been waiting for. At that point in time, I’d been doing loads of gigs, but barring maybe one or two bands, there wasn’t much out there that really floated my boat. Usually, you only get three songs in the pit, but I was overlooked by security and managed to shoot the entire set. I knew I wanted to work with them, and later I managed to get an interview at the Leadmill. That was my first face-to-face with them, which gave me a chance to pitch myself.

© Duncan Stafford Photography

How was it meeting the band for the first time?
I remember being really nervous. I badly wanted to work with them and thankfully we seemed to click well. Lias had moved to Sheffield by that point, so at the end of the interview he gave me his number and said we’d do something. I later asked if I could join them on the Songs for Our Mothers tour and that was my way in. I also joined them in New York, where I shot the Lady Gaga pictures that got some coverage.

What was it specifically that intrigued you from a professional perspective?
Most bands have one lead singer or frontman, one member of the band who stands out, but the Fat Whites had five. I didn’t know where to look, or who to take photographs of, as they’re all interesting characters in their own right. Their music instantly resonated with me, too.

“I didn’t know where to look, or who to take photographs of, as they’re all interesting characters in their own right.” © Duncan Stafford Photography

Can you sum up what it was like touring with the Fat Whites? I can imagine they kept you on your toes.
To sum it up, I’d say… unpredictable. There were days when I was greeted like a long-lost brother; others you’d turn up and there was an entirely different atmosphere – with not much going on in terms of banter, to put it mildly. I was serious about the project, so I had to maintain a level of professionalism but also try to develop relationships myself, which was difficult sometimes as you didn’t always know where you stood.

How do you build the trust to get the intimacy the shots required?
I think them knowing that you’re not a dickhead helps. I did go into it very professionally and made sure not to cross the line. I actually sent Lias a message the other day saying that I probably came off a bit standoffish, didn’t really let my hair down too much. A famous music photographer once told me, “Never make friends with a band.” I listened to that at the time, and I understand the reasons behind it, but I now wouldn’t advise that to anyone. I’d just say throw yourselves into it. If there are friendships to be made, make them.

“There were days when I was greeted like a long-lost brother; others you’d turn up and there was an entirely different atmosphere.” © Duncan Stafford Photography

I suppose the easy thing to do would be to wait until the band were wasted and fill a book with those types of shots, but the collection frequently shows a more tender, intimate side to the band. Were you conscious of trying to balance that scale?
I was certainly conscious of not doing anything that’d embarrass them – or me, for that matter. I wasn’t there to expose the frailties of human nature, you know? In terms of the tender moments, and despite all the arguments and fallouts along the way, there was a real sense of camaraderie amongst the band. These guys were brothers. Living together in squats, going through some tough living together, it’s going to do that to you.

© Duncan Stafford Photography

In terms of the editing process, how do you whittle down thousands of images to 40 or so?
There are two sides to it. Some do just jump out instantly, and you know they need to be included. But the next level is difficult, that’s when you’ve got 50 or so very good images that you have to get it down to 10. My co-author Andrew Zappin caught a lot of the road trip experience, whereas I dealt largely deal with backstage and onstage. There’s an element of capturing the pent-up tension of travelling and the consequent release of energy during the live shows.

“Despite all the arguments and fallouts along the way, there was a real sense of camaraderie amongst the band. These guys were brothers.” © Duncan Stafford Photography

In terms of the backstage shots, the Gaga picture featured in the book became a pretty iconic photo in Fat Whites folklore. Can you tell us the story behind that?
We had a WhatsApp group and on the day of a New York gig, Saul sent a message asking if Lady Gaga could have a plus-one. I think the answer was “f*ck off!” She had a small VIP section in Le Poisson Rouge for the show and came backstage afterwards. I was on the opposite side of the room when she came in and started talking to Saul, but there were so many people in between us. The room was packed. But then there was a moment that was just like the parting of the Red Sea; the room just completely cleared and I managed to get a few shots. It was a very surreal moment.

“There’s an element of capturing the pent-up tension of travelling and the consequent release of energy during the live shows.” © Duncan Stafford Photography

How has the journey been from that tour to getting Pictures for Our Mothers being published?
For six years Andrew and I have been working on this. There were points where I was worried that the project would just live on a hard drive. Then Lias released his book, Ten Thousand Apologies, earlier this year with Adele Stripe. Adele contacted us for some images and when we mentioned our project, she put us onto Michael Curran at Tangerine Press. It’s a one-man operation and Michael hand binds every special edition copy personally. He puts so much love and attention into what he produces, and it really adds something special to the final product. I think we’ve got a final selection that fans of the bands are going to love, something which allows them to get an insight into life behind the scenes; but I also hope that people who don’t know Fat White Family will be able to pick the book up and be struck by how this is an intriguing band, one that is far from the norm.

Fat White Family: Pictures for Our Mothers is available now from duncanstaffordphotography.com




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