See a Unique Polaroid Portfolio of the Decemberists

Rock photographer Autumn de Wilde was joking when she first offered to take a couple thousand Polaroid shots of her friends in folk-rock band the Decemberists. They called her bluff, and months later she’d amassed over 2,500 single- and double-exposed photos of five band members, taken during recording sessions for their rootsy new album The King Is Dead (out today) and around their hometown haunts in Portland, Oregon. All of the pictures were taken on Polaroid Type 100 peel-apart film provided by the Impossible Project, a group of former Polaroid employees who banded together in 2008 to rescue the beloved instant cameras from total obsolescence. (Deluxe editions of The King Is Dead come with a book of over 250 of the photographs; those who buy an even more deluxe set — of which there are just 2,500 available — also get one of the original Polaroids, along with other extras.) After the jump, Vulture premieres a trailer for the boxed set, a montage of de Wilde’s pictures accompanying the band’s new song, “Down by the Water.” Then click through the slideshow, where de Wilde gives the background and inspiration for nine of these unique and dramatic photos.

“I had 2,500 Polaroids, and every time I did a double exposure my assistant reprimanded me that I could’ve had two photos instead of one. … I feel like Nate has a certain Grapes of Wrath–type of look to him, you know? He’s very Steinbeck-looking. One of the beautiful things about the Polaroid film is certain things blend into the highlights and certain things stand out. The contrast is not where you’d expect it to be. Highlights aren’t in the traditional places. Sometimes Nate’s eyes would just disappear, in a way, because his eyes are so blue. And it added to this ghostlike look — he was really the king of the ghost images in this series.”
“I asked him to sing a song and lean back because I loved the way that looked. … He’s singing [“Rise to Me,” from The King is Dead]. The first time I heard that song, I cried. I was in the studio when they were recording and they were playing a couple mixes for the first time, and I started crying and Colin looked over and started laughing — he was like, “Autumn!” and I was like, “I’m sorry, it’s so beautiful!” I think that line, “I am gonna stand my ground” — the way that he sings it just feels like an argument with a lover, with a child, with a friend. I don’t want to foolishly interpret the song, but I think it’s a moment that’s very familiar to all of us, when we have to, like, work it out with someone.”
“I spent a separate day with each one of them and Colin picked one of the places he loves, the St. John’s bridge in Portland, so we took a walk across it. And the star — the gold star — I discovered turned black … when it was facing away from a reflection, so I was really into that. That was a prop he carried with him across the bridge. I took a few of these.”
“We did a lot of photos in the parking lot [at Mt. Hood]. It was an old Masonic flag and it had really strong yellow embroidery lettering on it and it disappeared into the navy blue. With the color palette of the film, those turn into a similar gray. … Chris has an amazing collection of Masonic flags, so he brought that. He has such cool stuff in his house so I was like, “Just bring some props.” … He loves this one, too. There’s something about him looking at Mt. Hood and the way the trees show up in the film and the snow starts to disappear and the sky’s this pinky-brown — it’s one of my favorite photos.”
“Chris Funk picked Mt. Hood, which was so cool because I’m obsessed with The Shining … Some of my favorite photos were taken there because the landscape just looked amazing with the chocolate Polaroid. I was trying to think of something else to do because there were like 1,015 photos left to take. And it was Carson’s idea — I had told her to bring chalk, that she could draw something on the ground, and she was like, ‘Why don’t I draw in your shadow?’ So I stayed still long enough for her to do the lettering. … I think it was like five minutes. And I love the way her hands look all covered in chalk. It was really cold and the sun was really bright and the wind was whipping around. It was a beautiful day.”
“Up [near Mt. Hood] it’s really protected — we see houses all over everything, power lines, so it’s really striking how bare it is. On the other side of it there’s a ski lift, you know, and the hotel and stuff. I really love this one, too. Chris is just playing banjo and Carson’s just hanging out playing with another of the Masonic flags that he bought. It may not have been a Masonic flag, actually — it had a hand-embroidered on it, with, like, a heart and a palm.”
“There was a trunk full of costumes at Pendarvis Farm [where the band recorded The King Is Dead] that were just there for parties or whatever, so Jenny got into the trunk. I’d taken so many photos by this time I was starting to get, like, “I don’t know what to do anymore,” so I said, “Just go put a costume on, we need to mix things up.” So she came back with this amazing outfit. The wand was some kind of — it had just been cut from the farm, I think. Just like a dried flower that was lying on the ground that she picked up. Sherry Pendarvis designed floats so she had a lot of dead flowers around that had been discarded from her float-making.”
“A double-exposure where I was just hoping that I would get her hands to match up. … It really reminded me of those old spirit photos, where, early after the invention of the camera, there were people trying to capture a ghost in an image, or they’d really believed they had captured a ghost in the image. And it also reminded me of [how] painters started using [photos] when they couldn’t afford models all the time. So if they had a model they’d pose them in all these poses with silly props and just the bare bones of what they’d need to make the painting. … When you find these photos, it’s kind of like [this one], where there’s one random prop and there’s sort of a background but it’s not as thought-out as the painting would eventually be. So there’s a silliness, there’s something sort of fun about it.”
“We did a series of him facing different ways, almost like a president’s coin, and that’s one of my favorite ones because he looks like he’s mourning a lost love. … This was a really powerful experience because instead of spending one day or two days shooting a band for their press photos, which we also did, I got to spend the full day with each one of them, or two or three days, following them and them showing me their favorite parts of Portland or Oregon or whatever, and their imaginations are so rich and varied. And I think also reflected in this group of photos is that they’re not just this band that plays dress-up and plays characters — they also sing about heartbreak and love and there’s a darkness that’s a really important part of what they do, which I think is such a beautiful opposite to their silly side.”
See a Unique Polaroid Portfolio of the Decemberists