The Photo Book

Indie rock's favorite shooter reports on six years with Death Cab for Cutie.

In early 2004, still mourning the death of her close friend and subject Elliott Smith, lauded indie-rock photographer Autumn de Wilde—who had also worked with Beck, Pavement, Rilo Kiley, and many others—put the brakes on her photography career and took a full-time job with a wedding invitation company. And then she had a “lightning bolt” moment with Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie, a band she really hadn’t paid much attention to.

“My boyfriend was playing that song, ‘Steadier Footing’ [ironically, from 2001’s The Photo Album], and I was, like, ‘I love this song! That sounds like the guy from that Postal Service song I like,'” de Wilde laughs over the phone from her Los Angeles home. “I started looking for photos, and I was, like, ‘Oh, this is interesting, there’s only these couple photos of these guys out there’ . . . I thought it would be really interesting to document a band where it wasn’t a big drama surrounding them. I thought about the scope of what I’d already been documenting, and I thought it would be interesting to document a band that just tours incessantly and they’re like brothers. It didn’t appear from what I’d heard about them that they were self-destructing in any way.”

She e-mailed the band’s management to ask if she could intermittently follow the foursome for a long-term project. Six years and numerous tours and recording sessions later, de Wilde has published Death Cab for Cutie (Dec. 1, Chronicle Books)—her third book of photos, following ones devoted to Smith and the White Stripes—which candidly captures the band onstage, backstage, in the studio, and in some of their quieter, more intimate moments.

Playful frames sit alongside intense ones, and through her masterful control of light and composition, de Wilde artfully depicts a band that takes the creation of its music very seriously, but themselves, not so much.

“There’s no big visual presentation with them,” she says. “There’s nothing to really go on except the personality of these individual people. But I wasn’t really hunting down the ‘toothbrushing moment’ unless it had a certain magic panache to it. I was hunting down that lightning bolt I felt, and trying to find it in all these different places to save it, to encapsulate it.

The Photo Book