Wednesday 17 June 2009

Wired: Tim & Barry Interview

Tim & Barry, the established kings of underground photography, are starting to make waves in the digital world. After a decade documenting subjects ranging from the grime scene to high-end fashion, the pair are turning their attention to online films designed to rival the slicker videos of the music industry.

"We had talked about moving image for a while, but as a small company we didn’t have the resources really to do it," says Barry. "Then, with the advent of YouTube, we thought let's just start. Growing up on programmes like The Word, Dance Energy and Rapido that were exciting and had live music, we were really bored with the same old MTV mimed videos. They never really seemed to capture the energy and passion which real musicians have.’’

The pair's own online TV channel, Tim & Barry TV, is a mime-free zone, featuring only live recordings of singers, bands and MCs.

Their newest project takes them even further into the online music community. is a collection of video streams created by some of the people they have photographed over the past decade.

"Many of our friends and contemporaries have been playing about with moving image, so when we started telling people that we were going to set up our own website and stream video ourselves, they said, well I am working on this at the moment and would really like to put it on your site," Tim says. "So now Jean Charles de Castelbajac has a weekly channel (JCDCTV) so does Ben Drury (The Silent Listener), Tim Westwood, SB.TV, Palace Wayward Boys Club (PWBC) JME and Tempa T (Par TV) and of course Tim & Barry TV.

"The idea is to have a new video which goes up every day," he continues. "There will be blogs, forums and photos also, so it’s hopefully going to be a nice little creative community that has absolutely nothing to do with MySpace, YouTube or Facebook.''

Tim & Barry met at college in 1997, became friends and started helping out photographers. They found they worked well together, and when Tim was commissioned by i-D magazine to photograph UK garage act Wookie, he invited Barry along to do the shoot with him. Gradually, other artists from the scene began to get in touch when they needed press shots or album artwork, and they began to build up a portfolio. Examples of their portraits range from M.I.A sitting on a washing machine in a launderette to Slew Dem crew "spitting bars" at a Paris fashion show after-party.

Their work – and the positive reaction to it – has taken them in some unexpected directions. They ended up working with the French fashion designer Jean Charles de Castelbajac after a chance conversation unearthed a connection between him and an artist they were photographing.

"We contacted him and told him about how the scene wore his clothes," Barry says. "He knew a few of the grime artists and was really excited. He invited us to his retrospective exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum, where he gave us a guided tour of the show and invited us to Paris for his next fashion show. We took photos backstage at his show and then went back to his studio and showed him our portfolio. He loved our photos and said that he really wanted to work with us. A couple of months later he called us up and said that he wanted to commission us to photograph his archive for his first major retrospective in Paris and six months later we had three photographs, 11 meters high, hung outside the Musée Galliera. You could see then from the top of the Eiffel Tower with the naked eye.’’

It was at about this point that they started to move beyond photographs and experiment with video, initially as a way of getting around commissioning editors.

"So often in the past we would pitch musicians to magazine and they would say, ‘Errrrrr, sounds interesting,’ but then wouldn’t commission us," Tim explains. "Then a year or two later they would come back saying, ‘Oh you remember you said about such and such, well we are ready to do them now’. The YouTube channel gave us the platform to work with who we wanted, when we wanted.''

Now, their channel has attracted 2.8 million hits, including several thousand for their latest surprise hit, which takes on the economic policies of Gordon Brown and Barack Obama.

With such a varied body of work, they hesitate to settle on their favorite medium. They like the directness of online video and being able to see people commenting on it and post it on blogs, they say, but eventually they return to their photographic roots.

"There is nothing like looking at a photograph you just took and thinking that is the one," Barry says. "With moving image, it’s not that immediate response. You have to capture the footage, edit it, output it, and then you can see the results. The satisfaction you get when you post a video and it suddenly takes off, people commenting on it and posting it on blogs, it’s really satisfying in a direct way.''

A version of this also appeared over at HERE