ART BLANCHE:  Cameron Wittig and Dark Bird Is Home

The Tallest Man on Earth’s newest album, Dark Bird Is Home, features a dramatic and striking cover that perfectly matches its title. What may be surprising is that behind that cover – metaphorically, not literally – is a friendship birthed from a chance meeting, some friendly conversation, and copious Wisconsin wedding whiskey.

Photographer Cameron Wittig met the aforementioned Tallest Man, Kristian Matsson, in 2014 at a fellow musician’s country wedding. Kristian had been recording nearby, and, as a part of the “pretty tightly knit” Midwest music community, everyone from his studio took a few days break to drive out to the wedding.

“By circumstance Kristian wound up at a wedding where he knew practically no one and I met him there,” said Cameron.

The two of them drank, talked some shop, and decided to keep in touch. So, when time came to develop a cover for Dark Bird Is Home, Kristian pegged Cameron to shoot it.

“Album covers are a perfect medium for photography,” explained Cameron. “The art of recording music is similar to recording images in so many ways. They are both records. They are both completely dependent on human interaction with technology. They often use the same language.”

“The cover idea was never really talked about in terms of what exactly it was going to be. It was more of a concept for the execution of an idea instead of defining what the physical composition should be.”

That meant that Cameron was given the freedom to shoot as he saw fit, with Kristian trusting of his ability to capture the Dark Bird.

Courtesy of Cameron Wittig.

“It was to be a photographic reinterpretation of stories that came out of discussions about the record and the recording process in Sweden. The figure of Dark Bird was born on a mountaintop near the town where Kristian lives. She may or may not be real. It doesn’t matter in the end, as she is more powerful as a specter, this beautiful figure of uncertainty and change.”

Primarily a portrait photographer, Cameron recruited the talents of a friend to be his model for the cover as they travelled around his neighborhood shooting on the steps of houses that felt just right.

“I asked her to stand on the steps of houses that I selected based on how they looked or felt. Nothing was planned ahead of time. We did maybe six or seven different houses in various ways. Some were fancy houses, some were not. A few were abandoned. But it was always this figure in an ambiguous stance. She looks like she could be returning; frozen in a moment of contemplation anticipating what might happen once she rings the bell. Or perhaps she’s leaving and taking one last look at what her life was before she leaves forever. I didn’t really decide what that was going to be.”

Some time after Kristain made his choice for the cover from the “exactly 47” options Cameron sent him, Cameron joined Kristian in Sweden to photograph him for some press photos.

Courtesy of Cameron Wittig.

“After the cover art was chosen, I flew to Sweden and met with Kristian in Stockholm where we spent a few days shooting the press photos. It was supremely casual… We would get breakfast at the hotel in the morning, step outside around 10 or 11 am, and just walk around and talk. Every now and then something would catch my eye and I would stop and say ‘Let’s do a few here.’”

Much like with the album cover, there was no plan for these photos, but rather a theme that helped guide them in their photographic adventures.

“One of the things I looked for were places that represented transition or movement from one place to another. So I was interested in bridges and stairways, doorways, etc. I wanted to go to T Centralen (a train station in Stockholm) because it was a place where people are constantly moving; arriving, departing, transitioning,” he explained.

Courtesy of Cameron Wittig.

“When we got there, I found an escalator where I could shoot directly from above. In order to get him to where I needed him, he had to go down to the platform level and take the escalator past me to the floor above while I photographed him as he went by. Then he had to take the stairs back down to the platform so I could shoot it again as he came back up. We did it maybe 10 times. There was a guy on the platform level waiting for a train who noticed as every two minutes Kristian came out of the same door and took the up escalator. He was completely confused as to what was going on. It was really funny.”

-Dylan Singleton