Colin Lane's best photograph: the cover of the Strokes' Is This It

‘The day the album came out, there’s a photo of me grinning in front of a rack of them in Virgin Records. I think my ex-girlfriend was pleased too. I’ve never revealed her identity’

It was late 1999 or 2000. I had spent the day on a fashion shoot, and my apartment was littered with clothes and props. My girlfriend jumped out of the shower while I was messing around with a Big Shot Polaroid, a clunky, plastic box camera that I found in my parents’ attic. She was pretty beat, but I had 10 Polaroids that needed using, I had found this amazing Chanel glove and so she agreed to pose.

Shooting on a Big Shot isn’t easy: you can only shoot from a specific distance, and it’s really designed for head-and-shoulders portraits. But when she slid the glove on and bent forward, I knew it was the perfect shot – simple, straightforward, graphic and just so sexy. When I developed it, I stuck it in my portfolio and thought nothing more of it.

On 16 January 2001, I met the Strokes. It was my first commission for the Face. I’d heard snippets of their early music but I was more excited about the commission than I was about meeting them.

They came to my New York apartment and Fabrizio, the drummer, said it was the first time they’d ever shot more than a roll of film. They hadn’t been signed at that point, all they had was an EP that was doing the rounds in London.

After the shoot, I asked if they wanted to go and sneak up on to the roof of the Essex House hotel on Central Park South. I don’t know how many times I had crept up there in the past – it was my favourite thing to do with people in the city. The moment we reached the roof, we got busted. An employee was on his cigarette break and told us we weren’t allowed to be up there. It was just so embarrassing. I was terrified the band would think I was a huge asshole, but when I mentioned that there was another roof nearby they were still on board.

We climbed 55 storeys up to a roof near Grand Central Terminal that looks out over the whole of downtown New York and the Empire State Building. We shot an amazing series just as the sun was setting over the city, and I think that experience was why they kept in touch when they signed to RCA later that year.

A few weeks later, they invited me to hang out and shoot a few shots around the city. We piled into an old Winnebago, and their art director called to hassle them about choosing an album cover. They were flying out to Australia the following day, and the deadline was approaching. Luckily, I’d brought my portfolio with me, and they asked if they could flick through. When they asked if they could use the ass shot, I couldn’t believe it.

I remember the first day Is This It was out, I went into Virgin Records in Times Square and they had a full rack of them. There’s a photo somewhere of me standing in front of it, grinning. It was crazy to think this shot had ended up on one of the most seminal albums of the noughties. I think my ex was pleased too. I’ve never revealed her identity. I’ve always felt that was her decision.

I stayed with the band long after Is This It blew up. I was never their official photographer, but from 2001 to 2006, I toured with them, we’d meet up in New York, and I even shot lead singer Julian Casablancas’s wedding. After 2006, tensions built up and things unravelled for them. It’s a shame, because they were incredible: even when they were on top of the world, they never became jerks. To the end, they always were welcoming, intelligent and humble young guys who deserved their success.

For me, it was the beginning of my career. I went on to shoot the Kings of Leon, Beck, Ryan Adams, and tons of other bands, but nothing has ever compared to the Strokes.

That scene’s dead now. Which isn’t to say there isn’t great music being produced today, but it was a moment. For the first 10 years of the millennium, that scene ruled, and I’ll never stop feeling lucky for having been a small part of it.

Colin Lane’s CV

Colin Lane, photographer
Colin Lane, photographer Photograph: –

Born: New York City, 1966.

Studied: “Film production at the University of Texas, but I really learned from assisting Bruce Wolf and Enrique Badulescu.”

Influences: “William Klein, Andy Warhol, Helen Levitt, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola.”

High point: “Travelling the world.”

Low point: “The death of Polaroid.”

Top tip: “Never turn down a job, you never know where it’ll lead you.”

Contributor

Interview by Edward Siddons

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Kurt Cobain with dolls' heads: Mark Seliger’s best photograph
‘Things were going pretty darn well for him. Six months later, I was shocked to learn he had passed’

Interview by Edward Siddons

04, Jun, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Sade electrifies a New York party: Maripol's best photograph
‘The singer came to my loft for a party. She was quite a presence. I gave her those earrings. People always thought I was a stylist – but I was just stylish’

Interview by Dale Berning Sawa

17, Dec, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Lynn Goldsmith's best photograph: the Patti Smith Easter sessions
‘When she started putting her poetry to rock’n’roll, Patti Smith was electric. So I always chose colours – yellow, red, blue – that punctuated that aspect of her’

Interview by Dale Berning Sawa

12, Dec, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Joseph Cultice’s best photograph: Marilyn Manson with prosthetic breasts
‘I wanted to make Manson look beautiful. But people found this image haunting and grotesque’

Interview by Henry Yates

16, Sep, 2020 @3:29 PM

Article image
The Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet: Michael Joseph's best photograph
‘When I told the caretaker of the house the Stones were a bit wild, he asked if there would be any naked ladies – because they charged £10 extra for that’

Interview by Henry Yates

17, Oct, 2019 @5:01 AM

Article image
Iggy Pop ascends to greatness: Tom Copi’s best photograph
‘Iggy dived off the stage into the crowd, where he was lifted up by fans and stood above them in triumph. Someone handed him a jar of peanut butter and he smeared it on his chest’

Interview by Daniel Dylan Wray

02, Jun, 2021 @1:56 PM

Article image
Metallica out on the 'ego ramp': Ross Halfin's best photograph
‘Their drummer Lars Ulrich called me up and I kept avoiding him – I thought he looked like an idiot. But I shot them in 1984 and have worked with them ever since’

Interview by Michael Hann

12, Mar, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Prince on the cover of Parade: Jeff Katz's best photograph
‘I took this on the Cote d’Azur where he was filming Under the Cherry Moon surrounded by megastars. He put some music on and said he was good to go. I didn’t have time to be nervous’

Interview by Edward Siddons

24, Jun, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
Chris Floyd's best photograph: the Verve meet Dorothy, the Tin Man and Scarecrow
‘I was following the band round Vegas for a week and we ended up in this tacky casino with a Land of Oz in its foyer. Richard’s not afraid to ham things up’

Interview by Dale Berning Sawa

31, Jan, 2018 @1:59 PM

Article image
Danny Fields' best photograph: the Ramones prowl round the US supreme court
‘Hey, it’s Washington! Let’s run around!’

Interview by Michael Hann

19, Apr, 2018 @5:00 AM