Piper Ferguson shares behind-the-scenes stories of some of her most iconic photos — including Winehouse, The Strokes and The Killers — in new book 'Indie, Seen'
Music photographer Piper Ferguson fell into her line of work somewhat by accident.
“I moved to LA to work in film,” Ferguson tells PEOPLE. Instead, she opened a rock club with a friend, and found her calling when the venue inadvertently became her personal “training ground” for music photography.
“There [were] so many bands and so many people needing photos,” Ferguson says. “I always had a camera, so people just started asking me to take pictures and offering me money, and it turned into a job.”
In her new book, Indie, Seen, out now from Weldon Owen, Ferguson shares some of her most iconic photos — and the stories behind them — from the indie music scene throughout the years. With a foreword from The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Ferguson creates a comprehensive guide of some of the genre’s most notable bands.
“I really want it to be a celebration of a lot of the bands that everybody loves, like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol,” she says. “But I also would love for people to check out a lot of the bands that maybe they're not as familiar with...I really wanted to embrace all of the scene.”
From photographing The Killers before they started playing stadium shows, to snapping an intimate onstage picture of Amy Winehouse at the height of her fame, Ferguson shares some of her stand-out photos and the stories behind them with PEOPLE.
"The hype around the band was so palpable and so intense,” says Ferguson, who was assigned by Rolling Stone to photograph New York's buzziest new group at the Troubadour in 2001. “As soon as I got them in the booth, they just started going for it.
"They were having such a moment because [The Clash's] Joe Strummer was there, [film director] Spike Jonze was there. I think that was one of the moments where they could feel what was about to happen for them. I mean, I guess it already was. They were already in their stride."
Ferguson recalls photographing Sleater-Kinney at Levi’s Fader Suite in 2005.
"That photo means so much to me," she says. "They were super chill. They were really into having a decent portrait. They wanted to make it good for me.”
"I had never heard a girl band like them before. I couldn't understand how [lead singer Corin Tucker] could sing like that. It was so incredible and so punk rock and so different and unique, and it just really made me want to be creative as a woman."
Carlos Denglar of Interpol
"My good friend Apollo Star, who worked the door at my club, had a studio and I shot everything there," Ferguson says. "He always used to have a lot of after-hours parties as well, after the club. Carlos [Denglar of Interpol] came to an after-party at the studio."
"Apollo had the rabbit, so that wasn't even at a shoot. It was at probably three o'clock in the morning. Carlos just picked up the bunny and was holding the bunny, and I happened to snap a photo of an after-hours moment."
TV on the Radio
“They came in with the paper plates,” Ferguson says of the band from Brooklyn, photographed here in 2003 for a Levi's photoshoot. “Because Levi's was giving away the jeans, and people would call them Free Vi’s. That’s why it says, on the paper plate, ‘There’s no such thing as free jeans.’ Because I think obviously somebody had to make them.”
"Nobody had really heard of them much," Ferguson says of one of The Killers' early performances, which took place in a retro bowling alley during the 2004 South By SouthWest music festival. "But when they played that show, it was awesome. They went for it. ... It was like they had been performing their entire lives."
“I just love that she had that sort of crown on her head,” Ferguson says of Harvey, whom she photographed for Mojo Magazine in 2009. “She hadn't been around in a long time, so everybody was real excited to see her perform. When I was photographing her, I just felt like she was giving herself to us for that moment, and that it was just like a gift.”
“He was such a hardcore punk rocker with such a political message,” Ferguson says of the Clash frontman, who died at age 50 in 2002. “But then when you met him in person, he was very delicate and very sweet. He'd just obviously been through and seen and experienced so much.”
Ferguson photographed Strummer at L.A.'s Chateau Marmont in 1999.
“It was such an important moment in my life to have the opportunity to go to this iconic hotel, to photograph this iconic artist. To be so warmly accepted and treated like an equal by him was wonderful. And that's how he was with everybody. I was shaking [while] holding the camera, and I was like, 'I'm sorry, Joe, I know you have to go.' And he's like, 'You can't rush art, baby.'"
Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth
“I love those photos of Kim so much because I had never personally seen a female badass bass player in a skirt,” Ferguson says of the Sonic Youth co-founder. “I mean, I had seen other female bands, but for some reason she just came out as almost like the front person.”
“Every time I've ever photographed him, he's just down to do whatever,” Ferguson says of the “Where It’s At” singer. “He wants to chat about everything.”
“I was like, ‘I want to do a picture of you just walking down the street, but it's raining.’ And so I just put the poncho on him and handed him the umbrella and just wanted a photo of him walking down the street in the rain in Los Angeles in Hollywood, because he's so quintessential L.A. kid, like L.A. cool kid. And he was just so down to do whatever I wanted, and that's how he's always been.”
Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“She always seemed really confident,” Ferguson says of the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, whom she photographed in 2009. She recalls hearing stories of O covering herself in olive oil before going on stage during the band’s early days in New York.
“I thought that was so incredible,” Ferguson says.
“Everybody wanted a piece of Amy that day because she was probably the most sought after performer at that Coachella in 2007 that everybody wanted to see,” Ferguson says of this photo of Winehouse from the festival.
“I'm glad that I got her putting on her shoe because it was just this insecure moment of indecisiveness, of shoes on, shoes off. She seemed so vulnerable at that moment and just unsure of how to really take it all in. And I think so many artists experience that, but maybe don't talk about it as much.”
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