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11 Great Songs About Photography (includes link to playlist!)

11-great-songs-about-photography

As a symbol of memory, art, time and technology, the theme of photography has inspired musicians for decades. Need some photography-based tunes to listen to? Here are 11 great songs about photography – or at least, that feature photographic themes.

11-great-songs-about-photography

1. Kodachrome – Paul Simon

As the lead single from Paul Simon’s third studio album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973), Kodachrome is titled after Kodak’s 35mm film format introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935.

Referring to the characteristics of the Kodak film and its effect on visual culture, Simon sings “they give us those nice bright colors, they give us the greens of summers.”

Interestingly, although the album version of Kodachrome states that “…everything looks worse in black and white,” Simon later went on to perform the song live with the lyrics “…everything looks better in black and white“.

In an interview with Daniel Levitin for Grammy Magazine in 1997, Simon stated, “I can’t remember which way I originally wrote it, better or worse, but I always change it.”

2. Picture This – Blondie

“All I want is a photo in my wallet, a small remembrance of something more solid…”

Blondie’s Picture This touches on the driving force behind a considerable amount of photography – the desire to preserve memory.

Blondie’s first two albums were hits in many parts of the world. However, they still hadn’t garnered much attention in America.

As the band’s first overseas single in 1978, Picture This became Blondie’s breakthrough track in the U.S.

3. This is not a Photograph – Mission of Burma

11 Great Songs About Photography (includes link to playlist!)

Short and to the point, This is Not a Photograph by Mission of Burma is probably a reference to La Trahison des Images (The Treachery of Images) by surrealist René Magritte.

Magritte’s painting, which pairs the image of a pipe with the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (this is not a pipe) illustrates the duality of the artistically-rendered subject matter.

In addition, the artwork speaks to the intention and power of the artist.

As the lyrics declare, Mission of Burma’s This is not a Photograph is clearly not a photograph, but it maintains photographic qualities in that it is a marker of a specific moment in time.

4. Camera – R.E.M

Pioneers of alternative rock, R.E.M. is known for hits including Losing My Religion, Everybody Hurts, Man on the Moon and The One I Love.

But before their breakthrough stardom, songs like Camera established the distinctive lyrics and jangly riffs that would mark R.E.M.’s influential approach to music.

Featured on the 1984 album Reckoning, Camera was written about the death of photographer friend Carol Levy.

The lyrics “will you be remembered? Will she be remembered?” Refers to memory, and perhaps the power of the camera to still time.

R.E.M. also has a track titled Photograph – a collaboration with Natalie Merchant.

The little gem speculates on the story of a photograph found “In stacks between the old joist walls/In a place where time is lost“.

5. Swap Meet – Nirvana

11 Great Songs About Photography (includes link to playlist!)

Forming in 1987, American grunge band Nirvana rose to fame with the success of Smells Like Teen Spirit, About a Girl and Come as You Are.  

Featured on their 1989 album Bleach, Swap Meet paints a moody picture of a couple that “make a living off of arts and crafts“.

The song’s chorus illustrates the entanglement of keeping cigarettes (addiction), photographs (memory) and bitterness close to the heart.

6. Distant Camera – Neil Young

Released in 2000, Silver & Gold is the 23rd studio album by Neil Young.

For a Reprise Records promotional piece, Young wrote a comment about each song on the album.

For Distant Camera, Young wrote “there was one thing I let go on this album. It’s on this song and it still bothers me. There was a misplaced beat and nobody liked it but me and I wanted to leave it in because that’s just the way it had happened originally. But I took it out and to this day, whenever I hear this song I think about that kick drum. And I probably always will. That’s just the way my mind works.”

Despite Young’s dissatisfaction, Distant Camera is a touching song about love, change, memory and time.

7. Kamera – Wilco

11-great-songs-about-photography

Featured on the 2001 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Kamera is a song by Chicago-based band Wilco.

In the lyrics, the subject of the song appears to view the camera as a tool to remind them of “which lies I have been hiding, which echoes belong“.

The camera is presented as a revealer of truths, a property that has been explored extensively over the history of photography.

8. Seventeen – Ladytron

Seventeen features on Ladytron’s 2002 album Light & Magic.

The song itself is made up of a single verse repeated throughout the song;

“They only want you when you’re seventeen/ when you’re 21, you’re no fun/ they take a Polaroid and let you go/ say they’ll let you know, so come on”.

Paired with a robotic musical score and voice modulators, Seventeen could well be about the exploitative, youth-obsessed culture of the entertainment and fashion business.

“They take a Polaroid and let you go” indicates the process undertaken by industry selectors, but it could also refer to a part of a person’s psyche being robbed by the industry itself.

9. Paparazzi – Lady Gaga

11 Great Songs About Photography (includes link to playlist!)

In 2008 Lady Gaga dropped her debut studio album The Fame.

Released as the album’s fifth and final single, Paparazzi reached top-ten in music charts across the globe.

On the song, Lady Gaga has said “…there are a few different interpretations…It’s a love song for the cameras, but it’s also a love song about fame or love — can you have both, or can you only have one?”

Paparazzi alludes to the camera as a tool that drives the trajectory of fame.

10. Itchin’ on a Photograph – Grouplove

American alternative rock band Grouplove, formed in 2009 and released their debut album Never Trust a Happy Song in September 2011.

As the third single off the album, Itchin’ on a Photograph reached number 43 on Australian national radio station Triple J’s Hottest 100.

The song also reached number 10 in 2012 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs and number 30 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs.

Itchin’ on a Photograph delves into the emotional and physical experience of dwelling on the past.

Building on a central theme of memory, the photograph itself represents a source of discomfort, but also a stepping stone from which the subject alights.

11. Taro – alt-J

11-great-songs-about-photography

Taro is written by English indie rock band alt-J and features on the 2012 album An Awesome Wave.

The song is about war photojournalist couple Robert Capa and Gerda Taro.

In 1934 Endre Erno Friedman met Gerda Pohorylle, a German Jewish refugee. In Paris, the pair invented the name and image of Robert Capa.

For a while, Friedman and Pohorylle both published their photographic work under the Robert Capa name.

Pohorylle then took the name Gerda Taro, becoming successful in her own right while Friedman retained the Capa identity.

Sadly, both Taro and Capa died during conflict.

In 1937 Taro was killed covering the Republican army retreat at the Battle of Brunete. In 1954, Capa died when he stepped on a land mine in Thai Binh in Indochina.

Alt-j’s song Taro describes the lives of the two pioneering photographers and their reunification in the afterlife.

Conclusion

Photography and music are similar in many ways. Perhaps that’s why the meeting of photographic themes and music creates such compelling listening.

If you’d like to treat your ears to these songs about photography and many more, you can check out my Photography Songs Spotify playlist here.

And if I’ve missed your favorite photography-based song, share it in the comments!

Happy listening!

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Megan Kennedy
Megan Kennedy

is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. A lifelong fascination with flight has inspired her photographic practice in documenting the intricate form of aircraft. Megan is also interested in travel photography and documenting human interaction with the modern landscape, through both intentional and incidental intervention. She is well versed in both digital and film practice. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications.