The name Steve Double carries weight in the world of photography and music. If you Google him, you’ll either find awkward pictures of a Conservative British politician, or pictures of the countless celebrities he’s photographed – Eminem, Metallica, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Steven Gerrard, and so on.
Cairo Gossip sat down with the man himself at at a sunny coffee-shop near his family home in Maadi to chat (gossip) about photography, obnoxious celebrities, selfies, imaginary violence and Egypt.
Let’s start off with a fairly basic question – how did you get into photography?
I was always interested in it, from when I was like 7 or 8. My parents had a Kodak Instamatic; a little roll-fim camera. The pictures were taken to a chemist – it took a week and we could go pick them up. Always interested and curious, I joined the photography club in secondary school. So when I was 13, I started using an SLR, delivering and printing my own film in the dark room at school. I had an understanding of the process early – I was always good at science. I actually started a Physics degree at University in Sheffield.
Before that, though, I took a gap year and volunteered in a children’s home – at that point I was already thinking I didn’t want to do physics, but I was unsure of what else to do. I was always geared towards sciences – the British system streamlines you early. I mean, there was art, but I can’t draw at all. About six weeks into my degree, I had a lightbulb moment and decided I couldn’t carry on like this forever – I wanted to study photography.
Great – now let’s get into something a bit juicer! What’s the most difficult photoshoot you’ve ever been on?
Oh goodness me, let me think. Red Hot Chilli Peppers were never easy. They were always difficult with the British press. They were quite serious and they felt like people in Britain, especially the British press, took the piss out of them. But then they would come on stage wearing socks on places that weren’t their feet – if you know what I mean. They never forgave the British press and just had bad attitudes. I would always get good pictures from them but it was always like pulling teeth.
Who else was difficult? Ah well yeah, Nirvana were not easy. But it was just the whole circus surrounding them. At that point in time, Kurt was on heroin, Courtney Love was there and pregnant on the tour. It was the ‘In Utero tour’. It’s that famous picture of the three of them in Madrid, but it almost didn’t happen.
We were waiting around all day. Courtney would answer the phone and hang up and Kurt was on/coming off smack. I’d sit around and waiting and waiting and waiting, but it had all been arranged! Even their press officer couldn’t get a hold of them. I remember, it was just before sunset, Kurt could barely walk and he was shuffling along – no energy, dead.
Damn. Have you ever had a fight with an artist?
Not exactly a fight, but film director, Paul Thomas Anderson, (did Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia) walked out on me – after about 5 minutes he just got the hump and walked off swearing.
The Spice Girls were really bad as well. They were really horrible; they were fighting among themselves. It was at the end of their run and they were playing a mega-gig in an auditorium in Rome. I waited for six hours before they finally turned up and just stood still! So I asked them to move a little bit between each frame and then Posh Spice says, (in a high pitched voice) “We’re not models, you know.”
What was Eminem like?
When I did him, it was just before or as the first album was coming out. It was before he was a mega star, and he was quiet and cooperative – a nice bloke. He’s got a lot of anger and rage, but he’s very intelligent and very funny. I mean, he’s never going to be my best mate, and I don’t know if he remembers me, but he probably remembers the picture. It’s the one where he’s holding his eyes and, in most photos of Eminem you see, he’s pretty expressionless. Photographers don’t seem to get that extra something from him.
Well you did – so how do you think you get that extra something?
I don’t like to think of it as me taking their photograph. I like to see it as us making a photograph together. So I just try and watch what they do; something quirky, maybe something with their hands, and I try and use that as a starting point. I try to let things grow organically – which can be a little bit hard to do in the time given.
I once had ninety seconds to photograph Bill Gates – literally 90 seconds. One and a half minutes. He came in and I said, ‘Pleased to meet you Mr Gates’, I extended my hand and he did not. He just looked and me and did nothing. I ventured one conversational gambit during our time together and he didn’t take it. It was an experience.
Let’s get philosophical for a second. What is it about photography that appeals to you?
Well I can’t draw and I love taking pictures. I enjoy really looking at people *laughs* and I enjoy making things that are going to last. There’s something magical about capturing this moving, breathing, being spectrum of time into this flat, two-dimensional frozen moment. Something happens there. You can’t always put your finger on it. Something happens. It’s a mixture of technology and art – and I’m a geek at heart. My geek bone is well-developed.
One word - selfies.
Ah haha! Of course I take them – what can you do? There’s not much you can do with it; you’re one meter away and using an iPhone! I use the iPhone and a little app that just mimics the look of old Polaroids
Photographing people vs. still life?
When I was younger, I always used to say that I’d never photograph still life, but now I actually enjoy it occasionally. I wouldn’t want to do it all the time – I still prefer photographing people. I’m actually working on a personal project right now – photographing all the ghost cars around Maadi and Cairo.
Well my wife is half-Egyptian and when her father passed away she inherited a business so we moved back. I figured I could be backwards and forwards for work. We’ve been here for five years and I love Egypt; the people are nice and friendly, the place is beautiful, but for me the thing that really ruins it is the traffic.
Ok – battle of the (Steve Double photographed) bands. In a huge brawl, who do you think would win, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Metallica, Nirvana, Foo Fighters or the Wu Tang Clan?
Fisticuffs! I’ll start at the bottom – Nirvana would definitely lose. I mean, Dave (Grohl) might put up a good fight, but Kurt and Chris might drag the team down. The Wu Tang Clan – I mean, there are ten or eleven or twelve or however many, plus their hangers-on and mates, so they would have the advantage in terms of sheer numbers. They might come out on top – apart from the fact that James Hetfield would probably be packing a weapon. But so would some of the Wu as well, probably.