The Strokes’ photographer Colin Lane on how ‘Is This It’’s iconic cover nearly never happened
We’re celebrating the record that changed everything, as it turns the big 2-0.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of The Strokes’ seminal ‘Is This It’, and to celebrate we’re dedicating the day to Julian, Nick, Nikolai, Albert and Fab’s debut masterpiece.
Don’t forget to tune in to DIY’s Youtube channel at 5pm to watch the premiere of our ‘Is This It’ covers album, as reimagined by Black Honey, Demob Happy, FEET, Yard Act and loads more.
And now, we’ll hand over to photographer Colin Lane, who shot the record’s iconic cover photo, to tell you how it all went down (and very nearly didn’t…).
Colin Lane: “I shot the image before I even met The Strokes, I didn’t even know who they were. It was of my girlfriend at the time; I’d done a fashion shoot for The Independent, and the stylist had left all these clothes at my apartment to be picked up, and I saw these black Chanel leather gloves. We hadn’t used them for our shoot, I thought they were sexy, and my girlfriend was getting out of the shower so I got her to put them on and take some pictures. I shot literally one pack of Polaroid, which is 10 pictures, and we got that image. I wasn’t thinking it would be an album cover at all.
When I first shot The Strokes, it was January 16th 2001. They came over to my apartment, we did the black and white headshots that are in the ‘Is This It’ CD fold out and then we snuck up on the roof of a skyscraper - I think that’s probably why they picked me to do all the press shots, because we’d had a little illegal adventure, and they kind of liked that.
I didn’t even really care about shooting The Strokes, I was just excited to be shooting for The Face for the first time because that was like the bible of pop culture. But then I went to go see them play at the Mercury Lounge on the last show of their residency and I’d printed up some of the pictures we’d done that day; a few weeks later I got the call to do the press shoot for the album, they were looking through my portfolio, and the ass shot was in there.
They were leaving the next day for one of their first big tours in England and Australia, they hadn’t picked a cover and the art department was freaking out because they knew when they went on tour they wouldn’t get any work done. Julian saw the ass shot and asked to use it. Everyone was so happy, but the story goes - and I’ve never confirmed this with Julian - that they were in Australia and Julian found the picture from the North American cover and he liked it more than the ass shot. He wanted that for the whole world, but luckily for me it was already at the printing presses and it wouldn’t have been economically feasible to dump them and start off. The rumour is that it was too risqué [so they used an alternate version], but actually if Julian had found that picture a day or two earlier, I might not have had the cover.
“It’s simple, it’s graphic and it’s sexy. It’s a great cover.”
— Colin Lane
“As soon as I heard ‘The Modern Age EP’ that was floating around I was like, ‘Holy shit - these guys are amazing’. And then when I saw them at Mercury Lounge, I remember Julian being like, ‘You didn’t think we were gonna be any good, did you?’. But I knew right away that they were heading for big things. It was obvious with the confidence they had from Day One: they knew they were going to the big leagues.
I remember walking into Virgin Records in Times Square when the album came out, and my cover was on a big display. There were big billboards all around London with the ass on, too.
I think the image is simple, it’s graphic and it’s sexy. I don’t know what else to say. It’s a great cover. It was taken with a weird camera called a Big Shot, which they only made for three years in the ‘70s. It only takes Polaroid film, and it’s just a direct flash, and you can only shoot from one distance before it gets out of focus. Andy Warhol loved this camera, and a lot of the four image silk screens of his started out as a Big Shot Polaroid.
I was with them through the first two albums up to when they were in the studio for ‘First Impressions of Earth’ in 2006 when they were starting to have internal problems, and I left the scene. But I shot the first two albums, and I went on tour with them in 2002 when they were headlining Reading and Leeds, and I just became the guy they trusted to be in the studio with them. It was my introduction to the rock’n’roll lifestyle - being on stage and hearing the crowd going berserk was so exciting. At the time they were the biggest shows they’d ever done so I was excited, they were excited, everyone was excited. And the music was so good, every song was a winner. ‘Is This It’ is just one of those rare, rare albums.”
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