If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then the photography featured in Nicholas Zinner’s I Hope You Are All Happy Now works as the quintessential memoir on fame, friends and worldly travel. Never a big fan of shoving book reviews down the throats of my friends, Zinner’s collection reads more like a portable art exhibit than a glossy novel on lessons in life. Compiled completely of snapshots taken over the course of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ rise to global celebrity, from 2002 to 2005, the book captures rock music from the inside and looks out in a startling essay on fame and fandom.
A self-proclaimed introvert, Zinner spends the last section of the book in conversation with Vice magazine editor Jesse Pearson, discussing both his fascination with photography and his use of the camera as a barrier and a unifier between him and the kids that come to his shows. The book itself is presented as a series of miniature photo projects whose subjects span from global cityscapes and aerial airplane views to backstage debauchery and onstage performance.
Perhaps the most notable of these essays is the long-running habit Zinner has made of photographing his audience from each of the stages his band plays. The images serve to not only catalogue the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ travels, but specific chance encounters that make up the concert experience. “All those crowd pictures are about places and events that could only have happened at that time with that collection of people,” says Zinner. Still, the photos also do an amazing job of re-examining the notion of gaze and performance by turning the lens, literally and figuratively, on the audience. When asked about these photos in particular, Zinner claims that they are the part of his collection that truly made him feel like a photographer, and not just some point-and-click-wielding rocker.
In actuality, the vast majority of Nick Zinner’s pieces come across as delightfully happenstance, yet thoughtful and realized when placed alongside one another. In a medium overwhelmed by expressionistic abstraction, Zinner’s photos present themselves as a breath of fresh, unstuffy air. Flipping through images of dinner table feasts, bruised and bleeding fans and crumpled hotel bedsheets, you begin to think less about the meaning and more about the lifestyle being portrayed. Empty airports evoke feelings of loneliness that resonate differently for everyone. Meanwhile, images of nameless couples photographed mid-makeout with titles like “House Party” and “Backstage Action” hint at chance meetings and occurrences that are all but inevitable in a life of whirlwind travel.
Startling in its seemingly accidental intimacy, I Hope You Are All Happy Now does a superb job of capturing music as it should be – a full-colored, multi-layered sensory experience. With a tongue-in-cheek introduction by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, a number of beautiful shots of the not-so-introverted Karen O and a thought-provoking spread on the slept-in hotel beds of the world, Zinner has successfully conquered yet another medium and proven yet again that rock ‘n’ roll isn’t dead, it’s just gotten a bit quieter.