June 13, 2018

The Story Behind Courtney Barnett’s Polaroid Album Cover

Article submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Maree Hamilton.

While Courtney Barnett was working on her new album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, she was also taking a series of self-portraits on instant film. The way she describes it, every day that she sat at her desk to write music she took a picture of herself. And it was one of those unstaged, unretouched images that would become the cover artwork for the album. As she told So Young: “I think it just had this really, I don’t know, this strong sense to it. I liked how it was awkwardly cropped and a little bit too close and not really what you would want for an album cover. There’s this kind of look in my eyes that, I don’t know, could kind of be interpreted in many ways. So I thought it was perfect for the album and the album title.”

About three months before the album was officially released, Barnett issued an open call on her website for people to tell her how they really, actually feel. Anyone. About anything. (In 250 characters, at least). The responses accumulated, but she waited to read them. Not many people knew it, but these missives would become part of a larger collaboration between her, a selected group of creatives and her fans to bring themes from the album to life.

And those selected creatives? They’re an impressive group of female photographers from a variety of disciplines: Caitlin McCann, Kholood Eid, Edie Sunday, Amy Lombard, Kisha Bari, Jessica Lehrman, KA•MA and Ebru Yildiz. As a commission to create new work, related to Barnett’s album and the themes therein, each received a Polaroid OneStep 2 camera and film. The resulting images run from stark and striking to soft and dreamlike. Some have been lifted so only the emulsion remains. Others take a more documentarian approach, and others still become a powerful commentary on how many people feel in the current climate. There’s a distinct current of emotional honesty that runs throughout the collection, as different as some of the images may be.

Polaroid Photo: Edie Sunday
Polaroid Photo: Edie Sunday

“Listening to this album as I shot, I felt like I found a space I wanted to stay inside of. The mood she created—I’m there. So many of us are there. Many of the photos were taken as I was swaying around to the songs. The light was dancing in my house and it seemed to be dancing at the same pace, and, at the end of the day, I wanted to show myself as a person. I wanted to be as honest as her songs were.” — Edie Sunday

Polaroid Photo: Kisha Bari
Polaroid Photo: Kisha Bari

“Working alongside some of this era’s most inspiring activists, I have seen the gamut of emotions. The work is difficult, physically and internally. This series of ten incredible women reveals a range of reactions when asked: Tell me how you really feel? From fierce, vengeful, saddened, thankful and hopeful. Each of these women is dedicated to an intersectional movement that fights for our civil rights, ending violence, immigrant rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQIA rights, reproductive rights, youth rights, gun reform and environmental justice daily.” — Kisha Bari

And for the culminating exhibition, when they were displayed alongside the selected quotes and voice messages collected during Barnett’s open call, the various aspects of the project coalesced. In addition to a celebration of what Barnett had brought together, the various elements became an immersive look at the way we express and experience emotions. Not to mention, it was a refreshing antidote to the online-only connections and relationships that often define modern artist/fan interactions. That’s how we really feel, at least.

Interested to find out more about Courtney’s project, or upcoming tour dates?

Visit ➜ https://courtneybarnett.com.au