Photographer Shane McCauley is zipping through the streets of Brooklyn in his slick, baby blue Hyundai Accent, checking the next address of the shoot he’s scouting on his iPhone. “This is it,” he says, pulling the car over, throwing it in park, killing the ignition, grabbing his camera and heading out the door in one quick motion.
He blows into a dive bar called the Wreck Room, and he likes what he sees. He’s shooting a band for Inked magazine, and is looking for a place that has “a CBGBs feel.” He talks to the bar manager. Calls his art director. Sends a few texts. Snaps a few test shots. Back to the car. More bars to scout, he’s out the door as quickly as he came in. Constant motion. Go. Go. Go.
McCauley just spent the last few years taking tons of gorgeous photos of friend/DJ/producer and Philadelphian-at-heart Diplo in 32 countries around the world. They are collected in a book, 128 Beats Per Minute: Diplo’s Visual Guide to Music, Culture, and Everything in Between. The book is, in Diplo’s words, “a living document of parts of my life, job, and travels, as seen through Shane’s eyes.”
McCauley’s been moving at 128 beats per minute since it came out last month.He just got back from shooting Coachella for SPIN. He shot the head of the German bank for the cover of Newsweek. He’s working on a Puma campaign. He’s got an agent now.
We spent a day with McCauley and watched him do his thing. While he snapped, texted and scouted, we got in some questions about the book, Diplo and hop-scotching across the globe.
How did you first meet Diplo?
I met him shooting a story for Fader magazine in 2003. I have friends at Fader and they approached me about shooting a story on the Philadelphia scene, and I was like, “Yeah, I mean, there’s a couple of things going on, there’s R5 Productions, a few good parties.” So they came down, I took them to the Hollertronix party, which was held in the basement of this Ukranian club, and they thought it was really cool. I took some portraits of Diplo then, and I did one or two more stories on him after that. But then I moved to L.A. and lost touch with him for a little bit. But in 2008, I was back in New York City, and Sean Agnew [of R5 Productions] asked me, “Hey [Mad Decent’s] looking for a photographer to shoot a block party—do you want to do it?” I did, but I was, at that point, trying to get out of music photography. I was kind of seeing a decline in the industry and the budgets and everything. But I shot this block party for them. They really liked what I did and asked if I’d go on tour with them, and I was like, “Sure.” So I got on a plane and that worked out well. And they were just like, “Why don’t we keep doing this?” And so I have, for three years now ...
Do you have any favorite shots in the book that stand out to you?
Whenever I look through it … I have attachments to certain images due to situations you were in personally. I really love the one of [Diplo] and Lykke Li. That’s the one that seems to be pretty popular with a lot of people. There’s a classic quality to it. Then there’s the cover shot. There’s a lot of landscape. I love the Tel Aviv beach scenes. A lot of the portraits from Russia, I’m really into. You can’t go wrong in Russia. I mean, it’s sort of a running joke that, you know, all the beautiful girls come from Russia, but it’s really true. Every person in Russia is sort of a stunning model. It’s kind of sickening, really.
You’ve traveled all over the world: What insight into different cultures have you picked up along the way?
People function really differently. It’s kind of one of the great things about traveling: You get to see people from all over the world, how they live. You get to the Mediterranean, people just like to hang out. In Spain, for instance, you get up at like 10, go to work at 11, take a break around 2, go nap for three hours, and go back to work again. Some places have some cultural themes. I’d say the U.K. and Jamaica definitely share a lot of enthusiasm about music. Certain places have a rich music culture. Japan, for instance.
The book is broken up into different chapters that represent different parts of the world: Jamaica, Mexico, Brazil, Europe. But only one city in the book gets its own chapter: Philadelphia. Tell me about your relationship with the city.
I grew up in Lancaster, and I got into punk rock when I was around 14. I’d go see local bands and stuff. I started going to punk shows at a church out in West Philly at 48th and Baltimore. I went to Philadelphia all the time to watch the shows. I met Wes [Diplo] when I was living in Philly. I still feel like Philadelphia is home to me. Some of my best friends still live in Philadelphia, and I feel like some day I’ll come back and buy a house in Philadelphia. I still feel like it’s my home. It’s more my home than anywhere else.
All the time you’ve spent around Diplo, have you ever gotten a chance to see his crystal ball? He seems to have an uncanny ability to see into the future, and know what’s going to blow next.
He definitely has the golden touch. He just sees talent and just knows what to do. He’s also a workaholic. He doesn’t stop. I’m documenting him all the time, but there’s almost no point in documenting him because he’s always doing one of two things: He’s either on his laptop or on his Blackberry. It’s not interesting photographically after a while. He goes up on stage, and then he’s back on his laptop again. There’s no stopping the man. It’s insane. But he does have foresight. He’s not just pulling this out of nowhere. He does have intelligent thoughts about this stuff; he plans it.
Speaking of planning: The timing of this book release is pretty brilliant. Electronic music has never been bigger, and Diplo is at the forefront of that culture. Is that just a happy accident, that you’ve been taking these photos for three years and now, voilá, there’s a giant market of people interested in what Diplo does?
Yes. We thought the right time to release it was going to be about 15 to 20 years from now. We didn’t think it was going to be now, or that this culture would take off like it did. A couple years ago, DJs—they were nobodies. Nobody knew who they were. Then, like, 18 months later, they’re headlining giant clubs in New York City. And now, it doesn’t take that long anymore. It happens overnight now. That’s kind of the interesting thing about the modern-day world and how fast this book came around. We had no intention of releasing this book for another 15 years, but we were approached by the publisher and we were like, “Oh yeah, we’ve been working on this, what do we do with it now?” We just kind of lucked out.
128 Beats Per Minute is out now.
Time for a big Bang breakthrough?