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Editorial Review

‘Destroyed,’ a photo exhibit by Moby the musician, captures solitude of the road

By Maura Judkis
Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011

When insomnia seizes Moby at 3 a.m. in any of the all-too-similar hotels he calls home while on tour, he will stare out the window at the city lights that burn all night long and contemplate something terrifying.

"There's something fascinating about how when people go to sleep in cities, they leave the lights on," says the electronic musician and six-time Grammy nominee. "I'm staring at empty cities, knowing that everyone's asleep, but potentially believing that everyone has been taken up in the Rapture and I'm the only person left on Earth. It's like apocalyptic solipsism."

As Moby contemplated the end of humanity one night from a Chicago hotel, he snapped a photo. When the same scenario presented itself in Berlin, he shot some more - and soon amassed a portfolio of tour photos that document the loneliness and idolatry of a musician's life on the road through images of hotels, airports and screaming crowds. He showed the images to some artist friends, and when they praised the work he decided to create a photography book and show. "Destroyed," presented by Irvine Contemporary, will be on view at the Montserrat House, the final stop for the show's international tour, through Saturday.

Although he's been taking pictures since age 10 - inspired by an uncle who worked as a New York Times photographer and who passed along hand-me-down equipment - Moby (born Richard Melville Hall) never set out to become a visual artist.

"It's taken me 36 years to feel comfortable putting pictures out into the world," he says. Thanks to innovation in digital photography, "there's this whole world of people who are dilettante photographers but take good photos." Moby says he is hesitant to call himself a photographer; nonetheless, he cites Wolfgang Tillmans and Edward Steichen as influences.

"When I was growing up, we were very poor, and an ex-boyfriend of my mother's had given her a Steichen book," he said. "It was the only art book I'd ever seen. I memorized it."

The name of the show comes from a photograph Moby took in La Guardia Airport. He saw an electronic sign in an empty hallway that read "Unattended luggage will be destroyed," but the sign was only big enough to display one line of text at a time. The word "destroyed" is contradictory to the stark, clean hallway - one of the many contrasts Moby's photos revel in. Throughout the show, photos of lonely hallways and uniform hotel beds are juxtaposed with stage-view photos of screaming fans, which look the same whether they're in Brussels or Brisbane. The solitude is just as interchangeable.

The photos are as much a documentation of Moby's journey as an examination of non-places, the term French anthropologist Marc Auge coined to describe places of transience that look the same no matter where they are. Every hotel suite is familiar and alien at the same time.

Although the exhibit and Moby's most recent album share a title, they have little in common, he said.

"The methodology, the way in which the work is created, are so different," he said. "I work on a piece of music for months and months, and taking a picture is taking this quick, spontaneous action. That's why I love photography - because the approach is so different [from] music."

Still, both were created in the same environment: Moby mixed the music for "Destroyed" the album in the same hotel rooms that he bleakly photographed.

"I'm not going to complain about touring, because playing music in front of people is great, but it's a strange way to live," he said. "It's kind of like being a traveling salesman in a Samuel Beckett play, but every now and then you end up onstage in front of 30,000 people."