World Photography Day: 26 songs about photography

August 19, 2021  •  Leave a Comment



August 19th is World Photography Day. I started working on a blog idea two weeks ago and the past few days the pain has been so intense and I'd been waiting on results about a lump that I just couldn't concentrate. I wasn't in the mood to be listening to random songs I'd curated to see if I even liked them or not. So here it is late. Nothing quite like finding out it's THE day to make you finish something. I hope you enjoy it!

These are songs about photos, maybe they mention's all relevant.


Album: Destination Anywhere [1997]

"And I wish I was a camera sometimes, so I could take your picture with my mind. I'd put it in a frame for you to see, how beautiful you really are to me."

Ok this is a total sap fest but the sentiment is nice so I'm including it in my list. I'm sure many of us have had someone say something similar to us and if you're like me who doesn't know what a compliment is, has scoffed at it. I was telling a friend only yesterday how I've been so concerned about if I'm catfishing the world or not that I took one photo with the app I use and one normal photo and really the difference was subtle. But then I told her about me saying all of this to my psychologist who looks at the photo and says "This looks nothing like you!" so obviously my brain is all "OMG I WAS RIGHT! IM CATFISHING EVERYONE! I AM A LIAR!" and then she says "you're much prettier in person". Give me a break lady. 

NICKLEBACK - Look At This Photograph
Album: All The Right Reasons [2005]

"Look at this photograph. Every time I do, it makes me laugh. How did our eyes get so red and what the hell is on Joey's head?"

I feel dirty for including them but this song spawned the meme. It's the 2000's rickroll. However, he's reminiscing while flicking through a photo album and I'm going to harp on about the importance of photos, printing them and displaying them whether it's in a photo album or framed on your walls. The moment you lose a person you'll cherish the photos and regret all the ones you didn't take because they are all you have left. 

CAKE - Sick Of You
Album: Showroom Of Compassion [2011]

"Every camera, every phone, all the music that you own won't change the fact you're all alone"

Just sitting here feeling called out by a song while eating cake...

BLONDIE - Picture This
Album: Parallel Lines [1978]

"All I want is a photo in my wallet, a small remembrance of something more solid, all I want is a picture of you."

If you watch the video How Debbie Harry Owned Her Sexuality, producer Mike Chapman says "When Debbie showed me the lyrics, I thought, "Woah." This was something she'd obviously lived through. She was singing about an event in her life. I guess she was watching Chris [Stein] shower! I wouldn't have wanted to watch Chris shower, but obviously Debbie enjoyed it!

DAVID BOWIE  - Everyone Says Hi
Album: Heathen [2002]

"Should've took a picture, something I could keep. Buy a little frame, something cheap."

A song about wondering how an old acquaintance is and wishing they had a picture to remember them by. The song was written for his late father Haywood Stenton Jones. David explains "When my father died in 1969, I couldn’t actually believe that he was not going to come back again. I kind of thought that he’d just put his raincoat and his cap on, and that he’d be back in a few weeks or something. And I felt like that for years. It really took a long time for me to be able to take in the fact that I wouldn’t see him again. So this one was just a little simplistic reference to that, about how it always feels like somebody has gone on a holiday of some kind. And there’s something sad about ships as well. That’s why this person in this song doesn’t go on a plane. A ship took them away – I guess that’s the boat that took people over the river Styx, isn’t it?"

DEF LEPARD - Photograph
Album: Pyromania [1983]

"I see your face ever time I read, on every page, every magazine"

Lead singer Joe Elliott wrote this song about his big ol' crush on Marilyn Monroe.

Album: Voice Of America [1983]

"I got your picture close to me, I touch it when I'm scared at night. I want your picture to be the last thing I ever see in my life."

MADNESS - I Am Michael Caine
Album: Keep Moving [1984]

"And all I wanted was a word or photograph to keep at home and all I wanted was a word or photograph to keep."

Superficially you could listen to the chorus and assume it’s about wanting an autograph or photo with someone famous you met on the street but the song is much deeper. The song is about an informer during The Troubles – an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted about 30 years – and uses the film The Ipcress File, starring Michael Caine, as inspiration for the video clip. Michael Caine initially declined to be part of the song but eventually recorded his line “My name is Michael Caine’ that features frequently in the song.

INCUBUS - Monuments and Melodies
Album: Monuments and Melodies [2009]

"You make me happy, you magnify my better half. You make me certain, though all I have today is your photograph."

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS - Birdhouse In Your Soul
Album: Flood [1990]

"There's a picture opposite me, of my primitive ancestory, which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free. Though I respect that a lot, I'd be fired if that were my job."

This was one of those bands I discovered while in art school. Something happened when I turned 18, suddenly everything I owned was black and I loved anything peculiar that made no sense at all like David Lynch and peculiar 100% describes this song about a NIGHTLIGHT and the line above? He's singing about a photo of a Lighthouse.

Album: Goldfinger [1996]

u're not there." "So here I am and you're not. Here I am alone. All I want is a picture for me to look at and all I need, for me to look at you when yo

Album: Repeat Offender [1989]

"Tried to be what you wanted, I gave you all I had. You left me with nothing, nothing but a photograph."

PVRIS - White Noise
Album: White Noise [2014]

"Day by day, I'm slowly replaced in your picture frames. A brand new face on your pillowcase."

BLINK 182- The Rock Show
Album: Take Off Your Pants And Jacket [2001]

"Black and white picture of her on my wall, I waited for her call, she always kept me waiting."

This was around the time I decided Blink 182 went emo thanks to everyone's fav song Stay Together For The Kids and I couldn't deal and I don't think I've listened to a song of their since. On this album though I did like this one, First Date and Happy Holidays, You Bastard is a December playlist must have.

Album: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below [2003]

"Shake it like a polaroid picture"

The phrase seems to have no real connection to the song itself, which is about relationships but I can't even look at a polaroid now without this playing in my head. For anyone who has used an old polaroid camera before, shaking the photo helps spread the dye out to develop the picture. I even do it with insta photos out of habit and they don’t even need you to shake them. The video clip is iconic though with 8 Andre 3000’s performing to a lot of screaming girls. Either way, if I see a polaroid I instantly hear this song in my head.

THE CURE - Pictures Of You
Album: Disintegration [1990]

"I've been looking so long at these pictures of you that I almost believe that they're real"

According to interviews Robert Smith came up with this song after a fire broke loose in his home and when going through the remains he found his wallet with a photograph of his wife inside.

MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE - I'm Not Okay (I promise)
Album: Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge [2004]

"Forget about the dirty looks, the photographs your boyfriend took, you said you read me like a book but the pages are all torn and frayed"

Honestly, if you haven't heard this song I'm just going to assume you're lying or just landed on Earth.

J GEILS BAND - Centrefold
Album: Freeze Frame [1981]

"Years go by I'm lookin' through a girly magazine and there's my homeroom angel on the pages in-between"

These days you'd think a pop-punk had written a song about finding their high school crush inside a copy of Playboy. The 80's were a time.

LADY GAGA - Paparazzi
Album: The Fame [2008]

"I'm your biggest fan, I'll follow you until you love me, papa-paparazzi"

Lady Gaga describes the song as “It’s also about wooing the paparazzi to fall in love with me. It’s about the media whoring, if you will, watching ersatzes make fools of themselves to their station. It’s a love song for the cameras, but it’s also a love song about fame or love–can you have both, or can you only have one?

THE VAPORS - Turning Japanese
Album: New Clear Days [1980]

"I've got your picture of me and you. You wrote I love you, I love you too. I sit and stare at it, there's nothing else to do."

I miss the 80's. The music was so good! I actually have this song on vinyl somewhere but most of my vinyl collection is from the 80's so probably no real shock. The song is fairly self explanatory, he misses his girl and stares at photographs of her all day long. So much so he'd even look at x-rays. Weird flex, but ok. But for real, I have an x-ray of my breast on my phone for the next time some douchebag asks me for a nude, so who knows, it may get guys off. Songwriter David Fenton describes the song as "Turning Japanese is all the clichés about angst and youth and turning into something you didn't expect to."

30 SECONDS TO MARS - Was It A Dream?
Album: A Beautiful Lie [2005]

"Was it a dream? Is this the only evidence that proves it, a photograph of you and I?"

This is in the 'right in the feels' basket. I guess part of the joy of songs, much like art, is it can mean different things to different people. Studying Fine Arts was an eye opener to this - a drawing I did for class which meant literally nothing but my lecturer was seeing all this meaning behind it. We all interpret things differently. I see this song as being estranged from someone you once felt close too and the only evidence that something ever existed between you both is a photograph.

DEPECHE MODE - Photographic
Album: Speak & Spell [1981]

"I take pictures, photographic pictures, bright light, dark room."

DURAN DURAN - Girls On Film
Album: Duran Duran [1981]

It's actually funny reading the history of this song's video clip compared to the videos we see today. Girls On Film is about the exploitation of fashion models and the clip features girls in various outfits and nothing too outrageous but back in 1981 MTV refused to air the clip unless they removed the nudity and it was banned on BBC. Fast forward 40 years and now we have WAP but we haven't quite free'd the nipple yet. Click here for the uncensored clip

REM - Photograph (Featuring Natalie Merchant)
Album: Automatic For The People 25th Anniversary Edition

"I found this photograph underneath the broken picture glass, tender face of black and white. Beautiful, a haunting sight."

This song makes me think of urban exploring, if you look at photographs people take of abandoned homes it's always fascinating to see what people leave behind, including photographs. There's a lot of sellers that sell old photographs too. People collect them. I found some on sale a few years ago at the 3in1 markets and bought one I could use as a restoration sample.

This almost wasn’t a song. Michael Stipe had given up halfway through writing it when the band was invited to be part of the charity event Born To Choose and Buck suggested they give the song to someone they know to finish the song. That person was Natalie Merchant (former singer of 10,000 Maniacs) and they basically had the song finished and recorded in a day.

FILTER - Take A Picture
Album: Title Of Record [1999]

"Could you wanna take my picture? 'Cause I won't remember."

That line sits with me for a couple of reasons: firstly because so many see a camera and see it as an annoyance but photos help us remember times in life we might forget, but on the other hand they can be a reminder of how much you've blocked out from your life. For Filter singer Richard Patrick it's about being so intoxicated you don't remember a single thing you did the night before. He wouldn't have this problem anymore thanks to smartphone culture where even our lunch gets photographed. 

NINA HAGEN - Du Hast Den Farbilm Vergessen (You Forgot The Colour Film)
Single released: 1974

"You've forgotten the colour film, my michael! No one will believe us how beautiful is was here hahahahaha You've forgotten the colour film, by my soul! It's all blue and white and green but soon no longer true."

I discovered this song while compiling songs for this list and it cracks me up. The song is about Nina and her holiday with Michael. They've gone to some beautiful location and she's completely outraged that he didn't pack colour film. "Now I'm back at your and my home and choose the photos for our photo album, me in a bikini and me at the nudist beach, me in a flirty mini and there's landscape too but how gruesome, the tears are rolling hotly, landscape and Nina and everything black and white!" Pretty sure he's going to need a good divorce lawyer.


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