How important is a musician to PJ Harvey

"I heard that 20 years ago you could pay with bullets to go to the cinema." This obscure information is indicative of the things that one hears in the heated mood of war. They are also the first words PJ Harvey (or Polly, as I call them) utters in "PJ Harvey - A Dog Called Money". I first heard of it when I was a photojournalist on my first trip to Afghanistan during a terrible civil war in 1994. I must have told Polly about it when we were in Kabul together in 2012. Now when I hear Polly reading this line, after all these years it is as if an old story, a myth comes back to life.

It was one of many entries Polly wrote in her notebook during our trip. Her notes consisted of quotes, scribbles, and immediate impressions, as well as instructions to herself on how to sing the songs she put on paper along the way.

Letting Polly read from her notebook became a central theme of the film. In this way I was able to link disparate elements of the project with one another. We traveled to three different, very individual locations for the film to record the stories there. The notes eventually became the songs for her album, which she recorded in the basement of Somerset House in London. The recording itself was a five-week art installation to which the public was invited to watch the process of creating the album through mirrored windows. The origin of the songs and the development they take is the movie's story arc.

Polly and I wanted our joint project to consist of a book with her poems and my photographs as well as an album by her and a film by me. We wanted to go to places that interested us, that were important to us. We wanted to have a common experience, but work individually. Because writing and turning are very different practices.

I had reported on the war in Kosovo in the late 1990s and came back in 2004. Polly had already written a few texts based on my photographs. The invitation to visit Kosovo came as a surprise: The Dokufest, a lively film festival in Prizren - a large city in the south of Kosovo - invited us to present my twelve short films for “Let England Shake”. After the festival we spent a few days traveling around. In the population we felt dissatisfaction with the present and anger with the past.

As the end of our trip, we decided to go to Washington DC, the center of Western power. A city where essential decisions are made about the fate of countries around the world. But it was also important to us - as in Kosovo and Afghanistan - how Washington treats its own people. In the south-eastern part of the city there are places with serious social problems. In 2014 we went to Anacostia, a few metro stops away from the White House and Capitol Hill. We walked the streets and met people playing cards on a porch. A young woman named Paunie, full of self-confidence and charisma, seemed to be the natural leader of the troop. These people and their situation in life found their way into some songs. I got to know Paunie and her clique better on further visits to DC. During this time America also elected a new president.

The Somerset House recording studio where Polly's album was recorded was built as a room within a larger room - with mirrored glass that allows the audience to watch and listen to the album being made without disturbing the musicians. Everyone in the studio wore microphones on their necks so the audience could hear every word, joke, and sound. I filmed everything. To get the natural, intimate material I wanted, I had to exclude myself from the process, ideally becoming invisible to the musicians. I asked her to forget about me and the camera. They were allowed to walk through the camera or stand in front of the camera and shouldn't feel like they were spoiling the shot - because all of that was part of it.