Photography News issue 24

16 Exhibition Interview Anton Corbijn As photographer and film-maker Anton Corbijn’s exhibition goes on tour, the legendary band photographer reveals the inspiration behind and the motivation for his long career In some ways Anton Corbijn is like a rock star: he’s been described as the fifth member of U2 and is credited with developing DepecheMode’s entire visual style, having directed their videos, shot their photography and designed their record sleeves for 30 years. I asked him if the famously long-term relationships he develops with his subjects makes him feel like a member of the band too. “Well, not financially!” he laughs. “But I guess there’s no need for any of these guys to keep coming back to me if they don’t want to. It’s flattering and touching and great to know that what I shot for them last time worked, and that they liked it. When I started in photography people were hesitant to like my images, especially in Holland. So when things that you never really felt were good enough suddenly find an audience, that’s a great feeling.” Corbijn’s modest, down-to-earth personality is extremely likeable. In fact one of the reasons so many big-name bands keep coming back to him is because they enjoy his company as well as his photography. Flick through the 352-page coffee table book that accompanies his exhibition and the anecdotes from the likes of Michael Stipe and Nick Cave describe just how much fun an Anton Corbijn photo shoot can be. “Look at some of the ridiculous outfits Anton has persuaded us to wear over the years!” writes Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore, himself pictured in awedding dress. “Believeme it look a lot of love and trust. He deserves it!” Smells like teen spirit Corbijn first picked up a camera in 1972. “I was young and a very shy guy. I’d moved to a new town and I didn’t know anyone at school,” he says. “There was this concert I wanted to go to, but I felt too shy to go. I thought that if I took my father’s camera then I could get to the front by the stage and be on my own. So I took a few pictures and sent them to a magazine, and they got published. That was the answer for me: how I could be connected to music, which was really my big love.” For the next 20 years Corbijn photographed musicians exclusively. “It was all I really picked up my camera for,” he says. “In later years I shot actors, directors and people like that too, but it’s always been people whose work I knew of. I think when you’re familiar with someone’s work you can get an idea of their state of mind.” The interpretation of music into visual themes is something at which Corbijn is highly skilled. He gives the impression this is an organic process that comes fromwithin. “We just try something… it’s a slow and gradual process,” he comments. “I’ve always tried to reflect in my pictures the music of the people I shoot. For instance in the 1970s when I was shooting Joy Division, I once asked three of them to walk away fromme while one looked back – that seemed to me to be the vibe of their music right there. “I think Bono once said that I photograph U2’s music rather than the band, which I take to be a compliment. I think he meant it positively.” Corbijn’s pictures have a very strong visual style, making theminstantlyrecognisable.He shoots onlyon film, specifically Kodak Tri-X, thousands of rolls of which he has stored in three fridges at home. Words by Ian Farrell

Photography News Issue 24

Bono once said that I photograph U2’s music rather than the band, which I take to be a compliment

Above Nirvana, Seattle, 1993. Right Nick Cave, London, 1988.

“I feel the way I work is adventurous: you meet someone, you photograph them and for a few days you don’t know if you’ve been successful or not. I’ve always found that to be an interesting stress – an adventure! And how did his style come about? “You don’t set out to make a style. You basically can’t do it any other way, because you’re not skilled enough to do it any other way. It’s basically your disability that becomes your style. That’s how it is with me: this is how I shoot, but it’s also because I can’t do it any other way. I guess I could learn to, but I don’t want to. So I make it work for myself.” Corbijn says he finds digital cameras irritating to use. “You see too well what you are doing. People shoot and they look at the back of the camera and see if the image needs to be more perfect and shoot again. Perfection is a killer in photography, and imperfection is totally underrated, just as sharpness is overrated. I like to keep that element in my work.”

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