Today, I wanted to pick a Dutch Photographer – not only because I myself am Dutch and will be embarking on a photographic project that will encompass a certain ‘Dutchness’ – but also because I received one of his photo books for my birthday last year. It was about time I read up on him. Luckily, since the great man is still alive, there is a lot of information to find on him. Should you want to see more, or read his blog, you can find it here. Alternatively, read up on current news via Facebook (not run, but endorsed by Corbijn). Apart from being an internationally successful photographer, Corbijn is also well known as a video and music video director with 15 videos and 77 music video’s to his name – but here we will keep to the photography side of his work.
Anton Corbijn was born on the 20th of May 1955 as Anton Johannes Gerrit Corbijn van Willenswaard in Strijen, the Netherlands, where his father had been appointed as parson to the Dutch Reformed Church the previous year. His Father would take up the same position in Hoogland (1966) and Groningen (Diakonessenhuis, 1972)moving his wife and four children with him.His mother was a nurse and was raised in a parson’s family. Photographer and director Maarten Corbijn (Strijen, 1960) is a younger brother.
Corbijn started his career in photography because of music and an urge to get closer to the stage. When the family moved to another town when he was 17 there was a concert by the local band, Solution. “I desperately wanted to see it, but didn’t have anyone to go with, so I took along my father’s camera to give me some sort of excuse for being there. I took a few pictures and sent them to a newspaper, which published them straight away.”
Ever since then, Corbijn has photographed Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Tom Waits, Prāta Vētra, David Bowie, Peter Hammill, Miles Davis, Björk, Captain Beefheart, Kim Wilde, Robert De Niro, Stephen Hawking, Elvis Costello, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Morrissey, Simple Minds, Clint Eastwood, The Cramps, Roxette and Herbert Grönemeyer, amongst others. Perhaps his most famous, and longest standing, association is with U2, having taken pictures of the band on their first US tour, as well as taking pictures for their Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby albums (et al) and directing a number of accompanying videos.
From the late 70s the London based NME, (New Musical Express), a weekly music paper, featured his work on a regular basis and would often feature a photograph of his as the front page. One such an occasion was a portrait of David Bowie back stage in New York at his play The Elephant Man in nothing more than a loin cloth. In the early years of London based The Face, a glossy monthly post-punk life style / music magazine, Corbijn was a regular contributor. Whilst he built up his reputation by only shooting Black and White images, in May 1989 he began taking pictures in colour using filters: his first try was done for Siouxsie Sioux. Corbijn has photographed album covers for U2, working with sleeve designer Steve Averill and Peter Hammill, Depeche Mode, The Creatures (the second band of Siouxsie Sioux), Nick Cave, Bryan Adams, Metallica, Therapy?, The Rolling Stones, Simple Minds, R.E.M., The Bee Gees, Saybia and Moke.
Corbijn’s distinctive photographic style has been shaped by his desire to portray reality as it really is. The normally unapproachable celebrities pose as the world has never seen them before: cold, vulnerable, gentle and sentimental all at the same time – in a romantic spirit that is Corbijn’s own signature. He has great admiration for Robert Frank, Cindy Sherman, Andreas Gursky and Irving Penn. He decided to be his own boss from an early stage and works with 1 photographic assistant, 1 personal assistant, 2 hasselblad camera’s (Medium Format after 15 years of 35 mm) and 3 lenses (60, 80 and 120 mm). No tripod, No studio, No lighting kit and rarely any image cropping afterwards. I know I’ll be keeping an eye out for his upcoming works!