We go beyond the lens and explore the stories of Anton Corbijn's most famous pictures
Anton Corbijn has managed to unite his love of art, music and image making into a career that spans iconic album covers, genre defining music videos, cinematic auteurdom and portraiture. Growing up in a small Dutch village, he began shooting music concerts in 1972, using his camera both to overcome his shyness and to gain access into the world of his musical heroes. He was soon working for the NME, capturing portraits of U2, the Sex Pistols and Depeche Mode, which led to working with the Rolling Stones and doing videos for Nirvana. Now, more than forty years on, he is a celebrated artist, whose subjects extend beyond music into the international worlds of art and Hollywood, and whose practice includes award-winning features such as Control, A Most Wanted Man, and this year's highly anticipated Life, starring Another Man coverstar Dane DeHaan.
To mark his 60th year, the Gemeentemuseum den Haag and the Hague Museum of Photography are staging a pair of extraordinary retrospective shows, ranging across his iconic music imagery, personal projects and collaborations. In celebration, we pick five of our favourite shots and tell the story behind the legends they depict.
Nirvana, Heart Shaped Box, 1993
For what turned out to be their last music video as a band, Nirvana called on Corbijn to construct a surreal, Technicolor landscape populated with hanging foetuses, Klan symbology, star spangled backdrops and mechanical birds. Having caught Cobain’s attention with his previous work on videos for Echo and the Bunnymen and cover imagery for U2’s Joshua Tree album, the 1993 video remains the most famous of his career, and of course being translated into iconography following the singer’s premature death less than a year later.
Clint Eastwood, Cannes, 1994
In 1994, the Cannes Film festival jury was led by Dirty Harry star and icon of the Western, Clint Eastwood. Riding high from directing the critically acclaimed A Perfect World, Eastwood headed up a jury that included Catherine Deneuve and Kazuo Ishiguro and that awarded the Palme d’Or to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Courtney Love (Hole), Orlando, 1995
A year on from the death of her husband, Courtney Love took her band on tour around the States and continued to get in trouble. During a show in March 1995, at the Edge in downtown Orlando, the Hole frontwoman jumped off the stage and apparently punched two teenagers in the crowd. Hauled back to face charges eight months later, she remained unapologetic, and the case was ultimately dismissed without charge.
Marlene Dumas, Amsterdam, 2000
In 2000, Corbijn united with South African painter Dumas for Strippinggirls, an exhibition at S.M.A.K in Gent. Converging their joint fascination for the world of models, strippers and dancers, as well as mutual admiration, the painter and photographer created a show that created various views of the female body and the stripper’s art, as well as giving voices and expression to women who customarily communicate through sex. It was an enlightening experience for them both – as Dumas wrote in the catalogue, “Anton and I are both known for stripping people. We both do portraiture. If it is true, then it’s not so much about exposing roles, or making the rich look dirty or the famous ordinary – it’s a stripping down to that melancholy sex appeal that makes surnames disappear and first names fictional.”
Anton Corbijn as George Harrison, Strijen, 2001-2
At first glance, situated amongst the stellar roster of personalities who the photographer has shot, the a.somebody series doesn’t really stand out. It’s not surprising to see the likes of Hendrix, Lennon or Harrison captured by Corbijn. But a little thought about timings make it clear that the portraits are impossible, and a closer look unveils each of the subjects as Corbijn himself, enacting the personalities, fashions, sunglasses of musical idols, all against the backdrop of his own birthplace, the village of Strijen. “The series is about death in my place of birth,” the photographer explains. “It combines my obsession with music with my parents’ obsession with life after death.”