“Feel it closing in…Day in, day out”
– ‘Digital’ by Joy Division 
It was some time later in the mid-80s that I came to Joy Division, consequently to New Order and with that, of course, to the photographer Anton Corbijn. In fact, not much later I played a version of Digital in a band called Gasmark 6 (don’t ask! ☺).
© photo by With a Squinty Eye
The Factory Records, Tony Wilson sagas have been well documented even within the mainstream, for example the movie 24 Hour Party People, and as much as I would love to write about that scene now, I am going to jump sideways to Anton Corbijn.
Who is Anton Corbijn? I have little doubt that you’ll get that same ‘ahhh!’ moment I spoke about in my Robert Capa post when you search his images. Corbijn is a Dutch photographer, music video director, designer and film director. His 2007 feature film debut was Control, a biographical film about the life of Ian Curtis, though he has directed countless music videos for David Sylvian, Simple Minds, Echo & the Bunnymen, Front 242, Depeche Mode, U2, Coldplay, Mercury Rev, Metallica, Rollins Band, Grant Lee Buffalo, Nirvana, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell. Get the picture? Basically, if every music video in the word disappeared leaving only Corbijn’s, I think I could pretty much rest easy.
But it’s as a photographer that I first came across Corbijn whose work featured many of the above artists and others such as David Bowie, Miles Davis, Björk, Captain Beefheart, Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tom Waits, REM and Morrissey.
No surprise then that when Anton Corbijn Inside Out, a documentary that explores the life and work of Anton Corbijn was released last September, I was straight to the cinema.
As a fan of his work and musical taste, I loved the film but was disappointed that his influences were not really dealt with. Neither was the subject of his move to London from a small town in the Netherlands in 1979, which was just to photograph Joy Division! The documentary certainly demonstrated an individual who is immersed in his work and surrounded by the culture of celebrity but in contrast is a very private and reserved man. Only with subsequent reading I learned that he has a great admiration for Robert Frank, Cindy Sherman, Andreas Gursky and Irving Penn. This information was all the more important to me as I was about to start my photography degree.Corbin’s father was a Dutch Reformed Church pastor and so he grew up under the shadow of tombs, mortality and a largely absent father. It is easy to imagine that he rebelled against that upbringing and all that his father represented by delving into the world of rock ‘n’ roll. It was his love of music and desire to be close to the stage that propelled him into a career in photography. Taking photos at concerts made him feel more comfortable and placed him as close to the music as he could be. Later, Bono would describe him as U2’s “fifth member’. That’s how close he got!
Throughout the film it seemed that he was somewhat embarrassed when talking about himself. But then again, he has spent his life behind the lens.
A scene I loved was one in which he paced his hotel room nervously, awaiting Lou Reed and Metallica‘s arrival to review his artwork for their 2011 collaboration. To say they were happy with the recent photo shoot results would be an absolute understatement, as would be saying they are huge admirers of Corbijn! Dare I say it was even cute to see Corbijn anxious ahead of their visit!
Interviews with members of Corbijn’s family who have concerns over his workload and solitary lifestyle made it obvious that they absolutely love him and worry how his globe-trotting lifestyle may impact on his health. Through others we get a sense of the man, but I felt that the surface was only ever being scratched.
“I hate digital cameras, you can’t even see what you’re doing!”
Corbijn travels light with a couple of Hasselblads or Leicas and three lenses (60, 80 and 120mm) and that’s it. No tripod, no studio and just the available light. Now that I am returning to film photography, it is quite refreshing to hear someone like Corbijn, who hasn’t completely embraced the digital age complain that it doesn’t permit you to “see what you’re doing”. The opposite of what most would suspect is a benefit of digital photography.
“There are some elements of digital photography that I don’t really like, such as the fact that you see the results immediately.’
Corbijn is getting to grips with Photoshop but uses it only as an extension of the darkroom process. He acknowledges its importance due the dominance of digital technology and recognises its often poor execution. After last night’s session in the darkroom, I’m more than a little closer to understanding his love of analogue.
Researching photographers’ styles for college (and still, very often looking back through his work), Corbijn’s is very apparent in everything he does, in every medium he employs. I can pretty easily spot his music videos and recognise the composition and distinctive black and white style in his photographs.
Aside from everything, I’m enjoying the fact that the bands that mean so much to me, mean so much to him; that it drove him to photography and that now I too have embarked down that road.
Anton Corbijn Inside Out Trailer:
Atmosphere by Joy Division, Directed by Anton Corbijn [originally released in 1980 after Curtis’ death]: