Anton Corbijn, C|O Berlin

On a recent return visit to Berlin, I was delighted to learn that C|O Berlin was exhibiting work by Anton Corbijn to mark the internationally renowned photographer and director’s sixtieth birthday.

The exhibition is a retrospective, which includes approximately 600 photographs, with some films and other materials. It tracks Corbijn’s evolution from a self-taught novice who used his camera to combat shyness and to accompany him to music gigs, to his present, a highly celebrated and influential photographer.

The work demonstrates an extraordinary diversity of work in both subject matter and technique, consisting of two series: Hollands Deep, which spans a 40 year output from his early black + white iconic photography, to his personal projects and conceptual series.

1-2-3-4 celebrates his work within the music industry, with many of the images on view being shown for the first time. The exhibition concentrated on images of bands and musicians that he  photographed over a period of time and moreover, where his work became part of the visual history of these artists e.g. Rolling Stones, U2, Nirvana, The Slits, Nick Cave, Siouxsie Sioux, Arcade Fire, Tom Waits, REM, Metallica, Johnny Rotten and Depeche Mode among a vast array of others.

There were also a lot of what Corbijn refers to as 'forgotten images',  of people like Isaac Hayes, the Bee Gees, David Bowie, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Grace Jones and again, countless others. 

A section of the exhibition shows his self-portraits, where he assumes the identity of some of the artists he has shot, including Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon and Janis Joplin. The photos were taken in Corbijn’s hometown of Strijen (population 9,000) about an hour south of The Hague. The celebrities never visited Strijen of course. Plus they were all already dead.

Corbijn turned the camera on himself, staging the images in which he dressed in wigs, glasses and clothes of the famous individuals, mimicking their outward appearances and stage personas. What is quite evident is that he captured the subjects in self-portrait, in the same manner as  would have photographed them were they were still alive.

While studying for a BA in Photographic Media, I wrote a lot about Corbijn and his work. I have researched his work formally and informally. I could write again here forever. 

Corbijn took days on shots and decades with particular bands. He argued against the tag of 'rock photographer ' but rather a photographer whose subjects are creators, artists etc., very often outside of the music industry. He travels light with a minimum of equipment and assistance. 

His work is both documentary and narrative and this exhibition really conveys the diversity of his work, his subjects, approach and techniques. One cannot ignore the privileged access that was once an indication of great entertainment journalism, which has since become a carefully orchestrated, PR-controlled affair, with music artists particularly insisting on more control over the manner in which they are presented. 

"If you make something with love and, you know, passion and you tell a real story, I think it will always find an audience somehow."