Anton Corbijn


Interview with Anton Corbijn

DEUTSCHE VERSION







Name: Anton Corbijn
Website: www.corbijn.co.uk
Book review: Anton Corbijn 'U2 & I'
Anton Corbijn is U2s most famous photographer and often referred to as the fifth bandmember - for a reason. He has shaped and altered U2s image over the years. On the 2nd of August 2005 we had the chance to interview Anton Corbijn just before the opening of his latest exhibition in Munich. Björn Lampe spoke to him about work, friendship, failure and bored bandmembers.

Björn:
How come theres already the second exhibition of U2-Photos here in Germany: is there something special going on about your art at the moment?

Anton:
Well, it was actually Bonos idea who said last year why don`t you do some small exhibitions coinciding with the book and the concerts. So I did one in Amsterdam, Berlin and now Munich. And I might will do one in New York. But it's a lot of work. Though it attracts a different audience, not so much photo-lovers but U2-fans. Its not my normal audience and therefore its not really for me, its for U2.

Björn:
What makes the difference?

Anton:
I have a very broad audience, but they are interested in my art and not so much in who is on the picture. That's always want I wanted to avoid. So I guess I have a rather intellegience audience who look behind my work, behind who is on the picture and how it is taken. With fans of course its mostly different: for them it matters who is on the picture.

Björn:
Doesn`t that contradict with making the book?

Anton:
No, that's a very different thing. Thats a very personal journey and its about the uniqueness the way U2 and I way work. A way which I haven`t seen with any other band or photographer. In that sense I felt it needed to be shown because it was such an incredible length of work and there were so many things we archieved in this period. And I felt I don`t want to have bits and pieces there but a collection of it all together and to show this journey we did together.

Björn:
As you described in your book this journey also developed into a friendship between you and the band, still you also work for them. Isn`t that difficult?

Anton:
It's a friendship that started as a working relation - and work is still work for me. In the beginning whenever I saw them I took pictures of them. Nowadays I see them much more often, but I hardly ever take pictures of that. Its just a very pleasant working relationship now. I am trying to do the best pictures I can of them, because it really means something if you work so long together. I actually work harder when I shoot U2 or Depeche Mode, because I don`t take it for granted and I want to prove that I am the right guy. There a so many people out there who would like to have my job.

Björn:
So how does it feel then we you see pictures of U2 or Depeche Mode taken by somebody else than yourself?

Anton:
Its always interesting to see what other people make out of it. With U2 there are sometimes photos that I like, with Depeche mode hardly ever maybe even never. It feels foreign and it lacks the understanding apart from the obvious of Depeche Mode. With U2: they can give a lot of themselves and so therefore its sometimes interesting what comes out of it. The problem is that most people lack a vision and that's the problem. I think what I have done with U2 and Depeche over the years was expressing a vision behind it and not just a pure reportage, a documentation. But sure my vision is subjective and I accept that.

Björn:
Whats the difference in working with U2 and Depeche Mode?

Anton:
Well in U2 its always about meetings, they discuss everything! Depeche Mode just go ahead, their thinking is very different. When I tell them my ideas they just say 'ok, lets do it'. U2 always think really big, I think in smaller scales and sometimes bring them back to earth in the process.

Björn:
When shooting U2: do you listen to the music before? Who decides on the style and the locations?

Anton:
Yes, I can listen to the music before but that hardly has any impact. Everything else is a combination of the input of the band and my own. Sometimes it leans more to their idea, sometimes more mine. Bono had a certain idea for the last album which we didn`t do in the end. The first idea was to shoot in London in the studio, but that didn`t work at all. So then I came up with the idea to do it neither in London nor in Dublin, because they are always to distracted when they are there. There are too many people that walk in and out. So the idea was to not do too far away and also to somewhere warmish because it relaxes people and makes working easier. So it should`ve been somewhere a maximum of an hour away from Dublin. And then we decided for Portugal, because all the other places like Barcelona where too touristic or just too obvious in the picture where you are. So I had to go out and find some places and show them the pictures. And that was good because when we came there I already knew where I wanted to take them and we shoot everything in one-and-a-half days.

Björn:
So when you were talking about visions earlier: what was your vision for this shot?

Anton:
I wanted something that was slightly weird but non descrete. Something not too modern, a bit oldish, that you couldn`t play so well. In the end we ended up with the environment not being important, because they wanted it to be more on them, but that worked. Also because they never spent a night in Portugal before, they always flew in and out after the show. So for them it was something new and exciting and they enjoyed it. They were curious and it kept their interest on the places where we went. That's important with U2 because it doesn`t get any easier with them. They have been everywhere, they have seen everything in the world. Its very hard to surprise and motivate them. And they all have their family life, their working life and its always very hectic around them. So if they do something like that, they need to enjoy hemselves and realise that it has an importance. I thing we archieved this there and that's great.

Björn:
How important is the music in the process - if it is at all?

Anton:
The music doesn`t really give me that many ideas. Also with this album their music wasn`t that experimental. It was different with Achtung Baby where the music was really experimental and you see that reflected in the pictures. So for me its more important to find places where they feel at ease, that's more my kind of set up. And furthermore I really didn`t like U2s music in the beginning. When I did my first shooting with them in New Orleans, I mainly accepted it because of the city. On the flight there I was listening to 'October' and it really wasn`t my cup of tea. So I wanted to take some pictures, hear a few songs and they go to the city and have a look at it. What I didn`t realise was that the concert took place on a boat that went onto the Mississippi once the concert started. So I was forced to stay on the boat and listen to them…

Björn:
So which period of time with the band do you like most - from an artistic point of view?

Anton:
The most obvious periods have been Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. They were both a combination of that certain period of the band. Achtung Baby was a period of its own right and I think we managed that really well. Joshua Tree was a combination of this serious look and the soul of U2 at that time. Bono likes the Pop-period best, because he thinks they all look really strong.

Björn:
Who is the most difficult to take a picture of in the band?

Anton:
I think Adam and Bono. Bono because he has so many good and bad days. Sometimes theres so much going on in his head, good day, bad day or he is frustrated. He is such an extreme guy, also emotional wise. Him and me we both have strong ideas and that sometimes conflicts. And with Adam: he is sometimes not so interested in the process. Larry might also be not so interested in the process, but you can`t tell (laughs).

Björn:
There is a new DVD coming up called 'The work of Anton Corbijn' and it shall include a 'Directors Cut of One' - what is this all about?

Anton:
The story is like this: once I had made the video and edited it and showed it to them, they were not comfortable with it. So I had to re-edit it a couple of times until they were finally happy with it, though it was not released then. When it came out month later they used this last edited version. And with the directors cut I wanted to go back to the original version which I first presented to them, but I didn`t have that version anymore. So I had to go back to the original material and start cutting and editing again to make it come close to the original version again. Its my version of the original one, but its not majorly different. It has a great shot of Bonos father in the beginning and there is more footage of them dragging. And some different car-shots, few elements have changed.

Björn:
The One-videoshooting and -editing has been a very emotional process for you…

Anton:
Well yes: thing is I tried an attempt to shoot a Pride-video for them and that didn`t work out at all. For that they didn`t ask me to do a video again for them for eight years. So when they asked me to do this video, also for such an amazing song, I wanted to do it really great and prove that I can do a video for them. I put a lot of myself in it, so it was very hard for me to hear that it wasn`t going to be used. I put weeks and weeks of work and emotions in it. And of course its not something the band should take it consideration when taking their decision, but it had its effects on me.

Björn:
Is that the reason why you made so few videos for them?

Anton:
No, my next one for them will be in 2 years, I do one for them every five years. This is just the way it turns out. I was talking to Bono while we were in Denmark last weekend. And he asked me if I wanted to do the video for their new single. And I said: No, I will do one in two years. But nonetheless I always try and give them ideas and sometimes they use them and sometimes not. So I show them were they can go with the song if they want to. I also did one or two scripts for them, but those did not materialise. Its really a creative process and its great to exchange ideas. Its just artists talking and that's totally cool. I must admit though that I don`t like most of the U2 videos. What I mean is that the band artistic wise is always very experimental but sometimes in the video they seem to want to the show the world the size of the band almost. It seems sometimes like they want to conquere the world with the video. And I don`t see videos that way. I come from a different background and for example REM come from a different background. REMs photos can sometimes be a bit boring, but their videos are interesting.

Björn:
So how did you feel when you where shooting but not directing the Elevation video?

Anton:
Oh that was fine to me. I was just shooting and it was such a big video, so completely foreign to me. I was staying in LA and Bono asked me why don`t you stay a few days longer and take some pictures and I did. My schooling - as you like - in Holland was that I use to only have a few minutes with the artists, so I got very attentive in any situation to take a photograph that looked like my pictures. So when I hang around a videoshoot I see a lot of pictures that I consider useful. So I took some useful pictures by just hanging out.

Björn:
Something that always sursprises me that you did so few live pictures oh the band. Are you going to change that in the future?

Anton:
Actually I am going to take pictures of them tomorrow in Munich! I wanted to take pictures of them during the second Amsterdam show but I had a little accident the night before, fell on my back and couldn`t work for more than two weeks. I feel with livepictures its very hard to be in charge and I like to be more in charge. Livepictures depend on so many factors, which makes it a bit difficult. So I do it sometimes, but actually only for U2, Depeche, REM, Metallica or Herbert Grönemeyer.

Björn:
Inside the book one finds a lot photoseries instead of single outstanding pictures as in many of your exhibitions. Is that due to the fact that you wanted to show the development of the band with the book?

Anton:
The book is a very different thing to an exhibition. In the book you can tell a story while in a gallery you normally only look at periods of work.

Björn:
Here and in Berlin the most outstanding picture is the one with the band and their fathers. Will there be any more use of these pictures?

Anton:
Well, as you know they used it on one of the singles. That was mainly caused by me reminding them, they had forgotten about these pictures. And only when I was showing them the pictures for the book, they said maybe we should use them. I think they have underused it, it should have been on the front of the single and not on the back. And my original idea was also to use it for the Best of CD. That would have been a proper use I think. But they decided otherwise for whatever reason that is. It works beautiful in the book though, its almost the centerpiece.

Björn:
Who came up with the idea for it?

Anton:
I can`t really remember, it was either me or Bono or both of us together. I think it was me, but I don`t dare to say it for sure. I knew Bonos father really well and I liked him a lot. He was also in the One-Video and I have a great picture of Bono and his father, so there was always a temptation to do more of that while they were still all alive.

Björn:
How did the fathers feel about this shooting?

Anton:
I think they thought it was funny and at the same time they realised it was important. Nothing was outspoken, but you could feel it was quite historic and important for everyone involved. It was kind of almost scary to see the resemblances once we had all the clothing equalized. So its less personal expression there and it was amazing how much similarity there is.

Björn:
Something else I enjoyed about the book is all the very humourous comments you made. How important is humour when you work?

Anton:
I think its very important, otherwise things get very stiff. And I also wanted the book to be funny and intelligent at the same time. I wanted to feel people what its like to work with U2 and what emotions are involved. Furthermore I wanted to have a book that people can spend a lot of time with. A book with just photographs can become tiring, but with all the handwritten comments it didn`t only look better but made it more interesting of a read. It gives the photos more depth and people can feel more part of the story.

Björn:
So does the book mark the end of an era?

Anton:
I was asking this myself when I made the book. I said to myself: do I still have the drive to go on? But I realised it's all a very organic process and it still feels the same with them. When I was in Kopenhagen I discussed the next shoot with Bono, so I am very curious what I can do next with U2. What challenge is left, what can we do differently? As I said it gets harder all the time, but I always hope we can find the old fire again and again.

Björn:
Thank you very much for this interview!

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