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Artist of the Portrait

Photographer Anton Corbijn ardently pursued starry subjects for his book 'Star Trak.'

June 29, 1997|Kristine McKenna | Kristine McKenna is a regular contributor to Calendar

"[Steven] Spielberg is always photographed as a businessman, but he obviously loves images, so I wanted to do something about images that was playful--he loved doing this picture too. The portrait of Clint Eastwood [on the cover of the book] was shot at Cannes--Eastwood gave me one minute of his time and that was it. I got the picture of Bruce Springsteen backstage somewhere--he's an extraordinarily kind man and I hope that comes across in the picture.

"I met [R.E.M. vocalist] Michael Stipe in Athens, Ga., in 1990. Michael's very photogenic and is willing to take risks, so we've done a lot together," says the artist, who always travels with a satchel of CDs and is currently toting recordings by Everything but the Girl, Garbage, Bob Marley, the Rolling Stones, Nick Cave and Peter Gabriel.

"William Burroughs agreed to do a picture when I called him at home in Lawrence, Kan., so the following week I flew out and took it," Corbijn says. "In my picture of David Bowie he's obviously trying to look like Burroughs, so I put the pictures on facing pages. And I've been photographing Nick Cave--who's far and away the coolest rock star--on and off for years."

Of composer and producer Brian Eno, who is shown grimacing as he clutches a CD in each hand, Corbijn explains: "Brian and I were neighbors for a while, and this shot is an homage to a picture of a young boy taken by Diane Arbus. I got the photograph of Bob Dylan in a parking lot at 3 in the morning. I shot just one frame of Dylan, and though it's not the best image of him, I've come to like it quite a bit. Occasionally I'll shoot a person and come away feeling I never need to take another picture of them--I don't think I could take another photograph of Pavarotti, for instance. For me, this is the picture of him, and there's no point in trying to come up with another angle on him.

"The Stones meant a lot to me when I was growing up, but when their management called me about taking pictures of them, I said I'd do it on one condition: They had to be outdoors. All the pictures of the Stones since 1980 had been shot in studios, and they'd become predictable and boring. It's easier to shoot a group like the Stones if you've been taking pictures for 25 years. If I'd been 18, I never would've had the nerve to demand that Mick Jagger wear a mask for the session--and to his credit, he took my instructions quite graciously."

As to who has shaped his approach to photography, Corbijn says: "I admire lots of photographers, but few of them deal with the subject matter of my work. I love Dorothea Lange, Irving Penn and W. Eugene Smith, and I was very moved by Nan Goldin's recent show at the Whitney. And of course I admire Robert Frank--not just for the pictures he takes but for the way he's avoided the commercialization of his art. I'd really like to photograph him, and seeing as how I recently got an apartment in New York, perhaps I'll run into him on the street."

"I've been asked many times if I felt I was cheating in that my pictures are all of famous people," Corbijn says. "That's undeniably a central element of my work, and early in my career I constantly asked myself, 'Why am I successful? Is it the photograph or the person I'm photographing?' I finally concluded it's a mixture of the two."


ANTON CORBIJN, Fahey/Klein Gallery, 148 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Dates: Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ends Aug. 16. Phone: (213) 934-2250.

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