Anton Corbijn - Work

Ludwig Museum, until 5th July

Tues.-Sun. 10:00-20:00, 800 ft
Komor Marcell u. 1 [map]
Pest, IX, Boraros tér (T 4,6), 8 min

Hinging your career on the stardom of others starts with a gut feeling and some incredible strokes of good luck. Such was the case with renowned photographer, Anton Corbijn from the beginning.

Rewind 30 years from present and you’ll find a shy, young man in his early twenties making a snap decision to move from his native Netherlands to London. His singular motivation was the music of a band that would posthumously, and, upon the suicide of the front man, be known ‘round the world. That band: Joy Division. Corbijn, barely able to speak English, photographed them just two weeks after he arrived in London in 1979 (the photo appears as a central figure of the show), and that’s where things really began.

Fast forward almost thirty years and that same photographer is making his first feature-length film, Control, a biopic about the tragic life of Ian Curtis, the troubled troubadour of that little band he photographed in a London Tube station.

With such clear "bookends," it's a fine time for a massive career-spanning retrospective, simply titled, “Work.”

Corbijn has photographed countless integral underground and mainstream musicians, made some of the most recognizable music videos of all time – Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” being one – and reduced some of the world’s biggest film stars to meager-looking mortals. (One exception is his portrait of physicist, Stephen Hawking, who he makes look like a rock star.) Dylan, Ginsberg, Cash, U2, Kraftwerk, Waits, De Niro, Eastwood...his list of subjects goes on in impressive fashion.

“Composition is easy,” Corbijn said, at a recent free screening of Control at A38, part of the "Holland Kultfeszt." He says he places the importance on the person behind the camera, an emphasis easy to make if you've got a portfolio like Corbijn's.

Regardless, you'd find it hard to argue the fact that his work is strung together in a manner that is distinctly his. The graininess that comes from a 35mm negative being blown up beyond the natural limit, and the blurred subjects, rendered imperfect and almost featureless, are both signatures of his early work in
black and white .

Later in his career his prints shrink down and sharpen, yet there is no connection lost between photographer and subject. It’s obvious that Corbijn somehow gets these celebrated people to open up. He forces them into a relationship with the camera; either that or he coaxes it out of them. Judging from Corbijn’s modest demeanor and the intimacy reflected in his photographs, the latter is probably true.

His numerous photos of Depeche Mode are a case in point. An entire room is devoted to them, in honor of the role he's played in their visual aesthetic that's always been akin to their music.

In recent years, Corbin has turned the camera on himself, or rather versions of himself dressed as other people. In the series “a. somebody” he employs a style of self-portrait that evokes the work of Cindy Sherman. Here, Corbijn imitates musicians who died in full glare of the media, some he worked with (i.e. Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain) and some he never had the chance to (i.e. John Lennon).

Walking through the multitude of photographs that make up Corbijn’s life's work, one can truly grasp the weight of these images. While they can be visually stunning, both for the saturation and the simple compositions, they also cut through the gloss to show a more intimate, human side of those that so often placed atop pedestals.

Yes, the chance to photograph four skinny, shivering musicians from Manchester served as the launch pad for Corbijn, but, like his subjects, it's taken more than luck to keep him amongst the stars. If you’re a fan of photography, music, or stardom, this exhibition shouldn’t go unseen.

Anton Corbjin Antwon Corbin Antone Corbwin
Jacob P.


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