Dutch master lensman Anton Corbijn toasts 60th birthday with new expos

  • AFP, Hague
  • Updated: Apr 07, 2015 20:15 IST

Famed for shooting superstars from Bjork to U2 in offbeat poses, Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn is himself taking centre stage with two exhibitions to mark his 60th birthday.

Corbijn has since the mid-70s forged a close relationship with bands including the Rolling Stones and electronic masters Depeche Mode, shooting and designing many of their album covers and directing their music videos. His close involvement with U2 and Depeche Mode has earned him the epithet as those bands' unseen member.

"To me, these exhibitions are a celebration. It's the culmination of four decades of my work," Corbijn, also a feature film director, told AFP in an interview.

From famous musicians like Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Nick Cave or Miles Davis to artist Ai WeiWei and even a unique series of self-portraits, Corbijn has dug up a treasure trove that is now on show at two neighbouring museums in The Hague.

One entitled simply "1-2-3-4", at The Museum of Photography, offers portraits of some of the world's most famous rock stars -- many selected from contact sheets kept within Corbijn's personal archives and never shown before in public.

At the Gemeentemuseum next door, a "more serious" show called "Hollands Deep" traces Corbijn's work from a gangly teenager armed with a small camera at rock concerts in the early 1970s to the mature master of portrait photography.


Anton is part of the current Rolling Stones exhibition of photographs at the Taschen Gallery in Beverly Hills, California. Though it is mainly a show of David Bailey’s great images of the band to coincide with the publication of the enormous Taschen 'Rolling Stones' book, there are two large images by Anton in the show too. (Photo: antoncorbijn.com)

For the first time, the "1-2-3-4" exhibition for instance shows pictures Corbijn took of the Rolling Stones prancing around wearing strange masks, all shot in his trademark monochrome style.

Another first includes a study of a youthful Mick Jagger, staring provocatively into the camera. There is also a rare photo of U2 front-man Bono in a bathtub, a colour picture of the Irish rock band's four members with their fathers, and another of them dressed up as drag queens.

Deep Dutch roots
At the Gemeentemuseum, the pictures are far more personal, exploring the artist's own rural and Dutch Calvinist roots.

Hollands Deep, whose title comes from the huge estuary south of the port city of Rotterdam near where Corbijn grew up, includes self-portraits with the artist dressed as his musical heroes -- Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain and John Lennon, to name a few. All show his small birthplace of Strijen in the background.

These shots "combine my obsession with music with my very religious parents' obsession with life after death," Corbijn told AFP.

They give a peek into his psyche as a man who broke away from a deeply Protestant upbringing to plunge passionately into the heady world of rock-and-roll and movie stars.

"The world of music seemed to be so much more promising as a world that held an exciting lifestyle," he said.


This is the 8th album front-cover that Anton Corbijn designed for Depeche Mode. (Photo: antoncorbijn.com)

"At home I was always taught that one should keep a low profile. It took me years to realise that I actually always wanted to be somebody.... My work brings me closer to the people that achieved that."

Era slipping away
Today, the photographer said he doesn't reflect much on his own mortality and plans to keep his 60th birthday on May 20 "small and private".

As for the exhibitions, "it's a celebration, but it's also about a world I feel is slipping away from us.

"People don't do this kind of photography anymore. I think because of the Internet people aren't so curious anymore to dive into the real world with a camera and find things out for themselves," he said.

These days, Corbijn himself concentrates on directing movies, which "takes up almost all of my time".

His spy thriller "A Most Wanted Man", starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, was released last September and his latest film "Life", about the tragic life of 1950's star James Dean, premiered to critical acclaim at the 65th Berlin International Film festival in February.

Long years of rubbing shoulders with top world celebrities, however, has not rubbed off on Corbijn.

"I'm a local boy made good," he said with the hint of a smile.

The retrospectives "Hollands Deep" and "1-2-3-4" run until June 21 at The Hague Museum of Photography and Gemeentemuseum.

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