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Anton Corbijn

Inwards and Onwards

Hero Image for Anton Corbijn

Renowned photographer Anton Corbijn has consistently created inventive and unexpected expressions in portraiture while maintaining a feeling of intimacy, hence the title of his most recent exhibition, Inwards and Onwards. Since 2002 he has been working independently, portraying fine artists and other creative freethinking individuals.

faithful to the analogue tradition

Painters have been the focus of his most recent work, fine artists such as Gerhard Richter, Richard Prince, Marlene Dumas, Anselm Kiefer, Damien Hirst, Peter Doig, Lucian Freud, and Karel Appel. When questioned about this in a recent interview, Corbijn explained that he was impressed by the artists’ confrontation with the blank canvas. He admired the fact that these painters “created something that reflected a struggle.” This is cogently depicted in his photograph of Gerhard Richter who is turned away from the camera and instead faces his completed canvas. Here the artist is victorious. But beyond the motif, what is of significant interest is that this particular image is an “anti-portrait”. Without a caption we cannot be sure of the identity of the sitter. Richter’s identity is merely suggested. This trait of blurring or obscuring the face of the portrayed has been a characteristic of Corbijn’s work since the beginning of his career, much to the chagrin of magazine editors.

Also included in the exhibition is a powerful image of recently deceased fashion designer Alexander McQueen, musical icons Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and Tom Waits as well as wonderfully revealing portraits of Al Gore and Nelson Mandela. Here, Corbijn has reduced each image to its essential elements. His compositions are without complication, his subjects often centralized. Additionally each portrait contains an element or gesture, which functions like an attribute, signifying the identity of the person depicted.

Corbijn has simplified his technique while remaining faithful to the analogue tradition. He continues to photograph with black and white film; however, he no longer works with assistants or lighting equipment. Instead he shoots spontaneously, with little planning, making use of the available light, a working method that hearkens back to his approach during the 70s and early 80s. The resulting monumental portraits contrast his stark aesthetic with the intimate portrayal of the sitter. This contrast creates visual tension in his images.

It was in 1979 that Corbijn’s journey began. He was in his early twenties when he moved to London, drawn to the city’s emerging New Wave music scene. In London he made his mark photographing for the magazine New Musical Express. More than a photographer, Corbijn was responsible for crafting the visual images of countless bands, including Depeche Mode, Joy Division, New Order, and U2 among others. Later he began directing music videos for Nirvana, Coldplay, and Johnny Cash to name only a few. In recent years Corbijn has become a full fledged director of feature films, his debut entitled Control from 2007 won Best European Film at the Cannes Film Festival that year and, more recently, The American premiered in 2010, an action drama starring George Clooney. In addition to his directorial accomplishments, he has continued to photograph. Through the years he has exhibited at several eminent institutions from the Photographic Resource Center in Boston to Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, Foam in Amsterdam, as well as Kunsthalle in Vienna. Photographically Corbijn has been working independently since 2002, taking portraits of creative people he admires. A selection of these images is the focus of the exhibition Inwards and Onwards.

– Curator Michelle Marie Roy