Faintly perceptible fractures, scratches on the surface, an aesthetic approach that seems fragmentary and unfinished in the composition, colors, and resolution: The work of photographer Anton Corbijn is unusual and spectacular setting him apart from the mainstream in many ways and gives is work its authenticity. C/O BERLINis now presenting his personality and oeuvre center stage in a comprehensive retrospective.
To act in the spotlight is often a masquerade, an elaborate facade, a carefully orchestrated show. So, photographs of musicians, artists and cultural icons are just images of the surface. Not always and not necessarily- shimmering through the raw graininess, spontaneous blurring, and sharp contrasts of Anton Corbijn’s pictures are moments of deep vulnerability and personal closeness: fleeting, multifaceted, and endlessly fascinating nuances of intimacy.
Over the last four decades, his portraits have defined the public image and visual identity of, mostly very well known, personalities. But how is it possible to create these instants of personal authenticity in the context of the culture industry, with its calculated idealization and self-marketing? For Anton Corbijn, more than any other photographer, the answer lies in developing close relationships with artists and sustaining them over long periods of time. He shoots outdoors and often the surroundings, minimal as they may be at times, play an important role in the final image.
Often, his subject is outside the plane of focus; faded monochromatic tones evoke a deep sense of melancholy; and low resolution dissolves the visual structure to the point of expressiveness. A kind of imperfection is his stylistic trademark: it is what defines Corbijnism.
His photographs are not frozen, isolated moments of reality, but comparable to film stills or excerpts from images with a before and an after. His work is both documentary and narrative, and it shares more with street photography in both process and impact than it does with classic portrait photography. Anton Corbijn playfully challenges the viewer to complete the picture. Through his deliberate rejection of glamour in both the formal structure and subject matter of his photographs, he celebrates the anti-pose and the anti-star. This deconstruction of the image proves in the end to be a new stylization and variant in the never-ending transformation of pop culture. Anton Corbijn delicately explores the ambivalences between image and authenticity, between staged scene and reality, between the subject of the photograph and the viewer.
The analog element of shooting photographs is fundamental to Corbijn’s process. For Corbijn, a self-taught photographer, it is an adventure every time – going out and taking pictures with available light on a different location every time and only finding out what he captured after the films get developed a couple of days later. This approach helps the photographer from always making the image more and more perfect as is the temptation with digital photography. These days this analog approach seems almost anachronistic.