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Anton Corbijn . Retrospective

Hollands Deep & 1-2-3-4

“I was always looking for inner beauty and struggle.” Anton Corbijn

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. Really? Not at all! 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.

Faintly perceptible fractures, scratches on the surface: Corbijn’s photographic aesthetic seems fragmentary and unfinished in the composition, colors, and resolution of his photographs. It is precisely this quality that gives his work its authenticity. 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.

Corbijn’s 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.

To mark internationally renowned photographer and director Anton Corbijn’s sixtieth birthday, C/O Berlin is presenting a retrospective of his oeuvre encompassing around 600 photographs, with some films, and other materials. In this exhibition, C/O Berlin traces Corbijn’s evolution from self-taught novice to a celebrated and influential photographer and highlights the extraordinary diversity of his work in both subject matter and technique. The exhibition consists of two series: Hollands Deep which spans his entire oeuvre  of 40 years – from his early b/w iconic photographs to his personal projects and conceptual series. 1-2-3-4 is a celebration of his work within the music world and many of these images are shown for the first time. This exhibition concentrates on photographs of bands and musicians he has photographed over a period of time and where his work became part of the visual history of these artists such as the Rolling Stones, U2, Nirvana, The Slits, Nick Cave, Siouxsie Sioux, Arcade Fire, Tom Waits, REM, Metallica, Johnny Rotten, Depeche Mode and Herbert Grönemeyer. Aside from that, there are many of what he calls „forgotten images“ of people like Isaac Hayes, the Bee Gees, David Bowie, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Grace Jones and countless others shown here.

C/O Berlin will be the only venue for this exhibition in Germany. Catalogues have been published for each part of the retrospective: „Hollands Deep“ by Schirmer Mosel and „1-2-3-4“ by Prestel.

Anton Corbijn was born in 1955 in Strijen, Netherlands. He first picked up a camera at the age of 17 to photograph the local band Solution at a concert in Groningen. In 1979, his passion for post-punk led him to London, where he became the main photographer for the leading music magazine (NME) for 5 years and met a lot of artists during that period that he still works with today, like U2 and Depeche Mode. In 1989, he published his first book of photography, Famouz,  and has published 18 books since. He has designed stage sets and album covers, and directed over 80 music videos since 1983. In 1994, he received an MTV video music award for his video of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box.” In recent years his focus has turned to film as Corbijn gained international fame as a director of feature films including “Control” (2007), “The American” (2010), “A Most Wanted Man (2014),” and “Life” (2015). In 2012, he was appointed to the international jury of the 62nd Berlinale film festival. Anton Corbijn lives in The Hague and works everywhere.