I never had any confidence to share any of my photography, or thought that anyone cared enough to look at it (most people didn’t know I even loved photography), until I heard in November 2015 that Anton Corbijn had retired. It broke me to know that a man so talented had thrown in his towel against the 200,000 photos uploaded to Facebook per minute (six billion each month) and over 16 billion photographs on Instagram – that photography was now considered by many as just his ‘hobby’.
Johnny Rotten, Anton Corbijn (1977)
Photography as a slow, analogue art-form had died. With the many digital products available, anyone can hack away at Photoshop, become a selfie expert or filter junkie. People were seeing with their smartphones, not their eyes. What need do we have anymore for old-fashioned specialists using toxic chemicals, making a physical print that can be neither insta-shared nor ‘liked’? Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than analogue photography and an afternoon in a darkroom with toxic chemicals.
Corbijn shot thousands of musicians, everyone from the Rolling Stones to Björk over 40 years. My artistic hero, Tom Waits, was his favourite subject. Known for melancholic, black-and-white photos with a raw, anti-glamour aesthetic, Corbijn’s work is timeless. Some images intentionally include motion-blur, like his portrait of Pavarotti, growling like a death metal star.
Corbijn has steady hands, something he credits to his non-coffee, non-smoking lifestyle. He believes sharpness is overrated. It’s his technical preference to shoot with slow shutter speeds, which allows movement in the frame. Corbijn’s portraits are considered and painterly rather than urgent. His subjects fit into artful compositions.
Time was valuable to Corbijn, who took days to make his best shots. But now Corbijn spends his time doing other things. Photography as a slow pursuit is being lost, and Corbijn isn’t interested in spending his time to speed it up to today’s pace. Corbijn’s right, but I’m not sure there’s any other way now to share ideas and photographic compositions. It is tiring. It sometimes seems pointless. A ‘like’ or ‘share’ isn’t worth anything, it has no monetary value. And publishing is dying, if not dead. It’s the idea that, through all the noise, someone may have noticed or cared enough to look closely. And that ultimately, a body of work will have some emotional and historical value in the years to come. Corbijn’s work certainly does – even if only to the artist and his subjects.
References: The Economist (2015), Anton Corbijn is bowing out of professional photography, economist.com.