Von Kate Moss über Jay-Z hin zu Steve Jobs und Alfred Hitchcock. Albert Watson, hat in den 1970er, 80er und 90er Jahren die ikonischen Portraits unserer Zeit gemacht. Der studierte Grafikdesigner und Film-Direktors ist allerdings alles andere als spezialisiert: Spielend wechselt er zwischen Landschaftsaufnahmen, Stills, Chanel-Kampagnen und Filmpostern.
Das Lebenswerk des mittlerweile 74-jährigen wird diesjährig gleich dreifach geehrt: Cartier verlieh am vergangenen Wochenende Albert Watson im Rahmen des Kunstfestivals St. Moritz Art Masters, die noch bis zum kommenden Wochenende andauert, ihren Lifetime Achievement Award. Der Taschen Verlag wird im November einen Bildband mit 400 ausgewählten Fotografien veröffentlichen. Und in der Zwischenzeit zeigt das Museum de la Permanente in Mailand eine große Retrospektive.
The Random Noise unterhielt sich mit ihm über sein Lebenswerk, die Konsequenzen der Visualisierung unserer heutigen Kommunikation und was einen guten Fotografen ausmacht.
Sankt Moritz, Samstagnachmittag im Kempinski Hotel. Es ist der Auftakt des Kunstfestivals St. Moritz Art Masters, wenige Stunden vor der abendlichen Preisverleihung zu seinem Lebenswerk.
Albert Watson ist aufgeweckt und unkompliziert. Er macht Witze, er unterhält. Und er ist konzentriert. Er sagt von sich selbst, er habe noch nie einen Arbeitstag in seinem Leben versäumt: „Ich war nie krank. Ich habe noch nicht einmal Kopfschmerzen.“ Wir haben uns in den Samtsesseln der Bar niedergelassen, hinter uns seine Aufnahme von dem Gesicht der jungen Kate Moss, aufgenommen im Jahre 1993.
The Random Noise: Albert, we are sitting in front of a picture you took of Kate Moss in 1993, at the beginning of her career. What was she like, back then and have you phographed her ever since?
Albert Watson: When I worked with Kate, she was 19. In fact, it was at the very start of her modelling career. We were in Marrakesch. She was very, very sweet and professional. I remember that, during the several days we spent together, at the very end of the second day, after twelve hours of shooting, she said: ‘It’s my birthday today!”. She did it at the end of the whole day! I have not worked with her ever since, but it would be lovely to do so.
Another well-known piece of your non-commercial shots with relation to fashion is this very graphic photo of another supermodel, Naomi Campbell. A pure play of shapes, light and perspective…
This one was done in Palm Springs, in 1989. It was in the beginning of her career, just as the one with Kate. We did a couple of shots in the sun, outside the hotel in Palm Springs. It was incredibly hot and while we were doing just some fine-tuning on the set, I gave her a black sheet, it was a flag I think, to protect her from the sun. Then seeing the silhouette of her head in its incredible shape from the side, I decided that this was the best shot of the day – coming out of an unforeseen situation.
Let’s look at Steve Jobs, just him, the light, his intense look, the pose of the thinker… a pose we kind of expect him to be in.
When I met him, he asked me what I wanted him to do and what I wanted him to do, really, was this: ‘Imagine you are in front of the board of directors and you want to convince them of an idea which they don’t like, but which you know that is right anyway. I want you to act like in this exact moment’. And so he did. The result is this intense look, which describes him just the way he was. By the way, we originally had an hour but I gave him 25 minutes, he was super happy because it was the only time he had to grab a coffee in the day before going into the next meeting.
You have a huge body of work, ranging from commercial jobs to your own projects in photography and film. What makes your creativity thrive more? The constraint of the needs of the sponsor or the blank sheet of paper?
That’s a very good question, but in fact, I do so many different things in various domains that I enjoy the challenge of any of them. Of course, between the blank sheet of paper and the result, I receive all the credits. I can say that the work is 100% myself. However, if you have other people intervening, meeting the needs of different parties but still ultimately realizing the work, that brings its own challenge and hence creativity with it. So I do thrive in both, but differently.
Your work is a product of your broad visual education, coming from graphic design to film and the photography. In your images, I love to see the stillness, and yet they seem to tell a story…
My photography is a lot about capturing the light. You need to capture the light and make it work fr yourself. Besides, and in response to your point, if you look at this shot [Leslie Navajas, 1989 in Miami], I find it to be the perfect balance between cinema, film and graphics. So here [zeigt auf Teile des Bilders] the graphics is where the girl is, and the way the picture is composed from the front end in a triangle towards the end. The story gives us questions: Who is her boyfriend? There is a drama, possibly in the story, alluded by the stormclouds in the back.
Today, we’re exposed to an overdose of images. Communication, in the fashion system and beyond, has switched from written and verbal to the visual. Exchanging this flood of imagery stays in a stark contrast to the well-composed and conceived images of photographers such as Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, or yourself.
I completely agree.
How do you feel about it?
It is very painful, really. People nowadays seem to be able to accept and process visual imagery quickly. If you have a TV for instance, you switch from Game Of Thrones to a soccer match, to a cooking show. Feeding yourself with images then happened with Instagram, Tumblr and the like. So, what happens is that there is a superficiality at the way people look at images. A person may search of a painting by Francis Bacon, the look at this for two or three seconds. I mean, Francis Bacon probably took three weeks to imagine the painting, then another week or month to paint it, and now people devote only seconds to it.
I have the feeling, the sensitivity for details gets lost along the way, it’s about an instant emotion, and then, you move onto the next.
I sometimes ask the young, who tell me they are used to seeing things quickly, to look away and then describe to me what they have seen. I mean, you do not have to put everything you see under a magnifying glass, but there should be more intensity, and meditation or concentration to observation. What we do at my next show in Milan, the Le Permanente, we will play with this and demonstrate it. We will have rooms with chaos, overload and confusion of images, and we will have corridors where there is nothing, but only one single picture.
What do you suggest the young generation of photographers?
The digital age, not only the cameras but also the computer, which is the ultimate tool that gives you the power, has made amateur photography better. The process of making the picture not so much I think. The computer makes photography more accessible. What I feel when I meet some young photographers is that sometimes, the new generation lacks preparation. They say “Oh, I like it to be spontaneous”. It is way of them not doing their homework. In Stockholm, once a photographer wanted to do a shot of me, after spending an hour with me in front of my works that were installed in an exhibition. I asked him what I should do and he said he didn’t know yet. He watched me putting all my works up, yet he did not let himself inspire by this. A photographer needs to prepare and rehearse, and then leave room for spontaneity and the unforeseen. This gives you confidence, and confidence gives you power.
How did you initially gain that confidence in photography?
I did with the Harper’s Bazaar photoshoot of Alfred Hitchkock. I had only come out of film school and had a lot of respect for him. He gave the magazine his favourite recipe for goose and I took the spontaneity of the moment and asked him to hold the goose. It was a great shot and even though I also did what I prepared to do, it was the room for creativity then on top of it, which made it great.
Later this year, you are going to release a retrospective of your work with Taschen. Tell us something about how you selected the works, and their sequencing.
It was a combination of my input, Benedikt Taschen and Roel Golden, the creative director of Taschen. There are 400 images in the book, so in the beginning, it is easier and then for the last images, it takes weeks of negotiation. However, in the end, I am 99% happy with the outcome, which is close to 100%. (laughs). So, for the selection and the sequencing, I take not only the best shots, the ones which are very strong. Sometimes, my photography is very iconic and it can be too much, too intense. Then I put images in which are a little lighter, to round it up. So it is not only a combination of powerful, graphics shots. And yes, the sequencing is indeed very important and you have to do compromise. The double page puts a physical marks in the picture. We look at the dynamics of the pictures and how they match to each other in a visual way, holding a common thread.
Thank you, Mr. Watson we are looking forward to the retrospectives.
Alfred Hitchcock for Harpers Bazaar, 1973, Photo by Albert Watson
Sebastian in Issey Miyake, New York City, 1989, Photo by Albert Watson
Michaela Bercu, Paris, 1989, Photo by Albert Watson
Gabrielle Reece, Vivienne Westwood, Comedie Francais, Paris, 1989, Photo by Albert Watson
Portraits © Albert Watson via PR
Last Picture © Fotoswiss