Anton Corbijn
Photo by Jesse Willems

Anton Corbijn: “My life is crazy, but it’s real love”

Short Profile

Name: Anton Corbijn
DOB: 20 May 1955
Place of Birth: Strijen, South Holland, Netherlands
Occupation: Photographer, Director

Mr. Corbijn, you have a long history of photographing musicians. Do you know how to play an instrument yourself?

On two occasions I was able to jump in for the Depeche Mode drummer when he was ill during BBC broadcasts…

I’d say that’s pretty good.

But you can’t really say something like that about yourself. I don’t have anything more to do with music though. I don’t want to continue to do what I did when I was 20. I would like to continue to develop myself and not continue to hang around with bands. I’ve finally become an old guy. When I see U2 today – I was at their last show – I go backstage, which is something I didn’t used to do, and now it’s nothing more than meeting up with friends. In other words, it’s a different kind of hanging around than in the dynamic ’80s.

Depeche Mode - Enjoy the Silence (1990), directed by Anton Corbjin.

Is that why you recently left London and moved back to the Netherlands?

No, I still had an open return ticket. If I hadn’t come back, I would have lost my money! (Laughs) No, after I lost my house in London – a money issue, you know – I bought myself a house in The Hague right next to the sea. Life is calmer; everything moves at a slower pace than in London. In the ’90s it was great to be in London where all the action was. The coolest bands, the career… Besides I was on the road 50 weeks a year – I’m still on the road a lot today. But tiny little Holland is a good base from which to travel elsewhere and get out. In reality my life is crazy, but it’s also real love.

How can you leave music behind? You must still get tons of proposals, doesn’t every new band dream of working with you?

Of course the propositions never stop. But my interests lie elsewhere now. I’ve gotten used to not looking too far into the future; it’s best when you can begin each day anew. At present I am entirely focused on film. It requires the culmination of all your artistic abilities: videos, photography as composition, art directing, design…

You once said, “After I’ve made three films I’ll either quit or become completely absorbed in filmmaking.” Your next will be film number three…

We’ll just have to see. At this point I remain quite content to simply continue making films.

“A photo doesn’t need to be perfect to fascinate.”

You’ve shot famous people for decades now. Is it still possible for fame to impress you?

I am an equal member of the creative class. Celebrity hype doesn’t impress me much these days.

Now you’re famous in your own right.

I’m not famous; I am simply very well-known to certain people. Famous is something different.

Your first book was called Famouz. Why was it spelled with a “z?”

The title was written with a “z” because everyone thought I was German. I wanted to make myself recognizable as a Dutchman.

What do you look for when searching for your next portrait photo personality?

Depth is important. I can see quite quickly which features of a face are worth photographing. After that I search for the people.

Would you shoot a portrait of the Queen of England?

Ah, such a shooting is only done to satisfy a photographer’s curiosity. I know because I’ve taken several photos of the Dutch queen – a truly wonderful woman. I’m not so interested in the British royalty. On the other hand, I sincerely enjoyed photographing Claus von Amsberg, our queen’s husband. He was very impressive.

What about the fathers of the U2 band members imitating the performance poses of their sons?

My thought was: when you get older, you always end up taking on your father’s characteristics – it’s genetically determined. With U2 I had this wonderful opportunity: fathers and sons, they were all in the same city at the same time. I gave the older men instruments. That’s one of my favorite ideas: the past, present, and future all in one photograph.

How were you able to get Mick Jagger in women’s clothing for a portrait?

“It depends on how you open the door” – that’s a little saying of mine. With Mick I had the luck that he happened to be playing a female role in a film.

You also once partially covered Kate Moss’ famous face with a mask…

I don’t go to my photo shoots with any grand scheme in mind. That wasn’t even during the time in which I still needed to work on a certain person for one or two years just in order to get them to do one portrait. These days I don’t wait for everything to be ideal for the portrait. A photo doesn’t need to be perfect to fascinate.

It must be nice to be able to get anyone you want in front of your camera.

Yes it is.