Photographer Anton Corbijn took the band into an American desert and drove away with iconic imagery.
Spin, October 16, 2014
(The following is an article from the Spin Collector’s Edition on U2, which is available now at newsstands and other retail venues including Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens and more. This 100-page commemorative issue includes exclusive interviews such as the one below, provided by Spin, with frequent U2 photographer Anton Corbijn.)
What makes rock & roll pictures different?
Rock photography to me is documenting what’s happening on the road. I did it with musicians in the ’70s in Holland. But I see myself as an old-fashioned sort of portrait photographer who concentrated on musicians. You see very few instruments in my work. The photographs are usually taken outside of that context.
How did you start working with U2?
I was the main photographer for New Musical Express, NME, from 1980–85, and I was offered a chance to shoot U2 for them in 1982. U2 happened to be in New Orleans, and I took some pictures of them on a boat called the President they were playing on that evening. I thought, “OK, I’ll be polite. I’ll show my face for a few songs and then disappear into the city to see what New Orleans is like at night.” But the boat had taken off, so I couldn’t leave. I saw them afterward and decided to go with them to Texas to do more pictures. We developed a camaraderie, and they liked the photographs, so they asked me to do some pictures for them for the inside jacket of War. From then on I worked with them. Never in a contractual way, but I was asked [to shoot the covers] every time.
The Joshua Tree is a visual touchstone for U2. Where did the idea for it come from?
Irish people in search of places and going to America. There were a couple of titles floating around. Desert Storms, The Two Americas. So I went to America to look at deserts and I found interesting places. I knew there was a really beautiful cactus called the Joshua tree. I rented this Russian camera where the lens moves so it creates long negatives, a landscape-oriented camera. We managed to spot a single tree in a big field somewhere, and that became our location. I hadn’t realized the focus was handled differently so the band is slightly out of focus and the tree is focused, also you see my camera case in the corner of the frame, you know, amateur hour…but the shoot had a strength to it that was wonderful, and they related. They loved the pictures and then named the album after the tree.
What continues to fascinate you about U2?
We have developed a relationship, like a family, and that allows you to catch moments that other photographers can’t get because you’re part of the family. That way they start to trust your ideas so they don’t say, “Please think of something decent and come back.”
How does your skill with stills translate into moving pictures like A Most Wanted Man?
Stills are a wonderfully Zen-like experience compared to making movies but the adventure for me is in film.
Would you ever do a film with U2?
Music films are very hard to get right. I did one film that was connected to music [Control, about Joy Division’s Ian Curtis], but that was really a love story.
How do you separate the band member from the person, Paul Hewson from Bono?
It’s a combination. Sometimes he’s more the singer of U2, sometimes he’s more my friend. They’re both equally useful for what we do and interesting, I think, for the public.
How did you convince them to dress up as women?
That wasn’t very hard.
(The Spin Collector’s Edition on U2 will be in stores through December 29, 2014.)
(c) Spin, 2014. Published with permission.