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Case Study of a Music Video Director - Anton Corbijn
Anton Corbijn profiling a modern music video director.
Anton Corbijn is a Dutch photographer, music video and film director. Most famously known for his stark yet eloquent black and white portraits of almost every major rock and roll star of the last 30 years, Corbijn is interesting to look at from a video point of view due to the photographic perspective he has on shooting, particularly elements such as framing, colour and mise-en-scene.
Biography Corbijn began his career photographing “the Netherlands’ greatest and only rock star”, Herman Brood. The pictures boosted the fame of the “rising star”, and in turn, increased his exposure. In 1979, the young photographer moved to London to work with Joy Division. During this period, he was able to photograph many of the most famous bands, as well as other musicians, actors and directors.
In 1983, alongside his work in photography, he began working on music videos. Beginning with ‘Hockey’ for German new wave band Palais Schaumburg, in the following years Corbijn moved onto working with big name bands such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, Joni Mitchell and Peter Gabriel. In the 90’s, he made videos for (among others) Nick Cave, Ryan Adams, U2 and Metallica, and the 1993 MTV award winning ‘My Heart Shaped Box’ for Nirvana. More recently, having also spent time working with bands like The Killers, U2 and Coldplay, Corbijn is still working today in all aspects of his creative output.
You don’t take a photograph, you make it. Imitated to the point of cliché nowadays in music journalism, Corbijn’s photographic style is instantly recognisable by the high contrast, grainy black and white images (although he did experiment with full colour images and other colour effects) showing the raw emotions of the subject rather than the idealised style of glamour photography traditionally associated with the representation of stars.
Corbijn has also contributed his photographs as album cover art for numerous albums by various artists. This embodies his ability to capture and fully represent the band’s sound through his images, which from our standpoint as music video directors is a skill simultaneously essential and impressive.
A good video can make all the difference. Corbijn’s visual language translates directly from his photographs of rockstars into the music videos he directs. Joy Division – Atmosphere: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQSpJfpVHmg Nirvana – Heart Shaped Box http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I38GAsT536w Red Hot Chili Peppers – My Friends http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kT5w27YxyI
It is clear to see links between Corbijn’s video style and his photography. In ‘Atmosphere’ he creates an elegiac, mysteriously funereal video in tribute to the frontman, clearly influencing his later work on ‘Control’. In contrast, ‘Heart Shaped Box’, his style changes into an idiosyncratic, bright and colourful one, to suit the MTV audience of Nirvana at the time. These two videos are more interesting, as Corbijn employs a self-referential intertextuality in Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida’, paying homage his earlier work with ‘Enjoy the Silence’ by Depeche Mode. This was a decision by the band to pay tribute to the original video which inspired Chris Martin to write the song. They dedicated it as “made out of love for Depeche Mode and the genius of Anton Corbijn”. Coldplay – Viva La Vida http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2USBTxLFBL0 Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSKrC7dGcY
Photograph on film. Recently, Corbijn turned his hand to filmmaking. Here, his roots in photography stand out clearly, overlaid with the way that music (and its stars) has influenced him. He said of his award-winning Ian Curtis biopic ‘Control’, that “when music affects you, you don’t want something very cheap to represent it”. This film, and his most recent, ‘The American’, share a very distinct visual style, with carefully framed, artistic shots, a “moody atmosphere” and a “glacial pace”. Thus, Corbijn is not just a photographer or videographer, but an auteur.
Similarly, as creative director behind the visual output of and U2 (and, incidentally, Depeche Mode), he was commissioned to make a short film to companion their 2009 record ‘No Line on the Horizon’; attempting to enhance the listening experience using visuals. The result was ‘Linear’, which Corbijn descried as “not an extended music video or a U2 documentary, it’s a new way to listen to a record - a new way to use film to connect to music”. Again, his influences converged to produce something that reflects entirely Corbijn’s creative style and his attitude towards music and visuals. Linear 2009
The importance of style. Through my research into Corbijn’s work, I have discovered the importance of style. Across his work, whether in photography, music videos or film, he manages to maintain an impressive, personal and recognisable visual style, which never overshadows his subject, but instead is able to portray a deeper side of them. This taught me that although the artist’s pre-constructed image is extremely important, it is also necessary to take a personal approach when exploring how we, as individuals, can represent them.