Author: Adela Toplean
I am trying to finish my book here, at Berkeley. But I cannot promise myself anything. I am the slowest worker in the universe.
Important truths about individuals, nations or whole societies never stay hidden or disguised for long.
There is a point when one’s own delusions stop making sense to one’s self. THAT is when people dare the most – some out of courage and honesty, some out of despair, some because of their drive to adapt to new challenges.
In such times of low tide all important truths emerge like shiny massive pearls, razor sharp corals, mud, and poetry. Let all the truth come out and all delusion vanish!
Anton Corbijn does something that, to my knowledge, no other rock photographer thought of doing: charging the individual (who, accidentally, has the apparent quality/qualification of being a rock star) with a new energy that pulls him off the limelight, de-constructs his notorious identity and rebuilds him anew on different premises, within a re-calibrated reality.
The most amazing thing about Corbijn is that he never counts on the rockstar’s ability of being a rockstar. Instead, he puts all his bets on the rock star’s ability to fall out of “grace”, to gradually disappear from view as a transient celebrity so that he can slowly emerge as an everlasting personality.
Think about the following contrast: Corbijn has an instinct for essence, intensity and autonomy; whilst today’s entertainment industry has an instinct for haste, hysteria, and hectics.
These days, a man with a guitar is advertising his own transience; he will never earn an “autonomous” fame (the kind of fame he used to earn 25-35 years ago), he hardly earns a volatile, and somehow comical notoriety. Curiously (and paradoxically) enough, his audience is inhumanly indifferent to his humanity. Not to mention the cases when he himself forgets how to function – as human – out of the limelight. He’s neither an idol nor a man.
Therefore, Anton Corbijn does something that, indirectly, borders on sarcasm: with a tremendous delicacy, he manages to set up a genuine durability and a self-referentiality for what it used to be a notorious character. In a way, he sabotages the one-project-oriented entertainment business by working less for the sake of today’s applauder and more for the atemporal witness : he kills the idol and saves the man. It’s like he’d use abrasive tools (raw, black-and-white takes) for “exfoliating” the hotshot tissue and reach the genuine person beneath. Once the essence is grasped, he turns it into a metaphor. From here on, the new reality stays for itself: the light gets dark and the dark gains (a spectral) light, just like in Bergman’s movies; the individual gets rigid and the still object behind him gains humanity – together, they are assigned a new autonomous identity which stirs up an alarming combination of nervous excitement, artistic delight, existential concerns and metaphysical distress.
In a contemporary art world that compulsory seeks for abstraction, I know no other artist to be so focused on the human expression and on the quality of being distinctively human. And one is simply amazed to discover together with Corbijn the frightening human potential behind all those paper guys with flatulent looks and kinky doings. He treats them so gently, breaking down the shell, building up the soul.
Copyright photo: Stephan Vanfleteren