Anton Corbijn’s career can be traced back to 1972, when he borrowed his father’s camera and took it around the smaller musical venues scattered across Holland to experience Dutch rock bands in a closer, more personal way – triggered more by his love of rock music than a passion for photography, which he had not yet discovered. His got his break when he was inspired in a little café in Holland, watching a young Herman Brood play his music on stage mid-seventies. At this time he was unknown to the public and must have been around 20 years old. The pictures taken circulated fast, propelling Brood up to a higher level of fame, while exposing Corbijn in the process. Around four years after this, having pursued his uncovered talent, he moved to England, as a photographer for the New Musical Express – a commitment very much motivated by the music of Manchester band, Joy Division (a fixation that would help define much of the photographer’s work from that time onwards).
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Upon arriving in London, he quickly became acquainted with Joy Division and developed a closeness with their frontman, Ian Curtis. Years later, this relationship and his working relationship with the band would help in shaping perhaps Corbijn most accomplished film as a photographer turned director, Control. Once his reputation grew, his work reached bands like Depeche Mode and U2 – who sought him out to find the distinct visual identity that he was capable of giving. If you have a look at the album photography found on the sleeve of U2’s The Joshua Tree, the photos were taken of the band in the Mojave Desert.
It wasn’t long before he moved on to directing music videos, ‘pissed off’ by the amount of great songs attached to awful visuals and pushed into making a change. It was new wave band, Palais Schaumburg that asked Corbijn to direct his first video for them, and he took them up on the offer. Collaborations with Echo & the Bunnymen, Simple Minds and David Sylvian followed, before he experimented with colour when U2 called him back to help them direct their video for Pride in 1984. He also went on to create a posthumous video for Joy Division’s Atmosphere. This change in Corbijn’s career actually has quite a remarkable effect on his photography, forcing him to push his boundaries and idealise further – in this way, instead of forgetting about the photographs that made up his early history, he would continue to develop new concepts, intertwining the two art forms cleverly.
Like Spike Jonze and David Fincher (the Social Network), his interests went a step further and entered into the realm of cinema – a move he didn’t see as a step up or an improvement. He was pretty adamant that music videos were valuable in their own right, a valid claim, particularly if your roots lie in photography. In 2007, his debut feature, focusing on Ian Curtis’ life and death gave him the recognition he deserved as a filmmaker and a highly versatile artist. Control was a definite Corbijn production, filled with magnificent stills and the visual eye of a master. He extended his career in film when he teamed up once again with U2 for their visually stunning musical production, Linear in 2009 and the spy-thriller the American, featuring George Clooney, in 2010 – his first film shot in colour.
Cinema has definitely influenced all areas of the director’s professional life in more ways than one – though his adventures in photography remain the base of everything he does, and his visual concepts are forever expanding, deepening and touching his films tremendously. He talks about his journey into filmmaking as an enjoyable and highly intriguing one – deeming the moving picture a more adventurous medium, but remaining faithful to the beauty of his origins in everything that he does.
Control by Anton Corbijn at Unsung Films