Anton Corbijn

Filmmaker, Photographer – Dutch


anton corbijn

Anton Corbijn (1955, Strijen, The Netherlands) is a Dutch photographer, music video director, and film director. He is the creative director behind the visual output of Depeche Mode and U2, having handled the principal promotion and sleeve photography for both for almost 3 decades. Some of his works include music videos for Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence (1990) and Nirvana's Heart-Shaped Box (1993), as well as the Ian Curtis biopic Control (2007), George Clooney's The American (2010), and A Most Wanted Man (2013) based on John le Carré's 2008 novel of the same name.

In his photographs, Anton Corbijn’s subjects seem solemn and distracted; smiling perhaps, but still worn down by the burdens of celebrity. His subjects are pictured as serious people, caught in intimate moments and far removed from their high-powered stage personas. If given the choice, Corbijn would almost always shoot his subject outside in a natural environment rather than the studio, even if it was against a plain white wall. “I'm a very, very basic photographer,” Corbijn says. “The main strength of my pictures, I guess, is the mood and feel I get out of the people that I meet. But technically I don't think I'm very advanced. That never interested me.” Corbijn eschews the label "rock photographer," he says, because it makes him sound like some groupie who runs around with a backstage pass, grabbing shots of lead singers with their arms around their latest babes. His approach is more that of the classic portrait photographer. “My biggest fear always is that I'll photograph an idea rather than a person,” he says. “So I try to be quite sensitive to how people are.”

“Anton Corbijn is not at all dead when he's taking photos,” writes Brian Eno in Star Trak's introduction. “He's actually a bit crazy, going all over the world to take pictures of people, but then acting as though it doesn't really matter in the least sure, let's do a few pictures now we're here, but don't let it get in the way of anything.” “I do scout for locations a lot and I usually do have a feel of something I want,” Corbijn admits. “It's not like standing in front of the Eiffel Tower or something cliché, but it could be some particular hedge or wall that gives you a feeling of France rather than being specific. Yes, I'm quite sensitive to that.” Writes Eno: I think that's what everyone likes his respect for whatever is going on at the time, his reluctance to impose, his sense of timing. He makes it light, lets you know that your life doesn't depend on it...

“...In fact,” continues Eno, “when Anton turns up, the mood invariably becomes funnier, more pliable. He has a way of making you feel that you wouldn't mind experimentally making an arse of yourself because he doesn't either. His life doesn't depend on it.” “The last few years have been a bit hard - scheduling and coordinating - it's very tiring,” Corbijn admits. “My work has become bigger business in the sense that I do bigger jobs and obviously, yes, I've become a little more professional - which I don't really want to be but I can't help it at some point.”

Corbijn has photographed Michael Stipe so often that he feels comfortable waking up the R.E.M. vocalist at 6:00 in the morning if the light's right for a shot. “When I was young, I thought, okay, I'm going to do some music pictures like this for a while and then at 35 I'm going to do something else. But now I'm in my forties and I still enjoy it.” Videos and Hollywood may call, but Corbijn knows enough to stick to his basics. “I'm not going to give up music photography for a while,” he says simply.