Above: Billy Idol, Los Angeles, 2008

    A Thousand Words

    30 March 2013

    What is your idea of a great portrait photograph?

    Something that makes you stop for a second and look again.

    And what qualities do you most value in a subject?


    You started exploring photography through self-

    Yes I actually started in the 1990s with the worst possible subject — me — doing my album covers. A photographer friend of mine said I shouldn’t do it and I should let others do it, which made me suspicious and want to do it even more.

    Who are the photographers you most admire and who may have been an influence?

    Herb Ritts was one — he was a gentleman and very generous to me in the beginning. He let me work at his studio and his assistants are still my friends today.

    From your work it’s clear that you are very good at persuading people to lose their inhibitions in front of the camera. In what ways do you think your own experience as a performer helps in that regard?

    I think music and photos are intertwined. I recently met up with another photographer, David LaChapelle, who before dinner did a fantastic impromptu dance/mime of Etta James singing ‘Groove Me’. Afterwards I sat there thinking David is more of a rock star than most rock stars, yet he’s a photographer.

    If it’s rude to pick favourites, who have been three favourite subjects and why? 

    Couldn’t possibly say even if I wanted to. I recently worked with some wonderful subjects like Sergei Polunin (ballet dancer), Dizzee Rascal (rapper), Anne V (model) to name a few, all very different, all very inspiring.

    The people you’ve had the opportunity to shoot make for an astonishing list. Are there others who has so far eluded you?

    Oh yes, too many to mention. For a time I chased old-school Hollywood and didn’t get far, mostly because they weren’t around any more.

    Your portrait of the Queen has an almost casual atmosphere. Did she mind the wellies being in shot? 

    I think she liked the wellies in the shot, it’s what made her smile.

    You’ve said that photography feeds into your music — could you tell us a little bit more about that?

    Actually what I said was one feeds the other, it was in reference to taking a break from one to do the other. It helps to come back to things refreshed.

    To what extent can you design and plan for how things go on a shoot, and to what extent to you enjoy improvising or happy accidents?

    Being open for things to, and making things happen are the most crucial things to being a photographer. Both improvising and happy accidents are imperative.

    From Instagram to Twitter, Facebook photography and visual language on the one hand seems to be becoming more and more a part of everyday life. And yet some of the most familiar features of the landscape from Kodak to Jessups to the manual camera are disappearing. When photography is your medium, how do those changes make you feel?

    I’m OK with it, and I embraced the digital world rather late.

    What kind of camera do you use?

    I use a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III.

    And what kind of camera do you have
    a nostalgia for?

    The thing I miss most is my Rolleiflex, I wish
    it was a digi-camera….

    When you are known very widely in one artistic sphere, how hard is it to establish yourself in a wholly different creative medium?

    It’s always hard to do one thing while the other thing is happening, but as long as your work is strong and you don’t care what people say about you, you’ll be OK.

    Photo: © 2013 Bryan Adams, courtesy Steidl