Continuing in our occasional blog called U2 x 5, whereby we take 5 related pieces we’ve designed or been involved with for the band and comment on them, here’s a blog that’s kind of in tribute to Anton Corbijn being awarded the prestigious Price Bernhard Culture Fund award for his life’s work in 2011, we’ve chosen just five of his photographs for U2 and say why we like them.
THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE – Back Cover
All of the elements of this photograph from the back cover of U2′s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire, go into making it a powerful and memorable image. The shattered dark ruin of the castle rising into the sky, the evidence of a prevailing windswept landscape with scrub growth and a leaning Hawthorn tree and finally the small figures of the band merging into the undulating form of the hillside. The infrared film stock lends a ghostly light to the scene, which is enhanced by the sepia tones of the print.
The castle featured on the back was located just outside of Limerick. It was chosen from several ruined castles visited on a 3-day location trip the weekend prior to the actual shoot. Many of the castles were unsuitable for a variety of reasons so a shortlist was drawn up and these were the focus of the shoot. The front cover is Moydrum Castle in County Westmeath.
THE JOSHUA TREE – Bono and Tree
The cinematic American desert landscape black and white photographs are hugely evocative of U2′s 1987 The Joshua Tree album. This solitary photograph of Bono infront of a Joshua tree taken at the same time as the band photograph on the inner gatefold and back cover with a panoramic camera has a lovely melancholic sentiment to it – whereby Bono becomes part of the landscape itself. Its deep contrast and haziness and sense of falling light lend to create an atmospheric tone. The photograph harks back to an earlier age of photography of the great American landscapes by the likes of Ansel Adams.
The actual location, off a highway on the way to Death Valley, California, was spotted by Anton Corbijn from the tour bus that the band were traveling in. As it was a single tree rather than a group of trees that were more normal. Anton had photographed these trees previously with Captain Beefheart and was on route to that location when he spotted the singular tree. It has since fallen down.
ACHTUNG BABY – Band in Trabant
There could be five photographs alone of just the Achtung Baby photography, the sessions were that good. To choose just one photograph that represents this incredible period of the band and Anton’s voluminous amount photography for them at this time is very difficult. But this shot of the band in the painted Trabant car by Thierry Noir – the artist well-known for his characters painted on the Berlin wall is exceptional. It is at once both serious and playful, beautifully colorful and iconic and this image spawned four of the five single covers that came from 1991′s Achtung Baby – with the image cut into quarters to form the image on each sleeve cover.
The photograph was taken in a photographic studio in Dublin in complete darkness using a simple handheld torchlight to “paint” the image through a long camera exposure. The process is difficult to judge at the time of taking as each exposure is different.
PASSENGERS – U2 and Brian Eno on Quayside
It’s little recognised as U2 playing parts rather than simply appearing in photographs. This photograph has a lovely comic quality; The Ship’s Kitchen Staff starring Larry as the disgruntled Commie chef, Bono looking suitably Head Chef-like, Brian Eno as the eager to please head waiter, Adam as the Sous-Chef and The Edge as the singlet-wearing Relief Cook. Anton Corbijn wonderfully posed this shot for Passengers on Dublin’s quay side and everything in the shot works great – the stances, the costumes, the angle of their hats all lend to to this rare portrait of U2 as not-U2. This session was originally intended to be used in the packaging for the Passengers album.
ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND – Back Cover
There’s a heroic stillness to the silhouetted photograph of U2 and their baggage that features on the back of All That You Can’t Leave Behind from 2000. It tells the dual story of both looking to the future and to the past. The departures hall of 2F at Charles de Gaulle airport itself features large in the photograph with, as Bono described, it’s ‘velvet concrete’, wide open spaces and gently curved ceiling. The band themselves are beautifully shot so that even in just outline, Corbijn captures each band members individual profile.
To capture the band doing something that was an intrinsic part of their lives – traveling together was the brief. In order to document that the photography was taken as the band travelled on a normal flight from Dublin to the South of France. The photography began early in the morning in Dublin and the in Dublin Airport and at Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was photographed in real time so there was a small time frame between landing and boarding the next flight in Paris. So the photography has a documentary feel that made the end result all the more special.
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