Text by Fiammetta Cesana

When we think of bands that made history we usually praise the talent of musicians and songwriters while ignoring the role of who turn their defining sound and words into a visual reality. Robert Freeman and Astrid Kirchherr for The Beatles, Masayoshi Sukita for David Bowie, Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell for The Pink Floyds, Richard Young for Freddy Mercury… Basically, as long as a star or a groups signed the book of music’s history there is someone who worked to make us always associate their music to a unique world of images. Images that, since the late 60s, became so iconic that as we happen to recall some of these incredible artists what immediately comes up to our mind, instead of tunes and lyrics, is a picture of them crossing the streets, screaming out on the stage, signing t-shirts on tour… or just the symbol of a prisma over a dark background refracting a rainbow colored beam. 

The Talent Behind The Talent_Anton Corbijn_Depeche Mode_Taschen book_rock music_photography_documentary
“Depeche Mode - Anton Corbijn’s official illustrated history” by Taschen

Photographers, filmmakers and graphic designers and even stylists, such as Judy Blame liable for punk fashion phenomenon, have widely contributed to the fame of counterculture musicians projecting their rock and punk revolution into an dreamful, timeless imagery.

Installation view of Judy Blame: Never Again 29 June ñ 4 September 2016 Institute of Contemporary Arts London (ICA) Photo: Mark Blower
Installation view of Judy Blame: Institute of Contemporary Arts London Photo Mark Blower

One of these talents behind the talent is the Dutch photographer and film director Anton Corbijn, who since the mid-80s have mainly dedicated his career to portraying the greats of worldwide music panorama, such as Joy Division, Nirvana, U2, Coldplay and Depeche Mode, to name a few, till getting to make thrilling documentary-films. 

In 1994 Corbijn’s music video for the Nirvana’s hit song “Heart-shaped box”, written by Kurt Cobain, won the MTV Video Music Awards. 

The Talent Behind The Talent_Anton Corbijn_Heart-Shaped Box_Nirvana_1994 music video
"Heart-Shaped Box" by Nirvana, 1994 music video

Years later, Corbijn debuted with his first movie, “Control”, telling the heart wrenching story of Ian Curtis, the frontmen of the Manchester’s 70s-80s punk group Joy Vision, who committed suicide at 23. The film, released in 2007, obtained a big success at Cannes Festival among the public and the critic as well and won several prizes at the British Independent Film Awards. 

In 2009 then, Corbijn realized the film “Linear” about the U2’s album “No Line on the Horizon”. Alongside the direction of thriller and dramatic movies featuring some huge names of Hollywood, including George Clooney and Robert Pattinson, Corbijn pursued his opera of giving a identifiable face to the music scene by realizing last year the film “Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest”. The documentary is a film-concert which talks about the indie rock band’s final performance of the Global Spirit Tour, started in Stockholm in 2017 and ended in Berlin in 2018, together with the story of six fans of the group. 

The Talent Behind The Talent_Anton Corbijn_Depeche Mode_Taschen book_rock music_photography_documentary
Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest

Anton Corbijn’s work with Depeche Mode began in 1986 and over these almost 35 years he has been able to orchestrate the other side of their planetary success, by shaping the band’s reputation as effortlessly cool and cutting edge. Today we can finally see all together the fruits of this long collaboration exploring the book “Depeche Mode – Anton Corbijn’s official illustrated history” published by Taschen. Collecting over 500 photographs from Corbijn’s personal archives, some never seen before, the volume also showcase stage set designs, sketches and album covers. Flipping through the book we also come across the photographer’s personal observations discovering all round his masterful act of giving music talent an articulated yet well-defined aesthetic conscience.

previous arrow
next arrow

“Anton was able to give the DM sound,
that we were beginning to create,
a visual identity”,

– David Gahan, frontman of Depeche Mode