How We Met: Dave Gahan & Anton Corbijn

'I don't know if you've ever seen Anton dance. He's got these moves, it's quite something'

Rob Sharp
Sunday 21 October 2007 00:00
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Anton Corbijn, 52, is a Dutch photographer and music-video director, best known for his work with Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus' (1989), Nirvana's 'Heart-Shaped Box' (1993) and the cover images for U2's 'The Joshua Tree' (1987). He has also worked for 'NME', 'Vogue' and 'Rolling Stone'. His first feature film, 'Control', about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, premiered recently to rave reviews. He lives in London.

I think it was 1981 and I was shooting covers for the NME. I met [Depeche Mode] at a recording studio near London Bridge. It was a colour shot and I had Dave at the front and the others behind him; I focused on them and not on Dave. They were in very sharp focus, he was wearing a bright-pink shirt and it was very blurred. I don't think Dave was expecting that.

After that I declined every opportunity I was given to work with them because I thought they were too poppy; it was not my kind of music. But by 1986 they had changed quite a bit, and I was asked to do a video; it had to be done in America.

I really wanted to do a video in the US and I quickly thought of an idea: it was for the single "A Question of Time". It involved a motorbike on a motorway because I really wanted to use roads. I realised that it had to be a live video because someone had told the band they were needed for only a few hours. I was quite impressed with them when they played live; I was operating the camera. Dave was quite quiet, like any lead singer at the end of a tour. Though I remember he laughed a lot. I don't think he gives you time for things, to a degree.

After that, I didn't hear from them for nine months, but then we began to like each other and I ended up doing everything for them; I got more and more involved.

Dave was very open when you went to see him, but once he was done with the conversation he wouldn't linger very long. He could go to some real dark places. I remember [the REM frontman] Michael Stipe calling me and saying he had met Dave and he said I should do something about his state of mind; that was a week before he overdosed.

After that he became better; he changed a lot and we started to have real conversations. I felt like I ended up becoming a thinking member of the band. He is now interested in healthy living. It's nice to see him become like that.

He's so great-looking it's hard to be photographed with him; you look like a loser. It was great to see the warmth and love we have for each other. He is a great performer, and I realised he has acting potential; he was naturally quite good at interpreting things. I am surprised he doesn't do duets, as Stipe and Bono do: you'd realise how strong his voice is.

Dave Gahan, 45, was the lead singer of Depeche Mode. In August 1995, he was alleged to have attempted suicide with a razor blade; a year later he overdosed on heroin and cocaine in a Los Angeles hotel room and was clinically dead for six minutes. He lives in New York with his wife and their two children.

When I first met Anton in a fetish bar in Hamburg, I didn't really know him, I knew of him. That was 1980 and he was dressed up – which was uncomfortable – as a transvestite... no, I'm kidding. He took pictures of me and my band in Basildon for the NME. He took a photograph of us out on this rowing boat. He then took pictures of us at a studio in east London in a converted church.

I had this pink shirt on that I'd dyed myself. He took this photograph of me standing in front of the band. When I saw it on the newsstands, everyone else was in focus, but I was blurred. So I sort of made the front cover. It was a really good photograph. But we didn't work again with him for four years.

He was very approachable; he made us feel very comfortable. It was quite intimidating and at the time he was THE NME photographer. We had an inkling it was going to be a front cover when Anton turned up. Now he's been part of the family for a long time. He gave us a visual side we did not have. He seemed to come along in the nick of time. We felt very comfortable with him right from the beginning. Up until that point we had done awful videos with the stars of the moment; they had their idea of what they wanted to do but we had no idea of how we wanted to be seen. Anton allowed us to get that education. He would show up when we were doing videos; he would have his Super 8, it was like a small thing. All of a sudden it wasn't like this big deal. And now Anton is a film-maker; I'm going to see his film in New York.

Anton's great to be around and we would often drag him out on the town, anywhere we were going. I don't know if you've ever seen Anton dance. He's got these moves, it's quite something to see. He's very animated. He joins in with the goofing around, but while he's doing that, he's very serious in the pictures that he's taking. There's a personality that comes over that Anton's very good at.

'Control' is on general release now. 'Hourglass' (Mute), Dave Gahan's second solo album, will be released on 22 October

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