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Courtney Love, Orlando (1995)
Courtney Love, Orlando (1995)Copyright Anton Corbijn

Courtney Love, Nirvana and more: Anton Corbijn on his most iconic portraits

Seminal photos of Nirvana, David Bowie, Patti Smith and more feature in a new exhibition by Château La Coste – here, the photographer walks us through the highlights

Anton Corbijn rarely gets star-struck, these days. Since setting out as a teenage photographer in the Netherlands of the early 70s, his career has brought him intimate access to everyone from David Bowie and Courtney Love, to Rick Owens, Virgil Abloh, and Ai Weiwei – many of whom are captured in his iconic black-and-white portraits. In the early days, he “definitely used to be in awe” of his subjects (mostly the local bands he photographed onstage), he tells Dazed. “Now, I view the people I photograph very differently in that sense. It feels much more like a collaboration, and we’re on equal terms.”

Corbijn also doesn’t consider himself a “celebrity photographer”, although so many of his portraits depict A-listers at the forefront of their creative fields, and help establish them in the pop culture pantheon. “To be honest I love to meet and photograph people whose work I like,” he adds, “whether they are well-known or not.”

Over the last several decades, this impulse has taken the Dutch photographer and filmmaker across the globe. In 1980, he shot David Bowie for the first time in America, as the musician and actor performed in The Elephant Man. In the 90s, he shot Nirvana for “two days straight” in and around Seattle. After Kurt Cobain’s death, he would also shoot Courtney Love in Hollywood. In 2012, he flew to Beijing to photograph Ai Weiwei in his compound, shortly before a phone call summoned the dissident artist to a police station.

“Most people I work with are strong and interesting characters,” he says, recalling some particularly striking encounters: Anselm Kiefer, Captain Beefheart, Marlene Dumas, and Miles Davis. Each actor, artist, or musician also requires a different approach, as Corbijn tries to portray the person behind the stardom – the individual “soul” behind what we, the audience, see onstage or on the canvas.

This summer, Château La Coste brings together some of Corbijn’s most iconic images of artists and musicians in the largest exhibition of his work in France to date, aptly titled Anton Corbijn: Artists & More Artists. Staged in Jean-Michel Wilmotte’s Old Store Winehouse, the show features black and white portraits curated by Corbijn himself, including shots of artists including Damien Hirst, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Lucien Freud, and Ai Weiwei, and musicians such as Prince, Bowie, Nirvana, Patti Smith and Nick Cave, drawing from three different photo series, Inwards & Onwards, #5, and Star Trak.

Below, the photographer walks us through some of the highlights in his own words.

Anton Corbijn: Artists & More Artists will run at Old Store Winehouse until August 13.