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Bjork © Andrew Catlin

Rock stars with a difference

Lucy Bell Gallery’s latest show Days of Rock has a collection of images of some of the effervescent 70s and 80s rock stars and photographers who captured that time both on stage and behind the scenes. Out of this pot pourri of images one particular set is markedly different.They are the work of Andrew Catlin, who has captured, in contrast to the exuberance of the stage acts, quiet and reflective moments. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths. met up with him to find out more about his practice.

Catlin is a British photographer, artist and filmmaker who has made his career from covering gigs to personal, profound portraits. He studied psychology at university, a handy tool to approach strong creative egos when taking their portraits. He had been interested in photography but took it more seriously after his uncle presented him with a camera: the spoils from the sale of a Leica – getting two cameras for the price of one he gave one to Catlin.

Since then he has ploughed his own individual course. He has a quiet intensity as we sit and drink coffee. He is unhurried in his responses, I suspect, matching his approach to photography. The specific images that caught my attention were those of Nick Cave, Patti Smith and Bjork. They had a different feel to the other images; a reflective, quiet, humanity.

He is pretty much self taught both in photography and printing. He prefers natural light, which chimes with his belief in getting to the core of the person and a natural feel. He is after the unfamiliar. So when art directors suggested in the past they’d like a bit of David Bailey/a bit of Nick Knight, Catlin’s attitude was, Why not ask them to do the shoot? His way is to produce something different, a different way of seeing.

Nick Cave © Andrew Catlin

He developed an innovative technique for introducing his ‘difference’ in images. As a student he would shoot at a gig, go back to the dark room and print until 4/5 in the morning, have four hours’ sleep, go to college, then at lunchtime cycle round the music magazines, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, and offer them prints for their files. That was a speedy education in what they wanted and why they wanted it.

Then later, with commissioned work, he would take in an array of images, put the two or three he thought they would want on top; the art director could then relax  – they had the shot they needed – then as they riffled through the stack they would say, ‘Ooh, that’s interesting, oh, and so is that.’ And that is how he managed to get – and so be known for– more interesting images. A canny operator.

How does he approach a portrait study? He approaches each commission with an open mind. His intention is to mine the essence of that person, allowing their confidence, their individuality to show through. He explains: “The face is an incredibly strong form of communication… I wait for a moment when they are really open. It’s an exploratory process, moving through different emotions, thoughts.” He adds, “The picture is really interesting when they come completely open and stop trying to be something, do something, in the way they try to present themselves. They become a subject rather than an object.”

He took four rolls of film of Sineid O’Connor early in her career and printed them up as contact sheets. “They were almost all the same and completely different.” Printed up as contact sheets it was extraordinary how much people looking at them could sense the change of reactions, feelings.

He likes awkward, complex people. And doesn’t go for the obvious – like Shane McGowan, thinking that that is what you want to take, will start gurning, displaying his teeth, showing his slightly grotesque, awkward self image. Catlin wants to give people the opportunity to show themselves as their own person – in their own skin. “Someone at ease, a reaction to their own awkwardness, allowing an expression of their confidence and openness.”

Patti Smith © Andrew Catlin

Patti Smith © Andrew Catlin

When shooting Patti Smith, her first session for several years, he had flown over to New York, waited all day, set up and was ready when the PR ran into the room to say that Robert Mapplethorpe had been admitted to hospital and Patti had to go. Rather than becoming agitated and argumentative Catlin remained calm, empathetic, respecting her needs. Maybe because of that she wandered in and agreed to be photographed until the taxi arrived. She stood composed and quiet, Catlin worked calmly and respectfully, then she was gone. The result is a strong, direct, honest image.

Bjork looked feral in her odd stance, lying on a large sofa arm. It was outside the studio before the shoot had started. He picked up his camera, signifying if it was OK to take her picture. She looks calm but feral. Happy in her skin. Very much her own person.

Nick Cave’s picture was taken in Catlin’s flat in London. He walked around it, examining his pictures and stuff, not talking. And settled into this quiet almost religious pose.

He does seem to get to the core of the character. These are three very singular Andrew Catlin portraits. He takes his time, whatever time he has, long or short, reflects, analyses, snap, and  there it is.

Days of Rock also includes photographs by Syd Shelton, Colin Jones, Geoff MacCormack, Kevin Cummins, Jill Furmanovsky, Terry Pastor, Brian Duffy, Andrew Whittuck of The Who, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd. It is at the Lucy Bell Gallery, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0EJ until 29 August. Open (times may change) Thursday – Saturday, 10am-5pm. 

Posted 18:41 Wednesday, Jul 22, 2020 In: Photography

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