FEATllRE ALBERT WATSON
portraits. A lot of photographers, especially in America, are very specialised in the way that they put images together, which I’m much less inclined to do. My work is about diversity, which I love. A normal working trip for me would start in the Orkneys where I’d be photographing standing stones, then to Paris to cover the catwalk shows, followed by a visit to Cairo museum to work on some still lifes from Tutankhaman’s tomb and ﬁnish up in Gracelands to photograph Elvis’s gold lame suit.’
While radically different subjects nestle side by side in the book, they are unified by a Watsonesque quality that makes it easy to see why his photographs make such bold, arresting magazine images. Technically they are superb, from the film-noir-style lighting, to the precision and detail of the printing, Watson achieves a ‘high definition physicality’ in his work reminiscent of the classic Hollywood glamour shots ofthe I930s and 405. In his best work there is something that pushes beyond the boundaries of technical brilliance to create a play of tension between the subject, the camera and the viewer’s eye. This is most obvious in the portrait shots where the subjects — Clint Eastwood, Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper or the tattooed, muscle- bound inmates of Angola state penitentiary in Louisiana — stare out of the pages with heroic pride. In the still lifes and landscapes, there is something more subtle yet equally as powerful at work. From the worn out, ‘distressed’ space suits of the Apollo astronauts to bundles of magic charms from a Marrakech street market, all the objects are transformed into historical or
10 The List 4—17 November 1994
Left: Mick Jagger, Los Angeles, 1992. Top: Robert
,. .. Bauschenberg’s hand ' with the contents of his ’ ’ pocket, New York,1991. Right: Standing Stone, Ring of Brodgar, Orkneys, 1991.
cultural totems. Printed with no background, they appear to float on the page, an effect made more potent by Watson’s fetishistic attention to detail. In a nude portrait of Kate Moss, her arched back faces the camera and she appears natural and relaxed, the shapes and curves of her body more sensual and womanly than the familiar, skinny, waif—like girl-child we have come to expect. In the Ring of Brodgar series taken on Orkney, the stones are silhouetted against the brooding northern sky, their textures and shapes carefully explored by Watson’s hungry eye. In Robert Rauschenberg’s Hand, we are invited to discover the secret contents of his pocket — a collection of smooth, rounded black and white stones and silver coins. One of the most intriguing and eerie images in Cyclops
‘I still have a fascination with New York but it makes you very aggressive, it definitely winds you up. | find that the longer I’ve been away the more I think about Scotland.’
is the 1992 portrait of Mick Jagger. By transforming Jagger’s face into that of a leopard. Watson has left just enough of the eyes and infamous pout for us make the association. The incognito rock icon stares out of the page with a steely feline menace that is pure Jagger camp. The monkey portraits, taken in 1992 to celebrate the Chinese year of the Monkey include the first monkey in space, a magic monkey and the startling monkey with a gun (‘lt wasjust an idea that appealed to me’), and show Watson
,. .2", «as». . _ exercising his brilliant sense of the absurd.
After designing and building a palatial studio- cum-gallery-cum-apartment known as the ‘nerve centre’ in downtown Manhattan and living and working in New York for over twenty years. how does he feel about life there now? ‘I still have a fascination with New York but it makes you very aggressive, it definitely winds you up. I find that the longer I’ve been away the more I think about Scotland.’
As the late afternoon light starts to fall away. the sun is low and Watson is getting excited. ‘Did you see the light last night‘?’ he asks. ‘It was exceptional, almost the same as New Mexico in the Winter or Morocco in January, the same kind of quality in the light and shadow, so warm and rich.’ I agree, secretly wishing I could bottle some of his contagious enthusiasm and boundless energy so we could keep a supply of Essence of Albert to sprinkle around the place when things get too dull. Cl Cyclops is published by Pavilion books at £40. Photographs © Albert Watson