Gavin Evans is one of the several photographers who portrayed David Bowie. When in 1995 they met in London, David was having a renewed and complete artistic renaissance. A single session that produced several incredible shots. We have reached Evans in Berlin, where he lives and where he has inaugurated his new exhibition entitled THE TRINITY (here our news: https://www.davidbowieblackstar.it/three-saints-in-berlin/).
Our EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!
Cave, Pop and Bowie return in Berlin through your new exhibition THE TRINITY. Three very differently talented artists. Which of them was artistically closer to your professional sensibility?
GE: These are legendary Zeitguys who’s contribution to contemporary culture can not be under estimated. Their legacies will resonate and inspire for generations to come. I admire and respect each equally; Bowie for his pioneering spirit and disregard of convention, Iggy’s for his raw vivacity and Cave for his exquisite elucidation of the human psyche. You may equally ask which sense to sacrifice when asking me to choose one of these icons over the others!
Photography crystallises a moment of the past but everything else changes, except maybe the emotional feelings of people. Are your shots of this “Trinity” an enquiry of their past careers or simply memories of Nick, James and David?
GE: The subject is immortalised and consigned to history the moment the shutter button pressed. The value of the portrait depends on the cultural importance of the subject or the photographer. In this case the subjects are of such significance that, regardless of my infamy, the images will continue to have historical or sentimental significance. Skeletons in the closet or revelations of those passed can go on to change sentiments positively or negatively. Video or film is the only medium that comes close to capturing the talent of a person. You remember the portraits, I remember the moment- I was there.
Iggy Pop had to be generous! Many and incredible shots…
GE: Create the right conditions and Iggy is unstoppable! From the 14 rolls (168 images), 160 images were selected for my book Biopic – Iggy Pop. The conditions were near perfect and the flow was uninterrupted. Biopic – Iggy Pop demonstrated that there is no one defining image.
In contrast to most of your colleagues, you say that those who you portray are primarily a measure of yourself. In the portraits of Bowie, do you think that we can see Gavin, David or both?
GE: To proclaim that the portraitist can encapsulate the ‘spirit’ of their subject in one immaculate shot is preposterous. This prevailing notion only serves to elevate the status of the photographer to that of Medium. I can’t abide the arrogance and stupidity that these photo-charlatans profligate. We are all multi-faceted and our moods are always in flux; there is and can be no defining image. You know your favourite photographer at first glance. Their style or approach is instantly recognisable regardless of subject matter- both personalities reside within the frame.
David chose my favourite image of him lost, peering from the dark to hang in his Manhattan office and for the cover and last page of the V&A’s David Bowie Is book. For me this was the most personal, vulnerable and significant image from the session. To discover that this portrait was his favourite somehow connected us. This image is of us.
The first time you encountered Berlin was when you moved there two years ago. You never experienced the same city that David loved: do you think he would have appreciated present Berlin?
GE: Who knows what Bowie would think about present day Berlin? I reckon he’d regret the gentrification of the city but if electro and techno was his thing he’d be in heaven. Berlin’s liberal attitude is what engendered David to the city and thankfully this attitude persists. He’d still love Berlin as Berlin still loves him.
Your photographs are often very raw and intense. Does this depend on the subject in front of the camera or by a personal inquiry?
GE: My personal projects such as ‘dis’, ‘Barrie’ or ‘touch’ (http://gavinevans.com) are investigations where the camera is the tool for investigation or exploitation. We live in a world where surface is smoothed and traces of normality erased. My love of visceral detail reminds us that no matter the celebrity ‘status’ we are all human at heart. I never discriminate or differentiate between my subjects, all are given the same treatment. Commonality is what drives me.
I really enjoyed reading your post, on your personal facebook profile, about that time in London you gave a ride home by car to Brett Anderson but he had to push your car to jump-start it! Do you usually look for a “personal connection” with your subjects?
GE: My immediate approach to a portrait is to find common ground. From that point on our journey starts. If we can’t connect then I let the subject believe they are in control and reveal their arrogance. If we connect then this can be an extraordinary journey of self-discovery for both parties.
You had the privilege to work with David in 1995, during the recordings of 1.Outside. It is a very special moment of his career, because many fans consider it his personal “renaissance”, or simply a particular “state of grace”. Do you agree and what could you mention from your meeting?
GE: I’m no Bowie aficionado so I can’t comment if Outside signified his personal renaissance. Rarely is an LP immaculate but on most Bowie recordings there is at least one moment that connects. Bowie arrived at the studio accompanied by Brian Eno. They were promoting Outside and were in high spirits. Bowie produced a pair of sapphire blue contact lenses- an exclusive, a disguise he knew I’d want to shoot. This would be a subtle change for most but in his case was a radical shift. Visitors to THE TRINITY exhibition accuse me of Photoshopping his eyes, of blasphemy, such is the Bowie fans’ sense of ownership and loyalty.
David didn’t permit a sense of celebrity to set him apart. On screen, stage or in recordings he was stellar and extraordinary. In person the Starman was humble, down-to-earth and generous; eager to put everyone at ease.
Your thoughts about Blackstar.
GE: I am haunted when I listen to Blackstar. It is his parting shot, his transmutation from mortal to immortal. Blackstar is Bowie’s coup de grâce; a devastating and profoundly poignant masterpiece. The title alone has set the Bowie fans and scholars at loggerheads – is it a reference to his cancer lesion or the dark arts? The fusion of Nadsat and Polari in Girl Loves Me will keep the cryptologists busy deciphering the lyrics and uncovering hidden messages.
The genius David Jones signed on as David Bowie with Can’t Help Thinking About Me and signed off with Blackstar. The world won’t stop thinking about him!
Interview conceived and conducted by Matteo Tonolli (with Elena Mattirolo)