Within a few days it will be inaugurated in Vicenza DAVID BOWIE: THE SEVENTIES, the first Italian exhibition by Gijsbert Hanekroot, organized by our association dbblackstar. The photographer in this exclusive interview talks not only of when he met and portrayed David, but also when he shot great music artists from the Seventies, from John Lennon to Lou Reed, from Van Morrison to Stevie Wonder.
Mr. Hanekroot, you had the privilege to photograph many great and talented artists who were the protagonists of the genesis of rock: at the time did you feel a privileged one or do you think that there was not a perception of the cultural changes?
GH: The privilege was to meet so called ‘famous’ people. They are the more interesting people to get to know. Usually there is more than one reason to become famous: being an outstanding musician, songwriter or poet, of course. My opinion is that there’s more to it. A great charisma, a very strong will to win, a great business talent and some luck. The second half of the Sixties there was a cultural change, I think, and all of a sudden a new rock era started. Lots of artists, who later would become famous, made their first and second album.
When you were at those incredible concerts as a crediting photographer did you consider your job more as a profession or a passion? Did you feel ‘rock’?
GH: My first ambition was to take as good photos as possible, not much later I started to like the music, some a lot and some a bit less. But it has always the photography that came first.
Who were the best artists to shoot?
GH: Of course the more photogenic artists like David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Bob Marley, but also Lou Reed.
I think Bowie’s impact on the music scene was something really new for you too. When you saw and met him for the first time what hit you more? Did you think he was more eccentric or that he was simply breaking the rules?
GH: The first time I met David was in London, 1972, in the Air Studios. I was there for Roxy Music on assignment. I didn’t take photos of Bowie. I had a chat with him and he seemed a little shy, insecure. The following year, 1973, I saw him in London with the Ziggy Stardust show at Earls Court. I was in front of the stage. I also wrote a review of the concert for the Music Muziekkrant OOR (EAR), the Dutch paper I worked for. There was the full Bowie as we know him!!
You shot David at the beginning of his success as Ziggy Stardust, then when he transformed himself as Halloween Jack but also when he totally changed his appearance and was the Thin White Duke. Which is your favourite Bowie’s character and ‘mask’?
GH: There is not a favourite. For me counts which persona makes the best photos. All of them! Though the Thin White Duke’s are the very best photo’s I made. Very strange light, fluorescent tubes!
Every time you saw Bowie, did you find him radically changed, as human being, or was it only a different look on the same person?
GH: My opinion is that David (like Mick Jagger and Lou Reed) are very good actors as well and of course it is big fun to experience that.
The most remarkable thing you witnessed David does or says.
GH: Being very professional and give the photographers a chance to do their work while waiting for a set change during the TV recordings of Rebel Rebel. Not arrogant, just friendly and cooperative.
Why did you stop to photograph singers and bands at th beginning of the ’80s?
GH: My motivation was like this: tomorrow somebody else can try but tonight I’m going to make the best photos of this artist. After a couple of years I came home with less quality photos then I already had off a certain musician. It was time for a change.
I know you still like to take photographs. Nowadays with your camera what do you look for?
GH: People. At the end, the most difficult subject to take photos of.
Talking about ‘David Bowie: The Seventies’, your exhibition in Vicenza. It’s the first time you exhibit in Italy. Have you ever come to our country before?
GH: Sure! From since I was 15 years old, many times, almost every year… and I love your country though I don’t understand the language very well.
Last January you were exhibiting in Groninger when they suddenly announced David’s death. What do you remember about that news? And what do you think about Blackstar?
GH: Monday 11th Jan. I was driving my car to Belgium when at about 07:54 the radio DJ announced the news. At first he couldn’t believe it himself but then he confirmed it. A couple of hours I had time to listen to a lot of Bowie music and Blackstar as well. Very special occasion and a very good album!
Interview conceived and conducted by Matteo Tonolli