The director and photographer puts the stars in the limelight.
The director and photographer puts the stars in the limelight
THE DUTCHMAN WHO CO-CREATED THE IMAGE OF BANDS LIKE U2 AND DEPECHE MODE WITH HIS PHOTOGRAPHS AND VIDEOCLIPS AND HAS BEEN A RECOGNISED FILM DIRECTOR SINCE HIS DEBUT FILM ‘CONTROL’ AND THE THRILLER ‘THE AMERICAN’ STARRING GEORGE CLOONEY, EXAMINES THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN JAMES DEAN AND THE PHOTOGRAPHER WHO TOOK THE MOST FAMOUS TIMES SQUARE PHOTO.
How did you come across the story of the young Magnum photographer Dennis Stock and James Dean, of whom he took the legendary Times Square photograph?
I think that was back in 2013 during the editing of ‘A Most Wanted Man’. The script was almost ready and I liked the idea of telling a story about a photographer who photographs someone in the limelight. As you know, that’s what I have done for most of my life. I was therefore able to put myself in his shoes very well.
Which aspects of this relationship interested you most?
We examined the delicate balance between the photographer and the subject to be photographed specifically at their level: Dean was not yet a big name and teased Stock a little. The ambitious photographer believed that he was as important as his subject. There is a scene in the film in which he tries to convince Dean that they can benefit from each other. Stock says: “You know, I want to help you”. Dean answers: “No, I help you.” When I was young, I also thought that the photographer was important. In the 1970’s, I focused on the Dutch musician Herman Brood. He was my muse so to speak and I thought that we were equally important. But that was of course a wrong assumption but I was too inexperienced to understand this.
Did you know at the time that you had achieved something magical when you took the photographs that almost everybody knows today?
I think that in general you do not know at the time of photographing that you are taking photographs that will become very famous. The photograph showing Dean, with upturned coat collar and cigarette in his mouth, walking in the rain across Times Square became an iconic photograph. When the producer of “Life” wanted me to show this scene as a great moment for the photographer, I had to say: “No, you don’t know in such a situation how successful that photograph will become. You do not think: “Eureka!” And Stock could not foresee that the few existing photographs of Dean would soon be looked at differently and more closely because of the actor’s pending death in a car accident.” When I took my probably best known photographs of Miles Davis, David Bowie or U2, I had no idea that these photographs would become famous. Sometimes I think it’s a special moment but I am uncertain if the photograph can convey it.
Your work behind the camera made you a star. How comfortable do you feel in this role?
I am fine for as long as I do not think about it! (He laughs) I just do not want it to interfere with my work. The positive aspect certainly is that because of my fame I have easier access to people with whom I want to collaborate and it is easier to implement projects. However, I feel less comfortable when cameras are pointed at me and the focus is on me. But you cannot avoid being in the limelight in the film business. It is an industry that highlights what you do so that people go into the cinema. In photography, you can remain more anonymous because it is not a real industry.
Are you only in Zurich to present your new film or do you have a special relationship with Switzerland?
The Zurich Film Festival is an ideal platform to present “Life”. But I also enjoy visiting Zurich for other reasons because it is the most exciting city of Switzerland in my opinion. I was often here in the 1980’s when I worked with Yello. Nowadays, I see Dieter [Meier] more often in a hotel somewhere else in this world! (He laughs)
Where will we see you next?
Next year, I will be shooting a film for Lionsgate and on 7 November, I will open my photograph exhibition in Berlin.
Will you also exhibit in Switzerland?
Perhaps, if suitable exhibition space can be found. It is a great retrospective because I want to concentrate on making films in the near future. For me, it is a sort of saying goodbye to photography in the way as I have done it for the last 40 years. Making films requires so much time and energy that it is impossible to pursue photography with the same intensity at the same time.