Klaartje Quirijns’ documentary Anton Corbijn Inside Out (2012) explores Corbijn’s impressive career as a music photographer alongside a personal insight into Anton Corbijn ‘the man’. We are taken through various photo shoots, back office tinkering, client meetings and, perhaps most poignantly, those quiet moments when he’s taking some downtime to reflect on his work and life. In these moments we learn of the sacrifice he’s made to achieve his success. We also learn about the motivations behind his obsession with photography—what drives him creatively.
The exploration of the creative process is at the heart of this film. How influences from childhood, family life and adolescence can inform an artist’s scope. Anton Corbijn (and more revealingly, his sister) discusses his childhood upbringing in a strictly religious family, where their parents were often preoccupied with church matters. The children were left to their own devices for prolonged periods of time and suffered from protracted boredom. It was finding ways of filling these periods with something interesting that he began to develop his creative thinking. And being brought up in a religious environment has imbued his work with an obvious religious tone.
While he professes to be a quiet loner who enjoys protracted silence, he’s a remarkably cool and confident professional when it comes to handling potentially difficult clients (rock and pop artists). He conducts his shoots with a sense of calm control, leading his subjects with clear direction and ever-present good humour. As a photographer his ‘live performance’ as it were: directing subjects, his calm grip on things, his quiet but concise communication skills, bringing in the scenery and location and using space effectively, and incorporating a ‘cinematic feel’ is remarkable.
The film covers his work as an artist, emphasising the depth of his work, essentially stating his value as a serious photographic artist instead of just portraying him as an editorial/commercial photographer who made a name for himself using heavily stylised moody monochromes and saturated high contrast colour images.
The documentary skips his music video productions for his film directing, mostly covering Control and The American. But it’s really in the quiet moments with the photographer himself that the documentary shines as a living cinematic portrait. As a production Anton Corbijn Inside Out looks beautiful with an abundance of textures and contrasting looks, from gritty black and white to a slick ‘movie feel’, and all this is punctuated with voiceovers, cutaways, music and ambient sounds. But there’s something revealing about the documentary because Corbijn’s job is to make his subjects look not just good or even great, but majestic—superhuman even.
As seductive and beautifully engaging as his work is it’s ultimately slick advertising of a kind; revealing the story that the record company’s marketing department wants to be seen and nothing else. There’s no doubt that in working within this limitation he’s produced a stunning body of work. But, we are reminded, that this documentary is also highly selective in how in presents Anton Corbijn to us—as the Romantic loner-artist, sacrificing himself for his work.