Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tom Waits: Control Freak

Dutch photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn has spent the best part of three decades taking portraits of Tom Waits and the pair have now collaborated on a book of iconic shots and lyrics. Waits/Corbijn was due out today according to Amazon but it looks like we might have to wait until the end of the year to see it, judging by the website of publishers Schirmer-Mosel.

Waits must be a dream to photograph as I can't think of another singer-songwriter of his stature who has maintained such a strong aesthetic over a 30-plus year career. His lyrics have always been a grab bag of vivid visual references and twisted narratives; of Potter's Field graveyards, windshield diamonds and jockeys full of bourbon; of buildings "lit like dominoes" and hookers so good they'd "make a dead man come." 

And for a funny looking fella, he seems to really enjoy the theatre of the photo shoot, with each scene serving to accentuate his various character traits in neat little ways. When he barks into a megaphone or bangs a drum, it encapsulates that unpredictable menace within his music - that same uncomfortable feeling you get when a nutjob sits down beside you on the bus. Similarly, when he is shown elsewhere in silhouette clambering up a tree, it is impossible not to fixate on his simian-like features more closely next time around or chuckle at the Jungle Book-era Louis Prima bounce to his gravelly scats. Corbijn's photographs draw many of these traits out beautifully and the pair's collaboration should be a rare treat. Whenever it comes out.

Photos © Anton Corbijn

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