Photo: (l): Albert Watson, Sade, London, 1992. Tirage pigmentaire s/ papier archive; (r): Albert Watson, Sun and Henna, 1993. Tirage pigmentaire s/ papier archive.
Albert Watson never met a genre of photography he didn’t love—or master. Whether photographing celebrities or still lifes, fashion or landscapes, the Scotsman does it all. For Watson, the camera has the ability to render everyone as beautiful, noble, heroic, mysterious, and intriguing. This is a testament to a discipline that has served him well for more than forty years, whether photographing for Vogue or for his own, limitless curiosity.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re photographing a porter in a market in Marrakech or you’re photographing the king of Morocco. You have the same sympathetic approach to everybody. You be nice to everybody, basically,” the artist has said.
A gentleman of the old school, Watson got his start studying graphic design, film and television, before taking up photography as a hobby in 1970, when he moved to the United States. Blind in one eye since birth, Watson has referred to himself as “Cyclops,” which became the title of his highly coveted 1994 Bulfinch book.
His first job came in 1976. Watson told me back in 2009, “I got the chance to do a celebrity portrait and it turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock. It was quite shocking in a way, but I enjoyed that.”
That same hear, he landed his first job at Vogue, which sent him to soaring heights all around the globe. Over the years he has done more than 100 covers for the magazine’s various international editions, as well as photographed album covers and countless rock stars, Hollywood movie posters and actors, ad campaigns and television commercials. On top of all that, Watson has enjoyed a series of personal projects that have resulted in beautiful artist’s books capturing the mystical beauty of Morocco and the dazzling drama of Las Vegas.
Now, a new exhibition celebrates the twists and turns along the path he has traveled for four decades. Albert Watson: KAOS has just opened at Opiom Gallery, France, and will be on view through June 10, 2017; this summer, Taschen will release an XXL Collector’s Edition of the same name.
Featuring 29 photographs that span every genre Watson has photographed, the exhibition features everything from a landscapes on the Bank of Loch Fada, Scotland, and a sunset over North Exit 25 in Las Vegas to portraits of Sade and David Bowie, to fashion photographs of Christie Turlington and Kate Moss.
What each of images have in common is Watson’s love of the art, for he not only takes the photographs but handprints them himself. When you stand before a photograph of Albert Watson you recognize a master at work, a man who has dedicated his life to the craft and given it his heart.
“Very often there is journey that a photograph takes. Sometimes the fine art photographers out there, they wake up in the morning and their idea is to create an image that will immediately go from their head, through a camera, onto a print, onto a wall. That is what the intention is. It is a piece of fine art, so concept of it is that it is created for a wall,” Watson told me back in 2009.
“Very often photographers say that rock photography is made for an album cover, a CD cover, Internet usage, magazine covers, magazine interior, t-shirt usage and so on….A photograph can look fantastically good in a magazine the photographer will say, ‘Because everybody loves this shot, I will put it in my next book, a hardcover coffee table book.’ A book opens and closes. When you have an apartment, or a house or a gallery or a museum, essentially it goes up on the wall and it doesn’t go away, it stays there. It may only stay there for a week or a month or for a year or two or it may be sold and go on somebody else’s wall. Consequently, this journey from that image stops whether or not it holds the wall or not.”
Watson’s genius is being able to navigate these spaces so that his photographs are at home in whatever form they take. He concerns himself less with the genre he works in and the application of the photograph, and keeps his focus clear. There is only one question: Is it art—or not?
All Photos: ©Albert Watson, courtesy of Opiom Gallery.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.