• Hero1

    Gilbert Blecken: Blur

Photography

Photography: Rare photos of legendary 90s musicians by photographer Gilbert Blecken

Posted by Liv Siddall,

People like Gilbert Blecken are some of the most important people in music. Gilbert has dedicated his life to making fanzines, buying records, waiting for bands to finish practice to he can interview them and, most importantly, take their photo. Despite having had his photos printed in the likes of Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and Kerrang!, Gilbert’s body of work is still relatively unknown. Perhaps it’s because he never really set out to be a photographer, he was just making fanzines. The reason why his photos are so clear is that he was worried they wouldn’t photocopy properly, and the reason he took the photos at all was because he had already interviewed the subjects and felt it would be weird not to.

The passion and sheer admiration I feel about Gilbert’s work is probably the way Gilbert feels about the musicians he has photographed over the years. His photos are a joyous bundle that encapsulates about 20 years of indie music, and it’s genuinely some of the most beautiful, candid photography I’ve ever come across. Gush over, let’s get on with the interview.

Some of your photos seem to be taken a long, long time ago, when did you first get into photography?

I got a Canon T50 as a present when I was a teenager in 1984 which is also the camera I’m still using now. I started to take photos of the girls and boys in my school class, I guess they were my early superstars. Since then I have always been interested in portraits only.

What kind of music are you into?

I would hate to say what everyone says ("I’m into all kinds of music“) even though that would probably be the correct answer. But let’s be more precise: my favourite band is Sparks, my favourite singer is Billy MacKenzie of The Associates and my favourite album is the LP by Strawberry Switchblade. And if I had to name just one album of the past two years that really impressed me, it would be Susanne Sundfør’s The Silicone Veil.

  • 6

    Gilbert Blecken: Blur

  • 7

    Gilbert Blecken: Blur

  • 9

    Gilbert Blecken: Blur

  • 10

    Gilbert Blecken: Blur

  • 11

    Gilbert Blecken: Blur

  • 12

    Gilbert Blecken: Blur

  • 3

    Gilbert Blecken: Kurt Cobain

  • Cramps

    Gilbert Blecken: Lux Interior of The Cramps

What is it about musicians that really draws you to photograph them?

As a child I was pretty shy and had difficulties connecting with other people. Music has always been my tool to translate the whole world for me, and so I feel very grateful to some musicians. Meeting a few of them years later was very exciting and it was rare that I felt disappointed. What often surprised me was that a lot of musicians were quite insecure and full of doubts even if they’d had a career most people would be proud of. It seems the more intelligent you are, the more you question things, and so I have always felt that there was something almost obscene about people that are too confident.

Tell us about meeting Nirvana, how did that come about?

I started as a fanzine writer in 1989 at the age of 19. The circulation of my fanzine wasn’t very high and record companies were usually reluctant to organise interviews for me. Very often, the only way to get them was to ask the musicians themselves when they arrived late afternoons to do their soundchecks. This was also how the Nirvana interview happened: when I asked Kurt Cobain for a spontaneous interview, he agreed right away.

Taking the photos was also very easy on that day, it seems Kurt even enjoyed posing on some of them. I remember reading several articles in the mainstream press back then about how difficult he was apparently, but from my own experience I can only say that at least towards his fan base he behaved like a true gentleman.

Musically, I prefer the 1980s, but in retrospect it’s fascinating how diverse the 1990s were. With rave, grunge, britpop, techno, jungle, trip hop and so on it seemed you had a new genre every year.

Gilbert Blecken

A lot of your photos are taken in the 1990s, what were the 1990s to you?

Musically, I prefer the 1980s, but in retrospect it’s fascinating how diverse the 1990s were. With rave, grunge, britpop, techno, jungle, trip hop and so on it seemed you had a new genre every year. I even enjoyed Melody Maker’s desperate attempt to establish Romo (Romantic Modernists) in 1995. As a lover of vinyl, however, I have very mixed feelings about the 1990s. I hated the fact that I was forced to buy some of my favourite 1990s albums on CD because they were never released on vinyl.

Tell us about your meeting with Trish Keenan from Broadcast?

That was in 2005 when I was writing for Berlin’s city magazine Tip. I entered the concert hall late afternoon when the band was just soundchecking and I remember they played my favourite Broadcast song Come On Let’s Go over and over. After they had finished, Trish asked me if I would mind doing the interview in a laundrette two streets away from the venue. To be honest, it was a strange feeling and a bit depressing to see Trish pushing the band’s dirty clothes into the washing machine. It made me realise what bands even on that level (Broadcast may not have been stars, but they definitely had a name) had to take care of themselves.

I have always had the idea that in an ideal world, artists should just think about their art and not much else. Funnily enough, this was also an issue in the interview and Trish said that she would hate to do an album every year, not because of the music but because of everything else that goes with it; being caught up in the “machine” as she called it. After the interview, we still had a bit of time and so I asked her for a list of her 10 favourite albums. I used to do this quite often, but Trish’s list was certainly one of the most interesting top tens that I received over the years.

  • 4

    Gilbert Blecken: Gaz Coombes of Supergrass

  • 1

    Gilbert Blecken: Bill Callahan

The Blur photoshoot seems so friendly – do you have a certain technique to make your subjects relax?

This was one of the very few interviews at the time that was organised by the record company. When Modern Life Is Rubbish came out, Blur were still associated with the rave scene and some people even expected their second album to be the final nail in the coffin of their career. In other words, there weren’t many German music journalists in 1993 who wanted to interview the band. The EMI press lady was even thankful that I expressed interest so she could get enough names on her schedule.

I was the first interviewer on that day, had plenty of time and got along quite well with Damon and Alex, maybe because both of them were just one or two years older than I was. What was very important about my photos – and was also the case here – was the fact that I usually took them after the interview. The musicians already knew that I had a genuine interest in them because of the previous conversation, and this is probably why a lot them them look quite relaxed in my photos, at least this is what I like to think.

Since the interviews would take much more time than the photos, I basically saw the photos as a byproduct in the early years. But after a while I realised they were much more important to me. Still, doing an interview has always been a very good excuse to take photos afterwards, so I went on doing both.

“What was very important about my photos was that I usually took them after the interview. The musicians already knew that I had a genuine interest in them because of the previous conversation, and this is probably why a lot them them look quite relaxed in my photos, at least this is what I like to think.”

Gilbert Blecken

Which other photographers do you look up to or feel have inspired you?

I have had a weakness for the kitsch of Pierre et Gilles since the early 1990s, but they never had any influence on my own photography. Partly because I usually was never given much time to really “arrange” a setting and partly because I never had the equipment. When I started taking photos of musicians, I always had the thought that my photos had to be extremely clear and sharp so that they would still look good and recognisable in my printed black and white fanzine. So the special look of my photos was actually born out of those limitations, and when I realised years later that they had a certain style, I just kept it.

What’s your favourite anecdote from your photographic career?

Certainly not my favourite, but probably the funniest anecdote was when I interviewed Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction in 1993, he was on tour with his other band Porno For Pyros. I thought that their debut album wasn’t very good and so some of my questions were a bit provocative, I guess. Perry already wasn’t very fond of the direction the interview took, but when I also began to take photos he seriously asked: “Why do you want to take photos of me when you hate me so much?”

  • 2

    Gilbert Blecken: Trish Keenan of Broadcast

  • 9

    Gilbert Blecken: Blur

  • Cerys

    Gilbert Blecken: Cerys Matthews

  • 13

    Gilbert Blecken: Kurt Cobain

  • 14

    Gilbert Blecken: Dave Grohl

  • 15

    Gilbert Blecken: Nirvana

  • 16

    Gilbert Blecken: The Donnas

  • 17

    Gilbert Blecken: Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins

Ls-300

Posted by Liv Siddall

Liv joined It’s Nice That as an intern in 2011 and is now one of our editors. She oversees itsnicethat.com and has a particular interest in illustration, photography and music videos. She is also a regular guest and sometime host on our Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Photography View Archive

  1. Frida-by%c2%a0ishiuchi-_50_-2012-2015%c2%a0(sunglasses)-int-list

    It’s always a thrill to rifle through other people’s bits and bobs, even more so if that other person is Frida Kahlo. Thanks to a series of images by Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako we can do just that, taking a startlingly intimate-feeling journey through the particulars of the artist. The photographs, which are going on show in May at London’s Michael Hoppen gallery, were captured in 2013 and what makes them feel so eerie is perhaps the photographer’s diligent, cataloging approach to her subject matter. It’s telling that Ishiuchi knew little about the work of Frida, perhaps giving a stance which could be more critical and more focussed on the objects themselves rather than the meanings it’s so easy to imbue them with.

  2. Camille-summers-valli-int-list

    “Their agenda is that they want an activist film that goes into the history of their struggle and presents a contemporary portrait of what’s happening in Black Mesa right now. But it’s not an activist film. I think ultimately it has undertones of activism because of the subject matter, but an activist film follows a certain structure and I’m definitely moving more towards something else.”

  3. Namsa-leuba-khoisan-int-list

    In the past we’ve spoken about Namsa Leuba’s work only in the context of her fashion shoots for WAD magazine and Comme des Garçons, but these commissions came about because of her personal exploration of Guinean culture in a series called Ya Kala Ben. She’s also explored the traditions of a tribe called the Khoisan, one of the most divergent peoples in the world. As with many of her projects these images seek to subvert traditional perceptions of African culture by experimenting with anachronistic costumes and environments, and as ever they’re incredibly striking.

  4. Bodiam-sa-int-list

    Most of the time you’ll find Michael Bodiam hunched in his studio, carefully manipulating lighting and sets to achieve perfectly balanced, perfectly lit compositions for fashion and editorial clients. He’s great at this, but well aware you can’t spend all your time indoors. So a few times a year he jets off to far-flung corners of the world with his camera to apply everything he knows about photography to sprawling landscapes and foreign cities. In this instance he’s found himself wandering through South America capturing the diversity of rural and urban life to be found there.

  5. Tomas_werner_dolphins-int-list

    When Tim Berners Lee invented the internet, surely, SURELY he had images like these in mind. Perhaps he had loftier aims, but today this is the sort of thing we’re really after online: pictures of a small, cute, fluffy dog, sitting on things we don’t expect, shot beautifully. The man behind these images is Slovakian photographer Tomas Werner, who took more than 100 pictures of the little Pomeranian in Miami, which have now been drawn together in a book called A Handbook for Dog Walkers published by Gost.

  6. Laurel-golio-dancexplosion-int-list

    After Little Miss Sunshine I feel like the world of American pageantry is something I understand implicitly. Young girls travel the country with their drug-addled grandparents, suicidal uncles and mute brothers desperate to prove their worth as dancers, cheerleaders, singers and acrobats. I assumed that Laurel Golio’s series of photographs at Dance Xplosion might dispel these cinematic myths but it seems this is a fiercely competitive world of high drama and emotion. Laurel’s photos show just how much these kids, as well as their parents, are focussed on success, twerking, tapping and tangoing their way to middle American superstardom.

  7. Andreaslaszlokonrath-neilpatrickharris-int-list

    Photographer Andreas Laszlo Konrath hasn’t been on the site for far too long but there’s two good reasons to rectify that now. Firstly he’s just shot Josh Brolin for the new-look, newly biannual Port magazine and secondly because this year marks a decade since he upped sticks and moved to New York. Andreas has a diverse practice that flits between self-initiated projects and commissioned portraits and he’s equally confident working in either milieu. We’ve decided to focus on his celebrity shots here and his Port covers (both Josh Brolin and Sam Rockwell) are good places to start. There’s something unflinchingly intimate about the eye contact Andreas often captures (see also Ewan McGregor, Kendrick Lamar and a half-naked Neil Patrick Harris) but he’s no one-trick pony, and from Bryan Cranston peering into the middle distance to the top of David Byrne’s head, he has a real talent for making us feel connected to these stars in a very visceral way.

  8. Morganlevy-int-list

    The “commissioned” tab on Colorado-based photographer Morgan Rachel Levy’s website is a pretty diverse place. It spans a project about public schools, a series made in Ferguson following the shooting of Michael Brown and one collection about a map maker for Monocle among others, and nestled happily into the mix is this absolute stonker. 

  9. Farah-al-qasimi-int-list

    Photographer Farah Al Qasimi lives and works between Dubai and New York; her series The World Is Sinking depicts the areas of Dubai that prosperity forgets, all decayed McDonalds signs and bright murals surrounded by detritus. They’re great, I’m not sure if Farah uses high-saturation film or if Dubai is just consistently this sweet shade of saccharin – either way, I’m into it. She captures sand sculptures, bins and empty foyers with real aplomb. Farah graduated from Yale in 2012, and has since exhibited at Fotofest Abu Dhabi, New Yorks School of Visual Arts and the Meridian Art Center in Washington DC.

  10. List

    British photographer Carl Bigmore is living out a childhood obsession with the USA. The Londoner has just rounded off a project called Between Two Mysteries that’s seen him trawling the Pacific Northwest documenting the daily lives of its inhabitants; using personal pop culture references to contextualise the people he meets. “Since settlers followed the perilous Oregon Trail in search of prosperity in the 1800s,” he says, “the American imagination has left its imprint on the landscape. Oregon is forever haunted by the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining and its chilling analysis of the nation’s conflicted soul.”

  11. Gilesduley-legacyofwar-int-list

    A few months ago I had a beer with Giles Duley and conversation turned to what he was up to work-wise. He was relaxed, breezy even, when he told me he was hoping to launch a multi-faceted, multi-platform exploration of the ongoing effects of conflicts after they’ve supposedly ended. It sounded insanely ambitious; it also made whatever my professional plans were at the time seem pathetically puny. But on Friday, Giles’ project Legacy of War became a reality as it reached its £20,000 Kickstarter goal.

  12. Ohpearch-id-4-int_copy

    While casually knocking out impressive videos for Jungle, Oliver Hadlee Pearch has also been building up a fine portfolio of editorial photography. There’s a great atmosphere to his work; humour, poise and the impression that Oliver and his models have their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Even while performing incredible feats of synchronised dancing and photographing golden babes amongst Memphis furniture there’s an enviable sense of ease to his work, or rather confidence in the set-ups and their outcome. It’s refreshing to see someone with such a singular aesthetic running with it, and maintaining it so successfully.

  13. Avblp-ally-capellino-inty-list

    Fashion photographer Agnes Lloyd-Platt’s new lookbook for Ally Capellino’s SS15 campaign is an ode to bathroom dye jobs and co-ordinating your hair with your outfit colour at all times. She paired models with candy-coloured hair in all the best shades – peach, silvery grey, cobalt blue, and mint green – with accessories in corresponding colours.