Alfred Hitchcock holding a goose by the neck, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards back-to-back on the cover of Rolling Stone, or a close-up portrait of Steve Jobs holding his hand beneath his chin. Those are among the iconic images shot by the renowned Scottish photographer Albert Watson.
“When the picture is iconic, it should have power, but at the same time, it should be memorable,” said Watson.
Photo Direct News named Watson one of the 20 most influential photographers of all time. Since the 1970s, he has shot over 200 covers of Vogue and 40 covers of Rolling Stone magazine. Now, the 79-year-old artist has his first solo exhibition in the U.S. — “The Light Behind the Lens,” on view at the SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film.
“City Lights” producer Summer Evans sat down with the curator Rafael Gomes and Albert Watson, who talked about his iconic portraits.
Watson began his career in the 1970s, distinguished by the way he blended art with fashion. He was born blind in one eye but never felt that it hindered him from capturing a truly spectacular image.
The first celebrity he ever photographed was Alfred Hitchcock holding a goose by the neck for Harper’s Bazaar. Hitchcock was a talented gourmet chef and wanted to share his Christmas goose recipe for the magazine. This quirky photograph was a pivotal moment for Watson’s career.
Many years later, Watson was asked to photograph Steve Jobs. Jobs didn’t like many photographers or his photograph being taken, so Watson offered Jobs a proposition. “I thought, ‘how could I get on his good side?’ So I said to him, ‘Steve, I have good news for you.’ And he said, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, ‘I don’t need you for an hour. I can do this in half an hour.’ He said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Really.’ And he said, ‘That’s great because I’m so busy,'” recalls Watson.
The original photograph was taken in 2006, but five years later, the head of PR at Apple asked Watson for that picture. Not understanding the urgency, Watson sent over the photo. And on Oct. 5, 2011, it was announced that Steve Jobs had passed away from pancreatic cancer. Alongside the announcement was Watson’s black-and-white portrait of Jobs. “The picture, of course, had perfect Steve Jobs essence, which is minimalism. And as time goes on, and Steve Jobs, through time, becomes more iconic and more memorable, as a kind of god of this modern world, then that picture still kind of holds up.”
While Watson was visiting SCAD for the opening of his exhibit, President Paula Wallace created a “Key Light” alumni challenge for past SCAD photography alums. “We had a challenge with our photography students based on Albert Watson’s exhibition. They [the 19 alumni] came and saw the exhibition, and they created artworks inspired in Albert’s work,” said Gomes.
Watson and Wallace then judged the photographs, and a winner was chosen that best imitated his work. “When I look at other people’s work, I always preface, ‘This photograph in front of me is your photograph, it belongs to you, it’s your statement. And therefore, my comments, observations on that piece are not necessarily criticism. The observations are based on my taste,” he said.
The exhibition will be on display through Sept. 5.