Portraying the artists


Book Reviews


For some artists, posing for photographs comes with the business. We are used to seeing carefully staged and/or produced photographs of musicians on the covers of (or inside) magazines. For other artists, posing for photographs is not part of the business at all. You don’t get to see painters, sculptors or photographers that often on the covers of magazines. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that you do see some of those artists a lot, and most of them not at all. (more)

Things get truly interesting when you compare these two realms. Two recently published photobooks, Artists by Angelika Platen and I Love You But I’ve Chosen Rock by Olaf Heine allow you to do just that.

You will probably be able to figure out easily which one has the musicians just by looking at the titles themselves (even though German artist Sigmar Polke’s jump on the cover of Artists offers quite a bit more action that the group The Drums on the cover of I Love You But I’ve Chosen Rock [I might as well admit now that I have no idea who many of the people in this book are]).

Maybe comparing these portraits is slightly unfair. We have two photographers with two different styles. And we have pop/rock musicians versus painters and sculptors. But still. Remove the different photographic styles, and you can see how artists, when photographed, tend to conform to whatever style you’d expect from their particular medium. With pop/rock musicians you have this mix of trying to look cool and active (older musicians tend to get away with having a weathered face [think Iggy Pop]). Painters and sculptors for the most part have a different kind of cool they’re aiming for, just like the idea of “edgy” doesn’t seem to be the same.

The one feeling I just can’t shake is that if you’re very much centered in one of those worlds, in other words if you really love rock music and never go to a museum, or if you really love your “fine art” but hate music unless what you could also hear in elevators, then I think seeing the portraits from the other realm will strike you as… well, it looks awkward. This is not to say that any of the people in either Artists or I Love You But I’ve Chosen Rock do look awkward (actually, that’s not quite true, but let’s not go there).

But putting these two books next to each other makes for an interesting experience. There’s an electricity that goes beyond that which each book offers on its own. This electricity stems from our own ideas of what the photographs should do, what we expect an artist to look like in a photo, provided we know what type of art s/he is involved in.

Of course, you might not want to buy both books at the same time. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Rock will appeal to those who love pop/rock music. The book’s design reflects it subject matter very well - part of it are made to look as if someone had just stepped on it, as if you had scraped pages from the floors of concert halls. Design-wise, the same thing can be said about Artists (minus the fake dirt). In addition to the photographs, for many of the artists you get short texts introducing them.

Artists, photographs by Angelika Platen, essays/texts by Günter Engelhard, Thomas Hettche, Heinz Peter Schwerfel, Christina Weiss, 240 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2010

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Rock, photographs and text by Olaf Heine, 288 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2010