An Icon in Focus: The Preeminent Work of Albert Watson
photography by Jae Hyun Kim
“I do my best to keep it interesting in all these things because I enjoy it. It is not like I feel like I have to.”
Albert Watson—the invisible force behind many of the iconic images of our age—conveys the kaleidoscope of human emotion with glamor, drama, and crystal clarity. His expressive body of work spans art, fashion, culture, and history, and has graced magazine covers, books, catalogs, and movie posters. Albert began taking pictures of celebrities in 1973 after landing his first high-profile commission; a portrait of Sir Alfred Hitchcock holding a plucked goose for Harper’s Bazaar. In the years since, his images are as diverse as his visions for them. We visited his studio in New York to discuss the technological shift in the art world, the meaning of photography, and how Andy Warhol—whose portrait Albert took in 1985—seemingly predicted the future of post-modern celebrity culture.
Plus: Can you briefly take us through your journey as a photographer?
Albert Watson: There were lots of changes I went through before I fell in love with photography. I used to study mathematics and went to night school while working at a chocolate factory. However, everything changed in 1962, when I moved to Dundee, Scotland, and studied general art. It was the first year ever the school offered a photography class, so I took that class, and from that point, I was pretty much hooked. Luckily, when I finished there in 1966, I got a traveling scholarship from IBM and toured America. Since then, I studied and taught photography for a few years and immigrated to America in 1970.
P: What image has lingered with you throughout your career?
AW: I don’t have a favorite photograph, because I have hundreds of books from hundreds of photographers, who I all love. It is so diversified. It can be fashion; it can be landscape and even still life. I find inspiration from all kinds of photographers. Looking at my whole career, I wouldn’t say it is my favorite shot, but the shot of Alfred Hitchcock is very important to me because after I took that image, I began to work for everybody. And I had a good solution for the shot. So, that kind of changed things. If something changes your life, then you always feel it is important.
P: Are there any particular subjects that you are currently learning or want to learn about? What falls under your interest?
AW: If you see my library collection, there is simply everything there. The world is there. So, if there is a subject I am interested in, I read about it. Also, I always take two weeks off at the beginning of the year and visit Paris to see Leonardo da Vinci and Francis Bacon’s work. I am really interested in just about everything.
P: Time is given equally to everyone yet we all use it differently. If you were given 24 hours to yourself, what series of photos would you capture?
AW: Well, I don’t want to get too sentimental with this question. In this case, it would probably be my dog. In my life, I’ve had three dogs over a period of forty years. As I have gotten older, I realized having a dog is like a religious experience. My son always says my dog likes me because I feed it, and to a certain extent, that’s true. However, with her, it’s different. If I am going out for the evening and I feed her, she won’t eat until I come back. When I am there with her, she eats. I think there is something special about that, so if I had a camera, I would probably spend my afternoon with my dog.
P: How would you describe yourself (photographer Albert Watson)?
AW: I would describe myself as a maniac to photography, and I don’t mean that in an ego way at all. I was lucky that I found photography, and I just want to be remembered as a professional. I’m old school, so I like the term “professional.”