As I write this, I still can’t believe a genius such as David Bowie is gone, but he must have known the end was near as his actions + art seemed perfectly masterminded including the ‘Lazarus’ track, from ‘Blackstar’, his last released album. In fact, the lyrics to ‘Lazarus’ start:
‘Look up here, I’m in Heaven!
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen, I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
everybody knows me now…’
Eerily forecasting his death, it is these kinds of details that make ‘BOWIE, Photographs by Steve Shapiro published by Powerhouse Books, a powerful + important character study of such an iconic + legendary musician.
Leafing through the book, while looking at the variety of amazing Bowie photos shot by Schapiro, my mind could not help but become riddled with so many questions. Page after page, I was introduced to various personas David Bowie was famous for giving life to throughout his daily life with the same aplomb as he did on stage. But to really know how such beautiful tokens of memory were captured on film, I needed to speak with Schapiro, the man behind the lens.
Through our phone interview, I first needed to know what Schapiro’s creative process was when shooting celebrities, especially Bowie. Famous for also capturing movie stills, most importantly ‘The Godfather’ + ‘Taxi Driver’, shooting people has always been an interesting favorite, as the photographer is able to capture his or her subject’s personality with a lot more control + autonomy. Always seeing himself as a ‘fly on the wall’, Schapiro was more than willing to photograph David Bowie, when his manager contacted him. Schapiro had Bowie high on his list as someone he wanted to work with + as luck would have it, he got his wish. Now one would think working with such a genius would be a difficult task at best, but they got along famously, especially when Bowie found out Steve had shot Buster Keaton, one of his heroes. There’s even a shot of Bowie recreating the same look as that of Keaton on the book cover of a book he is seen holding in the photo.
Although working with Bowie was a collaborative effort, Schapiro emphasized how the ideas were all David’s + his task was simply to illustrate + bring them forward, which he successfully accomplished. David’s charisma was enormous, yet his unique sense of growth + point of view was very direct, similar to Schapiro’s style of photography. Of the shots featured inside, there’s an unshakeable focus to Schapiro’s approach in capturing this icon’s humility, mystery + poetic beauty. According to Steve, unlike the Rolling Stones or The Beatles, whose characters always remained the same, regardless of their masterful music, Bowie’s cumulative process was a call for creating a different character thus resulting in self-propelled music. ‘These different characters, added dimensions to his repertoire,’ said Schapiro. The way Steve described it, Bowie was constantly evolving, which is not an easy task while still maintaining his strong appeal with fans. Even David Bowie’s version of a biker (below) was very unique, with his flaming red hair + the most amazing pair of sunglasses.
Schapiro said, ‘It seemed with each new change of clothes a new character appeard, each with its own story.’ In 1967, when they finally started working together in the studio, David asked Schapiro’s assistant for their shirt + a few minutes later, he came out of the dressing room with the top cropped + pants cuffed high, which he painted with diagonal white stripes, down to his feet. This famous look (below + cover) was used in shots for Bowie’s ‘Station To Station’ album + later revisited for the ‘Lazarus’ video a second time, humbly considered a huge form of flattery for Schapiro.
Considered to be more of a personal Bowie project by Schapiro’s accounts, this book contains many photos sure to entertain + awe, for all fans Bowie + any fan of true authenticity, which is short demand these days. ‘Working with genius is exhilarating,’ said Schapiro, adding, ‘Working with Bowie was unforgettable.’
‘BOWIE, Photographs by Steve Shapiro published by Powerhouse Books, demonstrates is available for purchase at powerhousebooks.com.