Photographs and Interview by Jimmy Steinfeldt
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times ) 11-6-17
Jimmy Steinfeldt: How often do you clean your lens?
Albert Watson: Never. For the past 35 years I’ve been working with assistants who clean the lens.
JS: What photographers influenced you?
AW: That’s a difficult question. I’d say hundreds and that’s not really an exaggeration. I’m looking at the work of many different photographers all the time. In the fashion photography business there is Avedon, and Penn. I’m also looking at the work of Brassai, Kertesz, August Sander, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, and others.
JS: Who else has influenced your photography?
AW: A lot of painters. I draw inspiration from the Renaissance, Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, and others. I have a huge art library. About seventy percent of my books are on art and thirty percent on photography.
JS: What was your first camera?
AW: A 1920’s box Brownie that had been in our family forever. Later my wife gave me a camera for my twenty-first birthday called a Fuji Automatic.
JS: What camera are you shooting with these days?
AW: I’m using primarily Phase One.
JS: Is there a camera you always wanted but never got?
AW: Not really. I was always able to get what I wanted once I was working. It is a tool of the trade yet I sometimes find the technical aspects rather difficult. People often think of me as very technical but I’m really not. I learned a lot of technical things because I felt it was my job to know these things.
JS: Did you do stills for movies?
AW: I did a lot of movie posters like for Kill Bill, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago, and The Da Vinci Code.
JS: You must have known David Carradine.
AW: Yes, I photographed him once a long time ago in the 70’s.
JS: I was the still photographer for his last movie Night of the Templar and I got to know him. Is there anyone you’d like to photograph that you haven’t yet?
AW: There’s billions of people out there that you’d like to do a story on. It doesn’t have to be a celebrity. I’ve done a lot of celebrities but I’m not like an Annie Leibovitz celebrity photographer. I have however done a lot of celebrities so there’s a bit of a contradiction there.
JS: Can you comment on the wonderful photograph of Alfred Hitchcock in your Taschen book KAOS?
AW: I was young, I think 28 when I photographed Hitchcock. I was very nervous because of who he was and also I did not have a lot of experience at that point. He was wonderful. He was calm and helped make the shoot terrific. The magazine wanted me to photograph him holding a plate with a cooked goose on the plate. I asked if I could shoot the photo as if Hitchcock had throttled the goose himself. The magazine liked that idea and so did Hitchcock.
JS: I know you studied film and television at college. I am writing my third book entitled Hitchcock’s Shadow-Conversations With The Great Directors. Would you like me to send you a signed copy when it’s completed?
AW: Oh that would be great.
JS: Tell me about your new book KAOS and your relationship with Taschen.
AW: Taschen came along and asked me to do a book and that was three years ago. It took a long time to get the whole thing organized. We kept redoing it, redoing it, redoing it. It’s difficult with me because I’m so diversified. There are landscapes, still- lifes, celebrities, fashion, nudes, and it just goes on and on. Many genres and that makes the book difficult to put together. But that’s who I am and we had to create that.
JS: What advice would you have for a young person who wants to pursue photography as a career?
AW: Unfortunately too many people get into it because they like the camera. The object itself. Men in particular. They like cameras, watches, cars, etc. They like the equipment. The equipment is important and you need to learn the technical aspects but spending ninety to ninety-five percent of the time on the equipment and not enough preparation when it comes to the creative side is a mistake. As the photographer moves forward in their career the technical aspect should take up less and less time and the creative aspect should take up more time. The technical side of photography should become as natural as driving your car. Photographers often check all their equipment before a shoot: batteries, camera, lights, software, tripod, etc. They often haven’t prepared creatively. Some often say they just like to be spontaneous. But spontaneous shouldn’t be the only plan. There should be a plan B.
JS: Albert you and I both photographed President Clinton. Can you tell me about your experience?
AW: I was at the White House for Newsweek magazine. He was quite funny. He looked at one of my books and said he liked my shot of Clint Eastwood and asked if I could make him look like that.
JS: What’s next for Albert Watson?
AW: I’m working on an exhibition right now that’s for a theatre. It’s a huge project and will take one year to complete.
JS: Where should I point readers to learn more about you?
AW: Just put my name on the internet, there’s five million things there.
Albert Watson’s exhibit KAOS can be seen through December 1st at the Taschen Gallery, 8070 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048