Music photographer Kevin Westenberg on the stories behind shots of Bowie, Thom Yorke and more
Music photographer Kevin Westenberg has spent 30 years shooting the most famous faces in the biz. As a selection of his snaps goes up for grabs on online auction house Catawiki, he talks us through some of his favourites.
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“I spent 10 years working with Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. In 1993/94 he toured with Bowie, and I was told not to photograph Bowie – ‘Don’t talk to him, don’t go around him.’ I went, ‘F**k it, I’m gonna do it anyway.’ That shot was pure luck. It was the ‘Tin Machine’ era. Bowie wasn’t popular at this time and he was searching for people who could restore his appeal. It worked perfectly for him and Trent. I think that’s why they got on so well. I went to a few of the parties, but Bowie was always off limits. I’d loved to have talked to him about string theory or something.”
“Coldplay were touring ‘Parachutes’ and ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ and were trying to win over an American audience. The show wasn’t the Vegas spectacle it is now – it was all about presenting the songs. I was with them for four years and it got pretty intense. They were starting to be ferried around in private jets. It was surprising how quickly they took off in the US. I’d seen British bands like The Beatles blow up over there and it hadn’t happened for quite a while.”
“This was around 2002 and it was their first cover shoot. They were both in a great mood. We shot in an empty garage in Camden. I didn’t ask them to do that pose, it was just a spontaneous moment. You can see all sorts of things going on in that photo – they’re kind of giggling at each other and thinking, ‘Wow, this is a cool moment for us.’ We had no idea what their relationship was. Were they married? Were they brother and sister? Were they aliens? Who f**king knew?”
“I did this job for Mojo with one of my heroes [legendary rock writer and former NME staffer], Nick Kent. The shoot was in Amsterdam around the [2006 solo album] ‘Eraser’ period. Thom brought the trench coat and I fashioned the lighting to be a little bit noir. This was showing a different side of Thom – a more constructed visual. It’s got a bit of a Clockwork Orange feel to it, a sense of foreboding that I don’t think a lot of people had seen from him before.”
“I’d photographed her two years before this and she’d since become Björk the icon. She’d been stalked in Miami [the guy later filmed himself committing suicide]. We shot it in a hotel room in New York. I wanted to take pictures of her and put them on TV so she was watching herself. It was a stalker-type story which – surprisingly – she agreed to. It captures the last time I saw her as innocent and all the things we remember about Björk from the beginning.”
“This was taken in 1992 at Lollapalooza. It was a really cold, s**tty summer day, raining... everything you expect from the North West. It was in Bremerton, a naval city across from Seattle. Everything was kicking off with grunge. The fact that it was getting so much attention was big news for Seattle. Eddie Vedder wasn’t from Seattle, he was from California, so Pearl Jam got a lot of stick. There was also some bitterness in the Seattle rock community because not everyone got taken along for the ride. This moment was just total luck and the picture ended up being a poster.”
7Kings Of Leon
“This was the first time Kings Of Leon had been on the cover of NME. This is how we remember them – a new breed of hillbilly rock. We took them to Richmond Park in London because I wanted it to have this landscape feel to reflect where they’re from. There was lots of alcohol going down. It was pretty chaotic – getting them to do stuff was pretty difficult. It was like, “Wait, you guys are just starting out! What’s it gonna be like in another 10 years?”
“This was the first time I worked with Weller and it was for an NME cover. He was a super-nice guy. He just showed up on his own, confirming everything I loved about Weller – I was in awe of his coolness. We did this on the roof of the studio. The colours work really well but it was only by chance that he had that yellow shirt on to contrast with the sky. If you tried to get him to change what he was wearing, he’d say, ‘I’m a mod, mate. Once a mod, always a mod.’”
“Like Paul Weller, Polly showed up on her own. She was so cool, so kind. I think she’s the greatest singer to ever come out of the UK. I wanted to represent her in a moodier way than she had been before. We gave her the full fashion treatment – she brought her own dresses and her own make-up and I kept the lighting soft. I always had a lot time for Polly so I wanted her to look as good as possible. This was a softer side to her – a bit of a fantasy version.”