As a shy teenager from an island off Rotterdam, Anton Corbijn only felt confident behind a camera. Described by Bono as the ‘fifth member of U2’, he has befriended many of the subjects he has shot and filmed in his 30-year career. Corbijn invited us to lunch at his new house in the Vredespaleis area of the Hague, in the benign shadow of The International Court of Justice.
“We’re eating my last meal in my kitchen because although the house is unfinished, it’s comfortable. What’s the point in saying you’d have your last meal on top of a mountain in Naples or something? It’s a shame we couldn’t make it down to the beach for a winter barbecue on the dunes, though. I’m quite sentimental about places like that, but on the other hand I’m moving all the time.
I like the idea of sitting here like Nero as Rome burns in an unfinished house with a building site for a garden. I don’t have any cutlery or crockery or glasses, so I went around the corner to the restaurant Gusto to borrow some. After lunch, I’m going to take them round to my sister’s to wash them up. I’m lucky I have two very good friends who are cooks. Pierre here is a genius who once made me a birthday soup called Soupy Woupy and my friend Bobby is Balinese – he runs the best Indonesian restaurant in the Netherlands, just around the corner. One of my motivations for buying this place and installing a professional kitchen was to learn from these guys how to cook.
I grew up in a village on an island south of Rotterdam where my father was a priest. If you live in a city you’re more anonymous, but in a village everyone knows you’re the son of a preacher man. So it was good to get out.
I grew up eating plain Dutch food. My mother’s not a great cook and my father has no taste buds – he can’t taste or smell a thing – so he wasn’t a very severe critic of anything that was put on the table.
After I moved to England, I did a lot of work for the NME. I’d meet bands on tour and end up having some sort of snack at a gig, but then again I’ve also eaten in five- and six-star hotels, so I’ve seen it all and eaten it all. In fact, I’ve been spoilt. I’m very lucky to have had two long relationships with women who could cook wonderfully – one was a cook. So I love good food although I can’t do it myself: last time I cooked in London the fire brigade was in my kitchen within 15 minutes. I was trying to grill some tuna.
I think my last meal would be my last meal. There’s no eating after you’re dead, but your spirit survives. It’s not exactly religious, although I think there’s a Protestant element in my photography – that it can’t just be for entertainment – you have to make something that people haven’t made yet. You can’t go through life without there being any meaning to what you’re doing. That’s why I’m always working. The Protestant work ethic is incredible – and I’m trying to fight it! Listen, I keep on calling this food ‘saviour’ rather than ‘savoury’ – religion’s everywhere – you can’t escape it. I think directing Control was quite a Protestant, northern European thing for me, too.
I’ve been based in London for 28 years, but I’m not sentimental about spending less time there and building a house back in Holland. There’s something about the European way of looking at things that appeals to me as a photographer and director. I love Dutch and German paintings. The visual culture here is rich in a way that it isn’t in England. But I love England for its wonderful ability to promote, package and present. It’s funny, but not unnatural, that Britain’s premier art collector made his fortune in advertising.
I trust my gut whether I’m eating or not. I think gut feeling is the only thing you can rely on. When I started taking photographs, I turned up and used what I had – both in terms of equipment and environment. Choice is not always a good thing. That’s why we’re eating Everybody’s Talkin’. It’s one of my favourite songs and the theme to Midnight Cowboy, one of my favourite films, but Pierre has chosen the food and that choice is fine by me.”
Anton Corbijn’s last meal
Cooked by his old friend, Pierre Wind, who, after a stellar career in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, now creates unusual culinary delights for parties and private clients. Using musical notes as ingredients, Wind cooked the Harry Nilsson hit “Everybody’s Talkin’” for Corbijn’s last meal. With half an eye on the saucepan and half on the musical score, Wind says that he cooks notes rather than lyrics, despite the fact that Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” turned out to be a mackerel croquette.
Born in 1955 in Strijen, Holland, Anton Corbijn moved to England to pursue his dream of becoming a photographer. Corbijn quickly began mixing regular portraiture with chronicling the burgeoning post-punk scene. After shooting Bowie and the Stones and forming a brotherly bond with U2, Corbijn turned his hand to directing videos for Nirvana and Depeche Mode before making his first feature film in 2007. Control is the story of the rise and demise of Joy Division and its lead singer, Ian Curtis.