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U2 Lists: Top 10 Achtung Baby Images
November 23, 2011
[Ed. note: This is the 32nd in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
Achtung Baby gave us songs, sounds and noises we had never heard before from U2. But the change in album imagery was equally dramatic. If the sound of Achtung Baby was akin to that of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree, the imagery associated with the album and singles suggested four men burning the black-and-white imagery we were used to. In the process, U2 created a new image for the band. The change was truly remarkable.
More photo shoots were carried out for this project than for any other U2 album. The locations used were Berlin, Tenerife (Spain), Morocco and Dublin. Here are just some of the pieces of that image jigsaw, the top 10 images of Achtung Baby.
1. The Trabant
This single image sums up the band's new direction. The Trabant is one of 16 images featured on the album's front cover. The little car also appears twice on the back cover, in the photo with the Berlin Olympic Stadium in the background and then in Tenerife where the band took a Trabant to the photo shoot location. Inside the album booklet is a great shot of Bono and Larry standing beside a Mercedes and a Trabant -- a fitting contrast to the fall of the Berlin Wall and a symbol of the unification of Germany.
It didn't stop there; when placed together, four of the album's singles formed a Trabant with the band members inside. As Zoo TV tour preparations cranked up, the band decided to use several Trabants to light the stage, and to house the pre-show DJ on indoor legs of the tour. The Trabant was brought out of mothballs again this month to promote the 20th anniversary edition of Achtung Baby. There is a fondness for this little car, and some U2 fans have even gone to extremes to acquire some of the original Trabants used by U2, importing them from Europe to the U.S.
For the record, the idea of using the Trabant came from longtime U2 photographer Anton Corbijn. At first, U2 thought this was an odd choice, but then they championed the idea. The cars were a symbol of the fall of Eastern Europe and, strangely, a status symbol in East Germany, because few could afford them. Corbijn also chose the Trabant because it was playful, and he felt the band needed to be less serious.
The original Video for "One" used Trabants extensively. Two were hand-painted by Corbijn, depicting a man and a woman, and in the video you see a man in drag getting into the "male" car and a man dressed as a man getting into the "female" car. This is one of my favorite U2 video promos; it is packed with great ideas, shot brilliantly, and sensitive to the subject matter. It's such a shame that the wider viewing public never got to see it.
2. The Fly
The main character created by the band is unquestionably The Fly, featuring Bono in oversized bug-type Fly shades and black leather, his hair dyed black. In the book U2 Show we learn that Fintan Fitzgerald, U2's wardrobe coordinator, found the original 1970s glasses in an old junk shop in Soho, London, and gave them to Bono. Fintan recalls that Bono "started wearing them all the time, even in the studio, and he started developing this persona with them. Out of that grew the Fly character." Following these initial costume cues, designer Joe Casely Hayford was appointed to dress the band.
We were introduced to The Fly in the video for the single of the same name, prefaced by a teaser image on the back of the single cover. The Fly character reappeared in the video for the fourth single, "Even Better Than The Real Thing." The new persona later allowed Bono to change character while on tour, and the evolution of The Fly led to Mirror Ball Man and MacPhisto.
The video for "The Fly" was extremely important because it was the world's first introduction to the band's new image. Two videos were shot, by different directors. The first forms the bulk of the more memorable footage, shot in low light; the second was more-conceptual footage of Bono walking around London directing traffic and playing with a remote control. The second video doesn't work as well as the first; it is conceptual, and the director and the band were kind of making it up as they went along. Sometimes this approach works, but not with this video. "The Fly" video also gave us the words "Zoo TV" for the first time, and the now legendary "Everything You Know Is Wrong," "Seeing Is Believing" and "Watch More TV" captions. A lot was riding on the first lead single release, which might account for the shooting of two different videos.
Excellent photos from and accounts of the making of the Richie Smyth video for "The Fly" are available on @U2.
3. The Buffalo
Mark Pellington's video for "One" -- described by him as an "anti-video" -- produced a U2 image that has stood the test of time. It concentrated on a singular image, the buffalo, coupled with flowers, simple text and the art of David Wojnarowicz. The band doesn't appear in the original Pellington video. The strong, moving image reveals U2's vulnerability at the time.
The Wojnarowicz art was used on the cover of the "One" single, and the buffalo imagery was featured on the cover of U2 The Best Of 1990-2000 video compilation.
Artist Wojnarowicz died in July 1992, at the age 37, of AIDS-related complications. The band donated all proceeds from the single to AIDS research and quoted the artist's "Smell the Flowers While You Can" in the Zoo TV tour visuals.
4. The Edge's Fashion Makeover
The image transformation of Achtung Baby continued with a brand-new look for The Edge, featured prominently in "The Fly" video and on the Morocco photo shoot in October 1991. Two of the Achtung Baby cover images feature The Edge's pants. Gone are the cowboy hats and bandanas. While some of the album photos show Edge wearing a bandana, once the first single was released, this disappears and he starts wearing a beanie hat, a trend that has continued to this day. The image is completed with a torn-sleeve shirt and singlet.
Edge's "U2" rings, also featured on the front cover and in "The Fly" video, were created by fashion designer Joe Casely-Hayford; a pair was auctioned (item #401) in 2008 for $33,750, with proceeds going to benefit Music Rising.
5. The Band In Drag
The album photos of the band in drag are a revelation. Corbijn took the photos in Tenerife in February 1991 and later that year during the Morocco shoot. One of the shots from these sessions that did not make the final album artwork is above.
The band continues this newfound interest in the first "One" video, shot in a former Berlin brothel in February 1992 by Corbijn. While the other versions of "One" have earned their place in the U2 videography archive, this version is arguably the best and represents the song better than the others. The inclusion of Bono's father must have made it even more special for the band. The unfortunate rejection of that video promo (for mainstream viewing at least) is well documented elsewhere, but a "director's cut" version appeared in a Corbijn video compilation with additional footage of the band in drag, and some other subtle changes. Corbijn is quoted as saying that he originally did not want the band performing in the video, but was overruled. It would have been interesting to see the result.
6. Naked U2
A Dublin photo shoot in June 1991 was the second-to-last of many for the album. The now legendary "naked Adam" photo was taken at this session. The image sparked controversy in the U.S. and some other regions, where an "X" or a shamrock was placed over the offending area. The U.S. vinyl edition remained uncensored. Several other shots were taken, including one featuring Bono with a semi-naked female that was not used in the album artwork, but can be seen on Corbijn's website promoting his U2 photography book, U2 & I. The nakedness continued in early 1992 when Bono stripped down during an interview with Sean O'Hagan at Nikitas restaurant in London. He said at the time that he "did it to try and snip in the bud any possibility of another serious, in-depth U2 inquisition." All 20th anniversary editions of Achtung Baby feature the censored photo of Adam with the X in the offending area. My own first-edition CD copy of the album shows Adam in all his glory.
7. Hansa Studios
Many of the early sessions at Hansa studios are featured in the album artwork. The studio has a long history and the Miestersaal Building stretches back 100 years. The band playing in a circle is an important image, but for me the circular light clusters on the ceiling of the big room are particularly memorable. These images were also used in Corbijn's "One" video, and some of the inner-sleeve photos were taken in the studios. I visited the studio during a four-day trip to Berlin in 2009; here are shots of that visit as well as others from around Berlin. You'll find additional information on the Berlin locations by clicking on "Show Info" near the top right of the images.
The Berlin Wall had already fallen when the band landed in Berlin in late 1990. The Berlin imagery is very striking, and thankfully none was featured in the album or singles artwork. The band did, however, use art inspired by the wall's presence. Two of the singles featured the work of Berlin artist Thierry Noir, a noted painter of the East Side Gallery. This included a long section of the wall that he had adorned with colorful imagery. In addition, he was asked to paint a number of Trabant cars for U2. Similar characters by the artist are featured here.
9. Tenerife (Santa Cruz) & Morocco
As mentioned previously, separate photo shoots in these two cities provided some fun color shots of U2 in which they appeared to be having a good time. This was in sharp contrast to the previous decade, when the band looked fairly serious. They arrived in Tenerife in February 1991, around the time of the Carnaval De Santa Cruz. This photo session produced one of the best color shots, with the band standing still in the midst of an extremely colorful image of people moving all around them. Also from this shoot are photos of the band wearing masks and enjoying the carnival atmosphere. Some U2 fans found the exact location of one of the Tenerife photo shoots and posted some details online. One of these is San Andres Cemetery, a few miles from Santa Cruz. More details on the location are available here.
"Mysterious Ways" was shot on location in Fez, Morocco, in October 1991. The video was directed by Stephane Sednaoui, who used mirrors to great effect. Also while they were there, Corbijn did another photo session. During this session the photo of the man with the snake (no, it's not a boomerang or a weapon) was taken and made the front cover of the album, along with photos of Edge's pants, Edge's rings, the band in the street, Larry at the market (red) and the band at the beach. Morocco photos were featured in at least six of the 16 slots on the front cover, and in a similar amount on the back, making it the most-used location on the cover.
The "Even Better Than The Real Thing" remix video has additional footage shot in Morocco and Tenerife.
10. The Cow
Looking slightly out of place, a photo of a cow in Kildare (near Dublin), taken by Corbijn, also made the front cover. One thought is that the cow is there because it looks like a bull, which kind of sums up the album: The outside imagery isn't serious, but inside is U2's most serious work. What you see is not necessarily what you get.
Achtung Baby Images Timeline
It might be slightly confusing for a casual observer to digest the various photos that made the final album cover and inner booklets. The photos were shot over approximately 10 months, starting in December 1990, when most of the black-and-white Berlin photos were taken. Next was a photo shoot in Tenerife, in February 1991, that provided a mix of color and black-and-white photos and included the shots taken at the Santa Cruz Festival and the band in drag. Next was Dublin, in June 1991, where only color shots were taken, with strongly back-lighted images; the nude Adam photo was taken at this session. Finally, an additional photo session took place in Morocco in October 1991 at the same time as the video shoot for "Mysterious Ways." Between these photo shoots, Corbijn took additional shots without the band present.
I have been a huge fan of Anton Corbijn for years, and not just for his U2 work. The imagery he captured for Achtung Baby cannot be underestimated. Of the photo sessions, he said, "We had nudity, cross-dressing, masks, exotic walls and boring beaches, serious fun and serious men, cars and animals in front of the camera." He originally wanted a one-image cover, and had to be slightly persuaded by the band and designers to go with the grid of images instead. His ideas are quirky, different and just out of the mainstream -- ingredients for creativity and new ideas. Corbijn, like the band, dreamed it all up again for Achtung Baby. I could not agree more with his final comments in the liner notes to the 20th anniversary edition: "U2 have never again spent so much time creating visuals for an album; it was that important to them, and 20 years ago I guess there was just more time to spend. Well spent, I'm inclined to say."
(c) @U2/Murphy, 2011.