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We'd certainly never had a rock star to the house before. -- Melinda Gates, on Bono's visit to her and Bill Gates' home, 2005

When I Look at the World

A review of U2&i: the Photographs 1982 - 2004
@U2
One love. One life. One lineup. One manager. One record company. And, thanks to one photographer, one unsurpassed collection of photographs spanning 22 years and the globe, from iconic imagery to personal moments, created and captured as only Anton Corbijn could. With the eye of an artist and a penchant for portraiture, we have seen U2 through the Dutchman's lenses since long before Bono would watch us through sunglasses, and the impact of that filter is unmistakable and profound.

It has been through Anton's eyes that most of us have come to know U2, on the covers of magazines and of albums from The Unforgettable Fire to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. And In Anton's book entitled U2&i: the Photographs 1982 -2004, we learn why U2 have side-stepped trends and remained loyal to his artistic eye to cultivate, shape, and evolve the band visually.

My expectation of this photo collection, documenting the 22 years from Anton's first assignment with NME up to shots for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, was that of a beautiful coffee table book -- a book you could browse through whenever the whim struck you to see Bono with a mohawk (p. 346), the Edge sans beanie (p. 402), Larry looking devilishly handsome (each photo), or Adam topless or completely naked (pp. 112, 216, 224, 302, 327). What I found instead was a book you read, study, and absorb, unable to wait for the next page even while hesitating to turn the current one.

In a world where anyone can pick up a camera and snap a shot of a celebrity, Anton's gift of ignoring the star allows him to see the men, the music, and the vision. Somehow, he captures such abstract things on film. Compare the rather ordinary cover of October with that of the iconic Joshua Tree to understand how we are not just seeing U2 in photographs, we are seeing U2 through the eye and camera lens of the photographer. Both covers show the band before a scenic backdrop, but Anton's will go down in history as an archetypal rock 'n' roll image.

What is Anton's secret that allows him to make art instead of just snapping a shot? It does not lie in the speed of the film, the manufacturer of the camera, or the lens aperture. Instead, the secret resides in the friendship and trust that exists between band and photographer. It resides in the knowledge that the man behind the camera is trying to capture a story and paint a picture with film that is told in the faces, surroundings, and music that we hear in our heads when we see U2.

The connection between U2 and Anton becomes most evident not in the performance photography, as powerful as those images can be (p. 384-5), but in the tender personal moments that only a close friend could capture; like a moment alone with your mates (p. 386), your wife (p. 166), or your child (p. 191). This expansive collection of images could suggest a title not of U2&i, but instead U2+i, because when it comes to the visual history of the band, they are inexorably linked. One could say he's the sixth member of the band.

This visual journey is expounded upon with hand-written memories scrawled on each page allowing the reader a peek behind the scenes of each image. However, while these notes are a personal touch (along the lines of the booklet included in the Deluxe Edition of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb), they are often indecipherable, time consuming to understand, and they fight the overall flow of the book. I would prefer to spend my time focused on the remarkable images Anton has captured rather than performing hand-writing analysis on his script.

U2&i is not a book you will browse. It is instead something you will pick up, lose yourself in, and feel regret when you read Anton's hand-written caption on page 413: "Last picture of this book, 'and the band they walked on.'"

So the next time you come across a picture of Bono on the cover of Rolling Stone, and you're trying to see what brand of shades he's wearing, step back instead and try to see what Anton wanted to show you. It's all there to discover, in black, white, color and sometimes infrared.

I give this book 5 out of 5 (Rock) Stars.

U2&i: the Photographs 1982 - 2004 by Anton Corbijn is published by Schirmer/Mosel and retails for $120.00.



© @U2/McCarty, 2005.