On my mind – Inwards and onwards with Corbijn 

I am at Schiphol Airport. I have four hours to spare between flights. I sit down in the cafeteria with a nice cup of Douwe Egberts coffee and check my mailbox.

Thirty minutes later I am jumping into a taxi, handing the driver the Google map and saying: “Do you know where it is? Can you make it in 30 minutes? I’m in a hurry.” “Business?” he asks. “Yeah – sort of – I’m going to have a close encounter with the Dutchman,” I reply.

Each and every portrait photograph is the same size – a large square portrait – with an identical black frame. The black and white prints capture the mind and soul of those portrayed in a remarkable way. How can I say that? I don’t know the mind and soul of these people: Tom Waits, Karel Appel, Damien Hirst, Mick Jagger, Lance Armstrong, John Lee Hooker, Gerhard Richter, Alexander McQueen, Lucien Freud, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen – and many more belonging to the art and entertainment jet-set.

Mick Jagger by Anton Corbijn. Source: francoamerican.tumblr.com

I am looking at the portrait of the lead singer in the greatest rock and roll band ever – Mick Jagger. This time in drag. First I don’t recognise him. I am thinking – who is this old slut? Is the Dutchman having fun with us? A passage from Keith Richards’ engaging and brutally honest biography Life comes to mind. Richards writes: “Do you know Mick Jagger? Yeah, which one? He’s a nice bunch of guys. It’s up to him which one you meet. He chooses on the day whether he’s going to be distant or flippant or ’my mate’, which doesn’t even come over very well.” In this portrait Corbijn captures this sentiment with precision.

Anton Corbijn’s exhibition Inward and Onwards at the FOAM Amsterdam is a journey in imaginative portraiture. The images capture the personality of the subjects in subtle ways. Some of them revealing in a way that is almost improper. But Corbijn goes beyond that. He gives us a window to the creative process of these people. The pain and the struggle in the act of creation. Corbijn doesn’t record, he interprets. And he does it in an excellent way with his analogue camera (he rejects digital).

Lucian Freud, 2008 by Anton Corbijn. Source: galerie-beckers.de

Lucien Freud, one of the greatest artists of this century who died recently at the age of 88, holds on to his three brushes. His right arm up in the air with a tight fist. The sharp, penetrating gaze.

Freud captured at the moment when he is attacking the challenge of painting the human flesh?


David Bowie in The Elephant Man by Anton Corbijn. Source: www.corbijn.co.uk

David Bowie as Jesus Christ? No it is Bowie as the main actor in the Elephant Man theatre play, Chicago 1980. Painter Gerhard Richter turns his back on the photographer. Heroin-chic Kate Moss looks you straight in the eye. Johnny Cash dangling his forearm out of a car window. A naked Iggy Pop in a jungle. A moving Nelson Mandela. Revealing moments. Always with the energy to meet the artists and their art in a direct but respectful way.

Do you remember; The American starring George Clooney as a hit man? The U2 covers? The music videos: Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence and Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box? All of them – and many more – created by Corbijn over a period of more than 30 years.

Anton Corbijn, (1955) is a photographer, music video and film director. He started out as a music photographer in the Netherlands. However, fame grew quickly. Corbijn has worked with countless musicians, actors and artists. His work has been exhibited in prominent galleries and museums worldwide. A number of monographs of Corbijn’s work have also been published.

FOAM - Fotografie Museum Amsterdam is one of the most exciting venues for photography in Europe. The museum consists of multiple spaces. And there are always some exciting exhibitions and learning activities going on. The library and shop are excellent and the cafeteria cool. The museum also publishes a high-quality quarterly photography magazine, called the Foam Magazine. The staff are all dressed in black – of course. And it’s in the middle of Amsterdam – the city of my youth.

“Finished your business?” the taxi driver asks. Almost – almost, I say, knowing that I will return to these black and white prints again and again, realising that I will never know the depth of the minds and souls of those portrayed.

Jens R Jenssen
Senior vice president human resources
Leader of the Statoil art programme

Anton Corbijn: Inwards and Onwards, FOAM, Amsterdam, until 1 September 2011.


Jens R Jenssen is the leader of the Statoil art programme and special adviser to the Corporate Human Resources function in Statoil.

Jenssen joined Statoil in 2004 as executive vice president for the people and organisation function and member of the corporate executive committee. Later he was appointed senior vice president people and organisation.

Before joining Statoil Jenssen held a number of senior HR positions.

Jenssen holds a cand.psychol. degree (psychology) from the University of Oslo where he also studied sociology and philosophy.