“In 1996 I was photographing pretty much non-stop for music and fashion magazines or advertising agencies; it was one shoot after the other or I was in a darkroom somewhere working on prints for some deadline.
I really enjoyed it, but it was also getting to me a bit – something I realized was that I needed to vary the type of work I was shooting and try some different type of subjects (away from music). I think you need to do this with any kind of work you do; move from say a music to a fashion subject – just to keep yourself energized and excited about the next project. But I knew it was especially right for me as I never wanted to take the standard band Pr portraits and having the right situation and freedom to take photographs the way I wanted wasn’t always possible. I was turning down photo shoots with some quite well known artists. Not because I didn’t like the band or artist, but partly because maybe the situation being provided wasn’t right for me. For instance, I wasn’t going to shoot in some TV studio or green room for 15 minutes with all the distractions that brings, as the type of photograph I could take would be pointless – also, sometimes (at this point) I was just bored of shooting another 4 guys in a band and when you feel like that, you need a break, change what you’re photographing. For me it was always about the photographs that I took, and about making them feel long term (like the music that many of the artists produced), and not solely about who or how popular the artist was.
So when I was offered the chance to photograph Robert Smith and his band The Cure – well most people might be a little excited – unfortunately at this point, I wasn’t. I didn’t really know why I felt this way – but looking back I think it could have had something to do with possibly feeling a bit burnt out from the shooting and then onto darkroom. I could easily spend a day obsessing and working on the detail of some photograph and this just wasn’t a healthy way to live.
In fact I was partly dreading this shoot with The Cure, but that was before I knew the full situation. This shoot was going to happen on location in a little village called St Catherine’s Court just outside of Bath, where The Cure were recording their album ‘Wild Mood Swings’. What got my interest was the location; it had its own GRAVEYARD. I like Graveyards, they make great photographic locations, I grew up watching the old black and white Hammer Horror Films with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, the heroes and villains of many a Dracula film, so especially when you are shooting someone who looks like Robert Smith with his black eyeliner and wild hair and the other band members who all resembled characters from these films – this cheered me up.
The mansion where the band were recording was owned by the actress Jane Seymour; it was like an old abbey – amazing for recording – it would also, I might add, be a good location for a Dracula film. The main dining room was massive, like a ballroom and this was where the band were all set up and it resembled a musical instrument store; everything there all laid out ready for the next session. I remember I had been at the house for about an hour getting all relaxed and organized and just as I was checking the weather outside, a strange looking guy wearing a parka was walking up to me. ‘Oh hi, it’s Robert isn’t it, pleased to meet you,’ I said. Robert Smith, I think, had just got out of bed as he talked quietly. It was chilly but with his hooded parka Robert looked like he had come straight from a building site. He was a very grounded and down to earth type of guy, he was really friendly and there and then we just started shooting some portraits against a backdrop I had set up.
Now photographing Robert Smith is not that straightforward; he doesn’t do anything but stand there and stare. I had been a bit spoilt on previous shoots as people did stuff, but I had been told that he normally does not like having his photograph taken, so a bit risky if you can’t ask Robert to make movements, joke about, pull faces etc… So the trickiest artist I had so far been asked to photograph. I therefore have a choice, either a very static boring portrait shoot against a backdrop OR thankfully I had the location – the Graveyard!!!
So I suggest that the next shots we’ll shoot will be in the graveyard area – this caused a strange almost confused look from Robert. ‘Hmmm, right ok, I’ll get the band’.
So here I am setting up one of the best British bands ever – in a graveyard. Not sure any of them really got it, but they all looked hung over and very much looked the part. In fact it got better: the weather had turned all hazy in the field next to the graveyard so I asked Robert if we could just go and hang out there and shoot some more. He was always agreeing never once turning down a request and I liked him for this. Finally, I shot some solo portraits of Robert sat by a stone coffin and the church to the right just made the whole effect even more macabre. How I loved this guy, this location and did I say I was dreading this shoot – well not now. As it turned out for me the graveyard shots were the best shots from the shoot, so now I love and give thanks to Jane Seymour for renting out her property to The Cure.
A week later after showing Robert some of the shots to approve, I received a letter from his press people; he had approved all the work I’d shown, but he wrote he never understood why we used the graveyard. I am afraid I never had the heart to tell him.”
© Ian Davies