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An Exclusive Interview With Bowie Photographer Myriam Santos (2020)

November 15th, 2020 | by admin
An Exclusive Interview With Bowie Photographer Myriam Santos (2020)
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There had been a moment in David Bowie’s career, in which a very particular fan was approached by the man himself. The occasion was to add some original and special photographs for an interview that was previewing his new forthcoming album Heathen. She was a young woman, a photographer from Argentina who started to collaborate with Bowie. A couple of photo sessions, a tour through the districts of New York, some posters and a special book. It was not only a job affair. It was something more. And the eyes and the smile of a young boy testify everything.

 

 

An exclusive interview with Myriam Santos..                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Myriam, how have you faced the strange period of the lockdown during the last months?

By eating like a stoned teenager.

 

We still do not know if we will come back to a complete normal life. Has your job also suffered from this strange situation?

Very much so. Many major projects were cancelled. We did shoots, but in a very limited capacity.

 

I interviewed you a few years ago but I wanted to ask you more questions about your career and your work. When and why did you come to the USA for the very first time?

We came from Argentina in the mid-70s. My parents didn’t feel safe there any longer and they wanted a better life for my brother and me. It wasn’t an easy decision for them.

 

Is it right you have a special friendship with Andra Day and Tommy Lee?

Andra Day is my sister. Tommy and I have matching tats. I love them both.

 

Which are the photographers who influenced you the most?

Difficult question. There are so many. Right now, these names come to mind instantly: Helmut Newton, Albert Watson, Gregory Crewdson, and Melodie McDaniel… to name just a few.

 

You once affirmed that you started to pick up a camera because of David Bowie. Could you please explain to me better? Did everything start from a musical point of view?

I was always drawn to him visually. He was very aware of his look, yet somehow still felt authentic. That, and then drowning in his lyrics sent me into a visual candy land. ‘I gazed a gazely stare’. Random lines from random lyrics always drive my projects.

For me, being a Bowie’s lover has meant to discover and deepen – through his discography, lyrics and influences – many different things not only about music, but also about literature, theatre, cinema, photography, philosophy, painting and more again. Was it the same for you?

Absolutely. As a fan, you find out what inspired the person that inspires you. You dive into those influences. It’s a wonderful experience.

What from his art has been an inspiration for you?

Every little thing.

 

Which is your favourite Bowie album?

Ah, see, that depends on my mood.

A strange thing that constantly surprises me is that Bowie through his first albums and tours influenced many people and they became artists in turn (singers, graphic designers, photographers…), right because of him. Years later some of them met and collaborated with him, influencing each other. Was it the same for you in a way or another?

Exactly that way! He inspired me, and then I was lucky enough to have worked on a few projects with him.

 

You met David for the first time in 2001, when the magazine Alternative Press wanted to accompany an interview with some of your photos. The journalist Robert Cherry talked with him on the phone on 23rd October. Did you photograph him on the same day?

No, I don’t like to do interviews and shoots on the same day. We did our shoot on the 22nd.

 

May you explain to me how the shoot was conducted? Was there any assistants or stylists? I think the photos you took of him are very intense and aesthetically beautiful.

Thank you Matteo. We had everything set up before he arrived. If I recall correctly, I had my photo assistant there. David arrived with Coco. I believe there was a groomer but no stylist. We really kept it very simple. It was right after the attacks and no one wanted a large production.

 

It was a very particular period of time, a month before there had been the attacks on the Twin Towers…

Yes, it was a strange time indeed. We all felt it. Again, that’s why we kept the production minimal.

 

A few days before David opened The Concert for New York City, singing America by Simon and Garfunkel, a very unconventional and brilliant choice. I still wonder for the surprising way he appeared, sitting cross-legged and accompanied only by an omnichord. That instrument is also in a couple of your wonderful pics. Why?

He brought it just in case I liked it. Which I really did.

 

You actually told me that you didn’t chat too much. Why?

That first shoot… yes, after that it was fine. But that first shoot, that was a bit overwhelming.

 

David appreciated your work, as about a year later he commissioned you the photographic book LIVE IN NEW YORK, following him in a NYC A Thon around the five districts of the Big Apple…

Yes. He was very kind.

 

You were the first photographer to follow him on tour in fifteen years, publishing instantly a photographic book. An interesting thing for his aficionados, although it wasn’t massively distributed. As it is not well known among his fans. A real pity.

We did it for ourselves, really. The kind of book we would want. Grainy b&w, handheld. Even the cover was a blurry image of him. I remember everyone else wanted a different cover, a nice sharp pretty image of him. But David and I were in sync on what we wanted this book to be. I would shoot and he would write the intro.

 

A funny thing for me is that the book, published and distributed in America by PowerHouse Books, was materially printed and bound in Italy, in my city, Verona. What do you remember about the production of it?

That was on the suggestion of the publisher. The paper had a warmness that both David and I really loved.

 

You had already told me that there weren’t any restrictions. Did you prefer taking photos of him during his concerts or the most intimate moments?

I don’t very much like shooting concerts. It’s not my thing. He was the very first person I have done that for. And other than Andra Day, the artist I’m currently creative director for, I’ve not done that for anyone else.

 

You also took some beautiful photos of David with your son Ethan, later in Los Angeles, very touching…

He truly was wonderful with my son. He said that Ethan reminded him of himself when he was younger. The book was dedicated to him. Everything I do is dedicated to Ethan. He is my world.

 

More than one hundred black and white pages that reveal a new and satisfied artist. Without any masks and tricks. Was it intentional?

David and I both knew it would be raw and honest. That’s why we didn’t involve anyone else in the process until we were done.

 

David’s introduction is interesting and the artist Rex Ray designed the project. I like some of the things he did for Bowie… quite unconventional for that time.

I hired Rex for the project, I LOVE Rex. I think he was an incredible artist. We became very close friend. I miss him.

 

I know that Rex manipulated some of photos from the previous shoot to produce a few posters.

Yes, we worked together well.

 

I know you became quite close with Rex. Also with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey. You also collaborated for the cover of one of her solo albums. Is that right?

Yes, both became dear friends of mine.

On its pages we can also watch the band crew, and David’s closest collaborators: Coco Schwab and Jimmy King (above). You had the privileged chance to observe this great superstar closely and behind the stage, the way to prepare his performances. Which thing mostly surprised you and which memory do you treasure above all the others?

The thing that surprised me the most was when he went and sat in different seats in the audience to see how they would see it. And what I treasure the most, that one is more difficult. One thing I treasure, was when he asked me to sign my artwork for him.

David was a very sophisticated and complex artist. His songs and albums were usually stratified, hiding different meanings and containing several influences. Have you ever discussed this with him or anyone else?

With others yes, with him no actually. Mike Garson and I have become very close just in the last few years. We have had some very warm talks about David.

How many shoots did you have with Bowie? Your favourite?

Oh God, I don’t know. As for favorite, I don’t think I have a favorite shoot, just favorite images. But that changes daily.

 

How did you experience his last album, the news of his death and the enormous clamor in the following months?

I don’t know how to answer that. The album Blackstar is a masterpiece. I don’t know which is my favorite track. With most things Bowie, it depends on the day and my mood. News of his death hurt my soul. It took some time. After he passed away I remember I couldn’t listen to his music for some time. Now, I am so eternally grateful to have worked with him. The respect he gave me and my work will forever make me smile.

All photos © Myriam Santos.

Myriam Santos online..

Website : http://myriamsantos.com

Myriam on Instagram here

Interview conceived and realized by Matteo Tonolli, exclusively for David Bowie News. © 2020.

Edited by Nick Vernon.

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