Brian Griffin – Featured Artist Portfolio
(Click on images to enlarge)
Notable album cover work credits include – Joe Jackson – Look Sharp!; Iggy Pop – Soldier; Depeche Mode – A Broken Frame; Psychedelic Furs – Mirror Moves; Elvis Costello – Spike; Ultravox – Vienna; Billy Idol – Rebel Yell; Echo And The Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here.
(b. 1948 in Birmingham, U.K.) Although born in the West Midlands city of Birmingham – heart of Britain’s Industrial Revolution and its second most-populous city (Editor’s Note – and where one of my favorite products – Jaguar Motorcars – are manufactured) – Brian lived his early life in the town of Lye, 10 miles south-west of the city and in an industrial area known as “The Black Country”. As was typical in the area for most kids his age, Griffin left school at the age of 16 to work in one of the local factories and ended up becoming a trainee pipework engineering estimator for the British Steel Corporation. At the age of 21 and looking for a way to escape from the tedium of his work, Brian enrolled to begin his studies in the School of Photography at the Manchester College of Art.
When he completed his coursework, Brian took the money he’d saved from working in a steelworks and moved to London, spending the next 3 months showing his portfolio to a number of design studios and publications, finally landing a job in late 1972 working as a photographer for the respected business magazine Management Today. While he wasn’t enamored with his initial assignments, it did thankfully provide him with a start and the chance to work with noted designer Roland Schenk, whose steadfast pursuit of graphic excellence and knowledge of fine art would become an ongoing influence on Brian’s emerging photographic style.
He worked for the magazine for five months and then set out as a freelancer, taking assignments for a number of business and consumer publications and trying, at the same time, to bring his own sense of style to the portraits he took to illustrate these articles (and, from time to time, meeting with some resistance and criticism for his departure from “the norm” of the day).
His entree into the world of music-related photography began in the aftermath of Punk music, when he starting taking press and publicity photos and shooting album covers for a variety of musical acts.
In 1979, Griffin was hired by A & M records to shoot an image for Joe Jackson’s debut album Look Sharp! and so, armed with his trusty Olympus OM-1 camera and his only two lenses, he headed to the South Bank area – his favorite London location – meeting Jackson in Waterloo Station. The sun on the pavement provided just the right image for Brian’s shot of Jackson’s white, pointy-toed Winklepicker boots and, when Rolling Stone magazine listed their “Best Record Covers of All Time”, Griffin’s Look Sharp! came in at #22. From that point forward and throughout the 1980s, Brian went on to photograph many highly-celebrated album cover images for musical clients including Kate Bush, Elvis Costello and The Attractions, the Psychedelic Furs, Echo and The Bunnymen (his cover for 1981’s Heaven Up Here – with design by Martyn Atkins – received the “Best Dressed LP” award in the 1981 NME Awards), Siouxsie and The Banshees, Depeche Mode, Iggy Pop, Devo, Peter Hamill, Graham Parker and Ian Dury and the Blockheads.
Although times were still not easy, in 1980 Brian founded his own studio in East London and thus expanded his capabilities to serve a wider range of clients in the fields of advertising, entertainment and publishing. It also gave him the incentive to experiment more with the lighting of his photos, with the results so impressive that, from that point forward through the rest of the 1980’s, Griffin found himself and his talents very much in-demand. His unique ability to create stunning portraits of his subjects found a very willing audience in the Thatcher-inspired business world, where companies including Bayer, Kodak, Smirnoff, Sony and many others would work with him to illustrate corporate brochures, annual reports and the like (his annual reports for Hewlett-Packard were award-winning).
In the mid 80’s, a company named Rosehaugh Stanhope was selected to develop a 32-acre office and retail park in the city of London which was, at that time (and up until the time when the Canary Wharf area was developed many years later), the largest such project in the city’s history. Hired to come up with a unique way to both artistically light the site and photograph it for promotional materials, Brian spent two years on the effort and conceived and produced what would be known as The Big Tie series of photograph, culminating with a photographed explosion in the middle of the site titled The Big Bang. His photos so impressed the developers, they then commissioned him to produce a private portrait of the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street.
In 1987, Griffin staged his first exhibition at Le Rencontres d’Arles international photography festival in France and, during his visit, Brian was specially honored by being given the “Freedom of the City” award from the city of Arles. Later that same year his exhibition titled Work opened at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and went on to tour the UK and Europe for the next 2 years, culminating in a one-man show at the National Portrait Gallery London in 1989.
The awards continued that year when The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. named Griffin “The Photographer of the Decade” and his photo shot for the cover of Depeche Mode’s 1982 album, A Broken Frame, was featured on the cover of Life Magazine’s special issue, “The Greatest Photographs of the ‘80s”. All along the way, Brian has been the recipient of many other honors, winning numerous D&AD awards and his book Work was awarded the “Best Photographic Book In The World” at the Primavera Fotográfica in Barcelona, Spain.
Looking to expand his talents beyond still photographs and into film and television, in 1989 Brian began to collaborate with a number of advertising agencies, getting his first directing commission for a TV commercial and, from there, “it just took off.” With a number of directing gigs coming in for advertising (ultimately winning a BAFTA award), music video and short film projects, Griffin hung up his still cameras in 1991 to devote himself totally to the moving image and did not return to photography until 2003 when he was commissioned to take portraits of Birmingham notables in support of the city’s efforts to become designated as “The City of Culture”.
Around the same time, after spending 12 years in film developing even more-sophisticated ways to light his subjects, he brought his refined talents back to editorial portraiture, with his first projects being the group portraits he took during the building of the High Speed 1 (AKA “the Channel Tunnel Rail Link” service) and the corresponding renovation of St. Pancras Station, from which he produced a book and an exhibition for the Royal Opening in 2007.
“The Road To 2012”, a commission by the National Portrait Gallery about the London Olympics quickly followed.
In 2009, during the 40th anniversary staging of “le Rencontres d’Arles” exhibition, Brian was fortunate to be represented by two large exhibitions of his work, generating more interest in his work and resulting in a commission by the College des Bernardins in Paris and an exhibition at the Paris Photo show in 2010, followed in 2010 with a career retrospective titled “Face To Face” – on exhibit both indoors and out – in Birmingham’s Snowhill area. Soon to follow in 2011, Griffin undertook a project to photograph the workers, ships and containers at the port of Fos-Sur-Mer for the Marseille – Provence 2013 – European Capital City of Culture”.
Also recently, in 2013, at the Format International Photography Festival held each year in the City of Derby (set amongst the old mills and factories there) where he is its patron, Brian displayed a collection of his still-life and portrait photographs of the important people of the city, while back in Birmingham (see Editor’s Note at the end of this article) – the city of his birth – to provide coverage of the building a new Central Library, Griffin has been photographing the people involved in all aspects of the project – designers, builders and, ultimately, the workers who’ll inhabit the space – in support of a book and an exhibition scheduled for September, 2013. This will be followed in October by a major retrospective of his corporate photography in Bologna, Italy.
Griffin published, in small quantities, a number of now-highly-sought-after photo books during a 10-year period from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, including Open (released soon after the death of his friend and cohort Barney Bubbles) and Work, published in 1988. In 2005, to accompany an exhibition of works commissioned by the Icelandic geothermal energy company, Reykjavik Energy, Brian published The Water People “to visualize the pathway of Reykjavik Energy’s remarkable geothermal infrastructure as a modern Icelandic saga”. Inspired by the works of Jules Verne, the adventure to find the city of The Water People told through a surreal, filmic narrative of large-scale photographs.
More recently, he’s published two very different books, one titled Business As Usual for the sixth edition of the Editions Bessard ZINE Collection and the very favorably-reviewed The Black Kingdom, a visual autobiography of Griffin’s life during the 1950s – 60s as a youth being raised in industrial England.
While now considered by many to be one of Britain’s greatest living portrait photographers, music remains an important part of both Brian’s personal and professional lives. His photographic and film-making skills remain in demand, with other noted entertainment industry clients including Brian Eno, Sir George Martin, Simple Minds, Billy Idol, Peter Gabriel, King Sunny Ade and Sir Paul McCartney turning to him when they want a photo portrait like no other.
For more information on this artist, please visit his website at http://www.briangriffin.co.uk
Editor’s note about Birmingham, U.K. – while, during the 1960s and 70s, Birmingham dueled with Liverpool to be the center of the U.K.’s music scene (including in its roster a number of influential acts such as The Moody Blues, Traffic, The Move/Electric Light Orchestra, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and UB40), they also were quite proud of the fact that another famous artist – Sir Cedric Hardwicke, famous for his roles in The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Things To Come – born in Lye, was also a product of this working-class environment.
All images featured in this story are Copyright 1970 – 2013 Brian Griffin – All rights reserved – and are used by the artist’s permission. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2013 – Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com (www.albumcoverhalloffame.com) & RockPoP Productions – All rights reserved.