Like almost all of us, Steve Schapiro heard of Bowie’s death on the news. He had no idea, few of us did, that the influential figure was even ill. But, beyond an immediate sense of sadness, the photographer’s first reflection was on how strongly we responded to him: “It’s like a photograph. Sometimes you don’t know why you love it, but it has this warmth, this unplaceable emotion, that draws you – that was David Bowie.”
A performer, a poser, a creative genius: it was rare to ever see Bowie out of character but the pictures that Schapiro managed to capture in just one day in Los Angeles, 1974, and again, in between takes for The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1975, managed such a feat. Immortalised in his latest photobook, simply entitled Bowie: Photographs, we meet many shades of the musician – some are recognisable as famous album art and magazine covers, while others show an unseen, quieter side.
“Bowie was on a personal adventure. A lot of groups are out for audience satisfaction and, while Bowie might have started that way, it quickly became about the development of his personality and really finding out things about himself,” Schapiro explains.
“Amazingly, the majority of this shoot was an experimentation in terms of other personas, other people he could possibly be or later develop, or else there was a number of pictures where you could sense he was looking at the camera but in a ‘real’ way – there’s a true sense of spirit in that.”
With the journey now at an end, and more stars falling from the sky on an ever-increasing basis, the cultural poignancy of photography seems to have grown in importance.
“Usually when I’ve worked with someone who is extremely talented, there’s a collaboration, said or unsaid, where you’re both working towards this thing, creating these images that you hope can possibly be iconic at best, but at worst really reveal something about that person.”
In Bowie’s case, it would appear he and Schapiro managed to achieve both.
Steve Schapiro: Heroes exhibition opens 9 June at London’s Atlas Gallery; atlasgallery.com. Bowie: Photographs is out now (Powerhouse Books; £30 via amazon.co.uk).