This image, which Steve published recently on his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr, is taken from a series of iconic shots he took of Mick by the Commonwealth Centre in Kensington and has been chosen by TMK’s very own Penelope Hughes as her all time favourite photo.
Looking at Mick Karn Looking At Steve Jansen….by Penelope Hughes
What makes a great portrait? I mean the ones we immediately think of – Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Che Guevara, John Lennon……the pictures that will cover student rooms forever; the archetypal image which sums of what we admire, love and believe our hero to be.
To me, it’s the shot which looks directly back at us. The hero and the fan, locked forever in one way fascination; we venture an intimate understanding of an individual we will never meet because we are able to look directly into their eyes.
What we see can either say a good deal about the photographer or the subject. It’s rare that it does both and even more rare that the relationship is intimately woven within the portrait.
That Mick was photographed by a lifelong friend is remarkable. Not just a regular kind of friend but someone who, from his teens, he lived, worked, played, ate, laughed, and cried with. Through Steve we are shown the Mick he knew, their relationship, the way he was feeling that day and what the weather was like It’s as unique as the music they created and the people they are – and it is something I am hugely grateful for.
Behind the carefully crafted image of Japan that we were given, Steve was quietly documenting what was actually there and now we get to see the past through his eyes and it’s wonderful.
This is my favourite of Steve’s photos because, to me, it is the perfect portrait of Mick Karn.
Mick used various mask (sometimes literally) but in this photograph – though he’s sporting the clothes, a little of the make-up and none of the eyebrows which is his most memorable ‘look’ – we still see Mick, past present and future.
This is Mick’s face; his hair is more natural, the lips have only a touch of paint and you can see the man he will become. . If Steve had made him laugh at this point, we would see the huge smile that, despite Vivian’s beauty, is the joyful focus of the D.E.P video*.
(*see ‘Mr No Problem’ video by D.E.P)
As a fan you make assumptions, often at your peril, about what’s going on in a picture or in your hero’s life. As I wax lyrical I am perfectly aware that, in reality, what was actually happening could have been terribly mundane; the impression of a tortured artist I get is perhaps someone’s mate who has just stubbed his toe. Maybe Steve was trying to boost Mick’s morale? It could be all of these things.
As far as we (or Mick’s future fans) are concerned, this is a perfect portrait; the ultimate poster. This is the face that will stare down from college walls not yet built.
Looking deep into the photograph you see a study of emotions, a shockingly vulnerable, fragile young man who is deeply, deeply sad. Even a lack of eyebrows is no mask of feeling and expression – quite the reverse. His eyes are etched in sorrow, it’s as if Mick is imploring his friend to embrace and comfort him which Steve does eternally here with light.
Look again and you see a ferocious strength, verging on pride – maybe even obstinacy. He has been hurt more than he thought he could be at such a young age but there is determination within. The hand, like Satchmo, grips the handle as if he depends on it for gravity – or he may clock someone with it! His body is stiff and alert, one arm behind his back as if part of him is still trying to please some formidable figure of authority. The face, haloed by the parasol, is as determined as it is worn; the light breaks through the characters on the lacquered paper and a weary saint stares back at you.
As shockingly different to 1980s Britain – intoxicating and enticing as the country itself – this image, for all David Sylvian’s perfectly composed album covers, is Japan. This is what changed my life – and it is Mick’s rhythmic bass playing (born from his partnership with Steve and a fair bit of frustration) that is the sound of this image. Untouchable and from a foreign place, beyond our wildest dreams – but look at the top of the image and you see we are in London, a brick wall and a very ordinary building reminds us that these men, who seemed at the time, to our young selves, the epitome of the exotic, bohemian artist, were just people too.
Two young friends, at the end of one journey but still at the start of life, looking towards their future with trepidation – but together.
Mick is looking at Steve. You are looking at Mick. You see what Steve sees, what Mick allows him to see, and that is Mick Karn.
And that tells you an awful lot about Steve Jansen
Signed, limited edition prints are available to purchase through Steve’s imageshop http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/
Photos from Steve’s ‘sleepyard’ tumblr may also be purchased in the same format http://sleepyard.tumblr.com/