Does it seem strange to you that there have now been umpteen posts on this here Jansen Photography Blog, where we have looked in-depth at a wide range of photos that Steve has taken over the years and yet, other than a couple of posts by people talking about the Jansen prints they have purchased, there has been little mention of a certain singer? You know the one I mean…..quite a pretty chap back in the day with a certain sense of sartorial style? Had a younger, darker and equally talented brother? Yeah, him. The one with the eyebrow.
Time to make amends? Possibly. Let’s give it a go……
I am not entirely sure why I have avoided writing specifically about Steve’s images of David Sylvian for so long. The initial focus of the blog was to look in-depth at the shots Steve had taken of Mick and from there it sort of snow-balled. Plus, if I am honest, I feel that there exists already a raft of eager-to-please articles & blogs about David, and I just found the less obvious images that Steve had taken far more interesting. Having said that, some of Steve’s photos of his elder sibling are amongst the most beautiful and intimate out there. As Steve himself has said, once his fellow band mates got used to him carrying a camera everywhere he went, they stopped noticing it and the shots became more natural and intimate.
Becky Olenchak summed this up perfectly when she wrote about her Jansen print of Sylvian in his kitchen, that one of Steve’s greatest achievements is capturing his subjects seemingly at ease; “It is the true ‘slice of life’ nature of this particular picture that caught my eye then and now; an ordinary moment captured for posterity on film. I enjoy the subtle, lovely details of everyday life evident here: the cereal boxes, the kettle, the cartons of juice and milk and so on. I see David’s bowed head and pensive expression as he gazes through his spectacles into his glass and I wonder anew what is going through his mind as he pauses between sips of his juice?”
David Sylvian is seemingly ubiquitous; his image has been a constant presence throughout most of my lifetime so I honestly don’t always notice it. As a teen I always found him a little bit too obvious, too perfect and too poised; there was a quote from a live review in 1981 which summed this exactly – he was described as providing an “aesthetic chill, rather than an erotic thrill.” However, reacquainting myself with some of the older images, the ones that still resonate so much with me and whizz me back in time to the very early 80s, has been a revelation. What then became problematic was trying to focus on a couple of images when there are so many available…….of all of the thousands of photos I have seen of David over the years, how to narrow down the ones that actually say something different? Obviously, the familial relationship between the brothers meant that Steve would always be able to get a version of David on film that would be difficult for other photographers but, even still, it is hard to choose which ones speak the loudest.
There is one shot which stands out for me though and I cannot imagine any other photographer, at the time, being able to capture such a seemingly intimate moment. I say seemingly, because for all we know, this shot could have been planned out to within an inch of its life – but I doubt it. There is a rawness, an almost childlike naivety about David’s ‘pose’ – just what is running through his mind? Although in his early-20s here, he reminds me of some of the teenagers I work with; full of adolescent angst, self-doubt and raging anxiety, gnawing away on his fingers with the worry of what lies ahead. There is a fragile intensity here that I find almost shocking, as if we have been allowed to glimpse something incredibly intimate for a brief moment. This image also feeds beautifully into the perfectly created public persona of Sylvian at the time….all tortured artist and woe-is-me wunderkind – but I didn’t entirely buy into that version of Sylvian then, and I still don’t.
Whilst it has to be acknowledged that David isn’t the most effusive and sociable of people, there exists plenty of evidence to prove that he was not merely a navel-gazing, introspective and troubled soul…….and whilst his infamous smile could often seem fixed and somewhat fake at times, when he is captured in a more positive mood, the relaxed and happy vibes emanate from beyond the lens.
The image of Sylvian in the London taxi (top) is a breath of fresh air to me; showing David looking somewhat dishevelled but at ease with himself, complete with stubbly beard growth and windswept hair, he looks truly beautiful. At a time when we were so used to being bombarded with his perfect visage – all perfection, poise and pretense – here is something far more tangible and believable…..gone is the aesthetic chill of old, finally.
The photographs below taken by Steve between 1980-82, continue to show the other side of Sylvian; relaxed and playful in the company of friends. I do not doubt that he has his moments of self-doubt, and the “crippling shyness” he felt as a child is widely documented, which is something that no amount of time on stage and audience adulation can ever truly remove, but I think it is good to focus on these images of him and remember that he is as capable of relaxing and enjoying himself as anyone else….and after all, anyone who admits that his favourite joke is an old Tommy Cooper classic, can’t be a completely lost soul now, can he?
(oh, if only Steve had managed to get a shot of him wearing a fez…….!!)
All photos by Steve Jansen.
Limited edition, signed prints of Steve’s photographs are available to purchase direct from his imageshop here: http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/
Steve periodically publishes new photographs on his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr site here: http://sleepyard.tumblr.com/
Steve’s official facebook site has recently been launched: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Steve-Jansen-Official/803014983085400?fref=ts