Q&A with Masayoshi Sukita: David Bowie Heroes - Art Collector

Masayoshi Sukita and David Bowie. Courtesy: the artist and Mossgreen Gallery, Armadale

By Emily Cones-Browne

Japanese photographer Masayoshi Sukita first photographed David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust in 1972, and since then has been known as David Bowie’s most favourite and trusted photographer. We speak to Sukita about Bowie, artistic collaborations, and his exhibition David Bowie Heroes, opening tonight at Mossgreen Gallery, Armadale.

Your exhibition David Bowie Heroes features 26 photographs of one of the world’s most iconic performers, David Bowie. What is it like to collaborate with an artist of a different medium?

I have always loved music. When I was young, I would worry about if I should take photographs of one or many musicians. In 1972, I started taking images of David Bowie and since then have focused on him. I’ve actually taken many photos of other icons, however shoots with Bowie have always been exciting. I’m pretty sure he confides in me as an artist, and so do I. That’s the reason why we have a good relationship.

Collaborating for over 40 years, you and Bowie must have fantastic creative chemistry. What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt about how to collaborate with another artist?

Confiding in each other is most important. It takes a lot of time to build the kind of relationship Bowie and I have.

You’ve been photographing Bowie for a very long time (since 1972), when you photographed him as Ziggy Stardust at the Rainbow Theatre in London. What is it like to photograph a musician through so many decades? How does their evolution (of their music and look) affect your work and vice versa?

Time affects the look and feel for both the photograph and the subject’s style. Over time, there is a very natural evolution of how photographs develop. Looking back on the photos I’ve taken of Bowie, it’s more obvious than ever that his iconic style and natural charisma affected my photographs. Our trusted relationship also allowed us both to take wonderful images.

In 1977 you photographed the iconic cover photo for Bowie’s Heroes album, which was conceived as carefully and contrived as musical performances themselves. This photo of Bowie posing like a mannequin is considered to be one of your most famous. How is photographing specifically for an album cover different to photographing for art's sake?

The Heroes cover image was taken in a photo-shoot in Japan when Bowie and Iggy [Pop] came to town to promote Iggy’s album that Bowie produced. Because we didn’t have any specific direction or brief to follow for this shoot, this unique image happened naturally. After this relaxed and fun photo-shoot, I sent Bowie the images I took and that I personally liked the best. Two to three weeks later Bowie asked me if I would agree to let him use the image for his new album. What an experience it was!

In the 1970s you were drawn to New York and its subculture, in particular the mix of art, film and music that surrounded Andy Warhol. How would you say these passions have influenced your work?

1970s sub culture was interesting indeed, but I was influenced by 1950s culture the most (I was a teenager in 1950s). Elvis showed himself in the music scene, and in the movies were my idols at the time – James Dean and Marlon Brando. I would go to the movie theatre very often just to get to know my idols.

If you had to name one, what is your personal career highlight as a photographer?

Heroes is the highlight of my career, but I believe I will have another bigger highlight in my future.

The exhibition David Bowie Heroes by Masayoshi Sukita opens tonight, Wednesday 17 June, from 6pm at Mossgreen Gallery in Armadale, running until 30 July 2015. Masayoshi Sukita will be visiting especially from Japan for the opening.
Share this page: