Exhibitions, Portrait

Guido Harari’s portraits of Kate Bush document their ten-year collaboration

All images from the series The Kate Inside © Guido Harari, courtesy Art Bermondsey Project Space

An upcoming exhibition at Project Space, Bermondsey showcases the images of Guido Harari over a ten year period as Kate Bush’s official photographer. The collection, which is taken from Harari’s book The Kate Inside, includes Polaroids, contact sheets, personal notes and out-takes from studio shoots alongside observations and reminiscences by the photographer. It’s foreword is written by Bush’s creative collaborator and artistic mentor, Lindsay Kemp, who is responsible for the initial introduction between Bush & Harari. BJP sat down with the Italian photographer to discuss a collection which sought to detail the personality of this complex icon.

“The difference between style and fashion is quality,” once said Georgio Armani

If a quote from this giant of Italian fashion seems obtuse, than perhaps the fact that Armani is one of the photographer’s other portrait sitters gives some context. Harari’s is an astounding portfolio that also features the likes of Bob Dylan, Luciano Pavarotti, Bob Marley and Frank Zappa.

Another reason for the quote is that the collection itself – which documents the musician between 1982 and 1993 – is a bit of a stylistic time capsule: The burnt borders, golden sepia-esque filters and elaborate cross-fades all feel unique to that aesthetic decade, like George Michael’s acid wash jeans in the ‘Faith’ music video, or the swirling synth line of ‘Crazy’ by Seal. These elements have a vintage that defy the era whilst remaining distinctively within it.

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Having said that, Harari declares his approach to portraiture to be pointedly flexible:

‘I have a dream about resetting my style each time because each artist – each person – deserves to be approached in a different way. Since I’ve always worked with celebrities, there is a problem there because you already have too much information about them.

‘You’ve seen pictures by great photographers – album covers, whatever – you need to find something different; a different territory.’

This approach had already served him well prior to meeting Bush in 1982. The Milan-based photographer had spent three years covering Lindsay Kemp’s hugely successful dance & mime shows; ‘Flowers’ and ‘Salome’ around Italy.

‘I knew about him being a mentor to David Bowie, so I immediately went to see [Flowers] and ended up with tonnes of photos. Lindsay suggested that we make a book.’

Kemp, who also acted as a creative sensei to Bush, made the initial introduction when the singer came to Italy to promote ‘The Dreaming’, her fourth studio album.

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‘This was in 1982, I went with a draft of the book as my business card, and she loved it! By coincidence, one of Lindsay’s dancers was with her, so he said “Guido’s a great photographer!” So she was persuaded to do a brief photo session, which she loved and then I gave her the book when it came out. […] This distant but intense relationship began, where she would call me for her official promotional photos, and it lasted for about ten years, until she basically retired.’

Many of the collection’s most recognisable images come from the sessions for ‘Hounds of Love’ (1985) and ‘The Sensual World’ (1989) – Bush’s most commercially and critically lauded albums.

This was a period of intense professional pressure for Bush, that one which one might think was accompanied by a degree of visual supervision from the label, EMI. But Harari remains astounded by the lack of exterior interference, as well as the creative license offered by the singer herself.

‘The relationship was total freedom and total trust. [There was] a lot of curiosity as to where we would go next. With Kate I had expected her to exercise control, as I’d heard stories about how obsessive she could be about her music and her recordings and all that.

‘And what I found was exactly the opposite; she didn’t exert any censorship during the shoots. She would look at the polaroids, and she loved what she saw and then she went along with my ideas. Sometimes I would go for multiple exposures, and though she didn’t understand technically what I was doing, later when she saw the results she appreciated it.’

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‘She came to the shoots by herself. She would only have her makeup friend – no manager, no agent, no record company people, so it was very relaxed. That was never the case with other people, I mean… she was a superstar by then!

‘For ‘Hounds of Love’ – which probably became her masterpiece – we went on for 15 hours. I don’t recall any particular conversation. There was no music and I don’t recall a lunch break. We were just excited about the next shot.’

The size and detail of this collection is remarkable. It includes over 300 images of the musician in her many guises; from highly stylised promotional pics, to fly-on-the-wall photojournalism, to offhand backstage shots of a musician most often pictured in idiosyncratic, choreographed settings.

The Kate Inside is a unique memoir-collage that feels actually feels artistically aligned with the music itself. It’s an aesthetic of washy romantic mysticism, full of extraterrestrial flourishes and chaotic cultural candour.

Comments Harari: ‘I think that this is possible only through a collaboration. First of all, get trust, and then develop some kind of complicity, which is more often than not impossible. She wanted me to capture her in the most authentic way – she didn’t want me to create new icons.’

The Kate Inside is showing at Art Bermondsey Project Space from 13th to the 30th September. For more information, visit here.