November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Albert Watson /Interview

©Albert Waston
Omahyra, New York, 2004

Albert Watson in his New York City studio reflects on his 40-year career.


A Life On Film

By Mike Foldes
with photographs by Chuck Haupt

Albert Watson’s iconic photographs have touched  the lives of millions of men and women over the past forty years. With more than 250 Vogue covers, 40 covers for Rolling Stone, movie posters, movie star portraits, and more, it’s unlikely anyone who’s ever browsed a magazine rack in a bookstore, bus station or airport hasn’t at one time or another seen an Albert Watson cover.

The following interview was conducted in mid-July at Watson’s  ground floor loft-office-studio in Tribeca. We’re let into the building lobby by security and met at the studio door by a young lady who disappears into the back room to announce our arrival — and, I gather, to see if we are even expected. We stand at the door for a moment and then move inside to a foyer with a big-as-life photograph of a NASA space suit on the wall.

Albert Watson comes into the room looking as he does in many of his published interviews and photos, dressed in a black shirt buttoned to the neck, black pants, black beret more or less tilted backwards as if the wind were forever blowing in his face, and a pretty cool pair of sneakers.We introduce ourselves to one another, exchange some pleasantries, then face off across a stainless steel table from deep seats on black leather sofas for what is expected to be about a 45-minute Q&A leaving little time for warm-up.

The interview has been arranged by Watson’s son, Aaron, who manages the photographer’s demanding schedule of museum exhibitions, interviews, commissions and gallery shows that have taken him most recently to Scotland (his native land) and Spain. Aaron is a former Associated Press sports editor, and spent many years traveling from one main event to another, including the Athens Olympics, the World Cup in Japan, the British Open, and more. He is not at the studio when we arrive, but comes in later looking very comfortable in jeans and T-Shirt, and carrying a motorcycle helmet.

Photography historian Gail Buckland, who wrote the introduction for UFO, one of Watson’s forthcoming books, was present for the interview.

The following is an edited version of that session.

Chuck Haupt/Ragazine


Regarding Strip Search:

 AW: The pictures go way back. The Vegas book was shot the year 2000, 2004 about 16 weeks of shooting off and on for two years, a six-month break and then another year. But basically those weeks were dropped in, in like one and two week periods over that period of time. Several things held up the production of that book, just projects I was doing, museum shows, gallery shows I was doing, then it really came down to the wire because we were able with the publisher to really package two books together, UFO and Strip Search. So basically it meant that, basically I sat before a computer for four-and-a-half to six months pulling material for UFO.

The Vegas material was all together because that was one project. But pulling stuff, material for UFO that went back a long period of time, required a massive amount of research. Sometimes we’d be spending four or five days just looking for specific genre, or a specific thing. Basically, from ‘84 … ’83, the archives are very, very, ridiculously well organized… and previous to that, previous to that, things between ‘78 and ’84, things were quite well organized, and before ‘78  things were in boxes. And that’s pretty much how it went…. so it enabled some of the old stuff to come through …


Strip Search / Albert Watson

UFO / Albert Watson

Hat Blocks / Albert Watson

Classics / Albert Watson

Kids / Albert Watson

View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.

    Hardcover, two volumes 14″ x 11″ (portrait)  11″ x 14″  (landscape)
    180 pages each   400 images approx.
    Hardcover with rubber silk-screened case.
    Boxed Edition: Two books presented in a clamshell cloth box with foil debossing
    Publication date: Fall 2010
    Introduction an essay by Tom Wolfe
    Published by PQ Blackwell,


A project with a plan?

 AW: Vegas was always very specific. And I had done a book on Morocco (Maroc), and I had shot in a classic style, classic photographic style, because of the nature of the country. I mean you can shoot anything. Just because a country has an ancient tradition doesn’t mean you have to shoot it in an ancient way.  You can shoot it in different ways, and like it’s an old country you can shoot it in an old style.  I was comfortable with that and after shooting Morocco I wanted something completely, absolutely different, and I found that in Vegas. I was fairly familiar with Vegas, and therefore it was easy for me to start that project. … I’ve been going to Vegas for years and years. A lot of times, sometimes for photographing people for jobs, for advertising jobs, and I’ve directed quite a lot of TV commercials based out of Vegas. You’d use the desert around Vegas, but Vegas would be the base for shooting.

About the Web, and a video of Henry Rollins shot in the old Folger’s building in New Jersey:

AW: We don’t place any of that stuff. Aaron does things on the website. So he controls the web site. But beyond the website, all the interviews just get posted. Sometimes Rolling Stone will posts things, because they do music videos that get posted.

What about Hat Blocks?

AW: For quite a few years I collected hat blocks. When I say for quite a few years it sounds like I have a lot of hat blocks. I don’t. I maybe have about 24 of them but I collected the 24 of them over a period of about 10 years. So they’re interesting objects and very sculptural. And interestingly enough you can collect them in England, you can collect them in France, Germany and America. Obviously around the turn of the century hats were gigantic business and therefore hat manufacturing was a big thing all over and I just found hat blocks interesting.


Hat Blocks / Albert Watson

UFO / Albert Watson

Classics / Albert Watson

Kids / Albert Watson

Strip Search / Albert Watson

View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.

What’s left to shoot, and are you casual about finding ‘it’?

AW: I’m never casual. I’m always pretty determined about finding things, you know. Basically I’m always looking for things. Any good photographer should always be looking for something, you know.

©Albert Watson

If you’re casual you’re not going to be successful in what you find. If anything’s too relaxed and laid back, and so on. I’m not saying casually… If you sit in your library going through 150 photo books, or books on painters, or reading, you’re right, that can be construed as casual, but you’ll be looking for something. For inspiration. Very often it might be that you would find something in a book, you might look at something in a still life that might inspire you to do something in portraiture. You don’t necessarily find a portrait and suddenly say I’m going to go ahead and do a portrait because that inspires me to do a portrait of somebody.  I’m fairly lucky. When you’re passionate about something it’s the passion that’s the driving force to find things. Looking and working. Of course you go to museums and galleries, and New York is fabulous for that.

I think I can go to an entire museum show and not get any inspiration but I can immensely enjoy the show. Other times you go and see something quite casual, an exhibition of furniture which is not related to painting – I mean it’s a three-dimensional object, and for some reason that can be inspiring, and can help you see something.

How quickly up the ladder?

 R: When you first got into taking pictures of personalities in California, how did that evolve so rapidly? Was it the Hitchcock portrait? Or was it a variety of circumstances?

©Albert Watson

AW: No, I’m not that lucky. You don’t just happen… It’s pretty unusual in the magazine business for somebody who’s producing, say, Harper’s Bazaar magazine, which Hitchcock was for… it’s not so casual that someone says, “My nephew has a camera. Would you like him to photograph Alfred Hitchcock?”

R: From other interviews it sounds like someone gave you a camera one day, and the next day you’re taking pictures of Alfred  Hitchcock.


AW: Well someone abbreviated things. I was at university for seven years having a visual education pumped into my brain. So it wasn’t seven years of photography, but it was four years of graphic design and three years of film school. During that period of time, of course, I had a camera as a graphic designer, and photography was viewed as a craft subject towards graphic design. So you’re not really a photographer, but you’re using it. If you want to do a poster and you say, “Well, I need a picture of a flower for the poster,”  they would encourage you to take a picture of the flower and then you lay the typography on your own picture.

And that was my first real contact, as it were, with photography. So I had a lot of training. And then when I went to California I began shooting fairly rapidly for, doing cosmetic advertising for Max Factor — and that was kind of fortuitous. But between 1970 and 1973, I really developed a commercial business. I was working as a professional photographer. You know, a very raw one. But I was working and making — not so much raw as when I was doing cosmetics advertising. But somebody in the advertising agency that handles Max Factor says to me, “I loved those pictures you did of that girl in the ocean. Have you ever thought about photographing cars?” And I said “No.”  “Well, would you be interested? I’ve got a car that needs photographing, and we were talking about doing it at the beach, a truck at the beach…”And I did it, and it was very successful, and then I started doing a lot of cars.

But by that time I was more and more becoming aware of light and using studio lighting. I was getting jobs but I was also learning at the same time and I was always doing a lot of testing on my own. So I might have a job on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday I wasn’t shooting, so I would always be shooting.

I would invent something, I would call up a modeling agency and say send me over a girl. I’d call up a designer for clothes and say send me over some clothes. Get hair and makeup people to work with, and so on. And bit by bit, in California, we built up a reputation as being a very productive studio. And from that, somebody from New York called, in ’73, and said, “We need a photographer out there to photograph Alfred Hitchcock. Are you available to do that?” You know… and I said “Yes,” and that was the first celebrity I photographed.

CONTINUED: Albert Watson / Part II


The opening for Albert Watson’s solo show
at the Hasted Hunt Kraeutler Gallery
in NYC is scheduled for Oct. 21,
with a book party/signing scheduled for Oct. 23.


Chuck Haupt Photos © Chuck Haupt &, 2010


1 comment

1 Photographer Albert Waston | { 08.21.10 at 8:50 am }

[…] CONTINUED from Albert Watson / Part I […]