Brian Griffin’s camera has captured some of the most iconic images of the past century.
His image of a Soviet-style peasant in a wheat field for Depeche Mode’s second LP, A Broken Frame, was selected by Life for the cover of their collection, The World’s Greatest Photographs. He was proclaimed Photographer of the Decade by The Guardian in 1989. The accolades have continued to follow him, as he has worked in advertising, music videos and film, as well. In 2014, Griffin received an Honorary Doctorate from Birmingham City University. In October 2019, he was made a Visiting Professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland.
In Black Country Dada, his forthcoming autobiography, Griffin describes his transition from a young man raised in the industrial shadow of Birmingham to the photographer shaping corporate reports and pop music’s most important products.
Black Country Dada is being crowdfunded through Kickstarter. We asked Griffin a few questions about the book and his experiences.
Your autobiography starts in the post-war West Midlands, when there was such a thing as British industry. One of your best-known pictures is of a woman, showing her hands dripping with oil. Many other pictures feature the worker as the subject. What has drawn you to images of the working person in your photography?
I grew up in the 50s and 60s, in streets of terraced houses filled with working class families that worked in the factories surrounding those streets. My mother and father were factory workers, and I experienced the way they were treated – the way they were treated by the bosses and factory owners. That woman with oil dripping from her hands was a woman depicting my mother! There were no white collar workers in my street or the surrounding ones.
We found a cover that you shot for the NME with Mark Stewart of The Pop Group in a suit in 1978. “Man in suit” has been another of the recurring themes in your work, both in corporate settings and in your work with the music industry. Did you see the suit as a kind of uniform for white collar work?
Apart from being the uniform of the boss or office worker, it takes away the individual character of a person. It becomes a nondescript uniform; a uniform that makes you centre on the action with the person becoming unimportant.
Daniel Miller engaged you to shoot Depeche Mode’s first five album covers, which have become iconic. You also shot Miller for POP. What was it like working with Mute, as compared to major labels?
Daniel basically stepped away and let me get on with it! He became my friend and supporter. He believed in me!
The new book is autobiographical. What should readers expect, as compared to your previous works?
I believe this is the only book that deals with being a photographer in the 70s and 80s. It’s a window into that world, warts and all, but also very humorous. A young man from the Black Country entering the frightening world of professional photography of the Baileys and Snowdons, and eventually making his presence felt. The book is also a window into the life in England in the grey 70s and the crazy 80s, with life in Thatcherism.
When you look back, what are the most important events to you, as an artist?
To be surprised upon discovering I had talent!
Who was the most difficult subject to work with?
Ray Davies, because he didn’t turn up. Talk Talk, plus a good hundred more…