In the absence of a new Tom Waitsalbum... here's a photobook made in conjunction with Anton Corbijn...

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Waits/Corbijn – ’77 – ’11

In the absence of a new Tom Waitsalbum… here’s a photobook made in conjunction with Anton Corbijn…

It costs about as much as it would to fund an interventionist war in a far-off country, but if you are a fan of either Tom Waits or photographer Anton Corbijn and have the money to spare, then this beautifully designed and presented tome, Waits/Corbijn ’77 – ’11, will make a handsome addition to your library. Don’t expect much change from £200, though. The thing is as heavy as a small car, so you may also want to think about reinforcing your bookshelves. I wouldn’t even consider putting it on a coffee table unless it has steel legs that won’t sag under its buckling weight.

Anton Corbijn first photographed Waits in Holland in 1977 and has continued to work with him regularly since, so the images collected here, 145 of them, cover three decades of Waits’ life and career, Waits looking in many of them like he has been assembled from the parts of others, such is the regular dissonance of his contortionist’s body, with its long, twiggy arms and legs and a face that even in what passes for Waits’ youth looks like something people have walked over, some of them stopping to stub out a cigarette butt or scrape something off the bottom of their shoes.

Over many pages, we see Waits advancing into gnarly maturity, successive sessions marking his progression from young bar jockey with a taste for late nights and wife-beater vests to latter incarnations where he sometimes looks like something sprung to life from an Edward Gorey illustration – as in the wonderful sequence of Waits on a Californian beach in 2002, where he hams it up with various props, including a chair, a violin and a gramophone horn. There’s not much sense in any of these pictures of the ‘private’ Waits, who clearly doesn’t do unguarded moments, nothing that illustrates what Waits is like when he’s not being the Tom Waits he wants us to see in these photos, where consistently he has the look of a wily raconteur, someone who might entertainingly fleece you with card tricks, patter and sleights of hand. Waits’ own pictures, the ‘Curiosities‘ of the book’s subtitle, appear in a 53-page coda, a colourful collection of strange and disparate images, junk of all kinds appearing in these pages alongside scraps of text, lists and even more discarded paraphernalia, oil stains on concrete and a couple of that look like Waits took them with the lens cap still on his camera.
Allan Jones

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