The Man Who Ruled the World.
Rue du Page, Brussels,
Until July 30
Even with the distraction of the first Saturday of the summer sales, David Bowie still draws a crowd.
In an arty backstreet in the Chatelain district of Brussels, tucked behind one of the most expensive shopping streets, a queue of mostly middle-aged fans, waited patiently for one of the city’s many independent galleries with erratic opening hours to unlock its doors.
Once inside, 45 minutes after the official opening time, A.Galerie did not disappoint with a comprehensive display of familiar and less familiar takes on the most consummate master of image and reinvention captured by photographers celebrated in their own right.
One of the most infamous portraits greets you on entry: Terry O’Neill’s Diamond Dogs picture with giant dog, standing on its hind legs and revealing genitals that for commercial purposes in the 1970s were airbrushed out.
Next to the controversial dog, a languid Bowie sinks back into a chair, wearing platform boots and a brimmed hat. On the floor beside him is a copy of a book entitled The Immortal.
Also near the start of the exhibition, another British photographer, known professionally as Rankin, delivers “The Four Bowies”. Clearly, Bowie had more than four facets but these explore the range from menacing to spaced-out to teenage rebel to almost happy.
New York-born Steve Schapiro portrays a few more personas. Kabbalah 1 shows a copper-haired, androgynous Bowie puzzling over an esoteric drawing.
In Schapiro’s Rolling Stone cover, Bowie is street-wise, chain-smoking, crucifix-wearing, but still with an element of the dreamer as he stares into the middle distance.
And even portrayed on a motorcycle, bathed in coppery light to match his hair, Bowie is brooding and moody rather than hell-raising.
Schapiro is also responsible for the photograph of The Man Who Fell to Earth, which given Bowie’s knack for appearing disconnected from everything around him, could be the alternative title for this exhibition, as well as the title of previous homages. Surrounded by a wall of alien cones, a sleek Bowie, head down, makes his way through whatever world he actually inhabited.
Is it self-absorption or supreme cool, or both, that makes Bowie look impervious even in the presence of John Lennon at the Grammy’s in 1975 New York?
Caught by another U.S. photographer, the legendary paparazzo Ron Gallela, Bowie in trilby and black tie stares impassively at the camera as an apparently eager Lennon, with Elvis inscribed on his jacket, stares at Bowie.
America’s Frank Ockenfels III gives us a simpler, pensive 1992 Bowie with props of cigarette and hat plus an old-fashioned microphone.
Then by 1995, Scottish photographer Gavin Evans is portraying a less inscrutable, more physically rugged, almost down-to-earth Bowie.
His portrait of Bowie apparently saying “shhh”, with a finger to his lips, is crystal-clear, frown lines and all.
Another of Evans’ 1995 portraits emphasises two intense blue eyes, nay-saying the popular belief born of a teenage eye injury that permanently dilated one pupil, that Bowie had “asymmetric eye colour,” as his Belgian fans put it.
If two blue eyes is too boringly normal, the exhibition has plenty more oddity to offer.
France’s Claude Gassian gives us the compulsory Bowie as Ziggy portrait, complete with a crazy, striped, one-legged leotard, while another Scottish photographer Albert Watson is responsible for a surreal head series from 1996. It includes Bowie with a box on his head with a Cyclops single eye in the centre and, in a foretaste of the dead Bowie, he confronts us with Bowie’s apparently severed head inside a box, eyes closed as if in death.
Watson is also responsible for a mean-looking, very much alive Bowie giving the world The Finger in a New York City portrait, dated 1996.
It’s not everyone’s idea of a photograph they want to live with, but for the most die-hard fans, A.Galerie invites would-be purchasers to email their inquiries.
Barbara Lewis © 2016.