Peter Gabriel Reflections
Clive Arrowsmith has photographed everybody from Bianca Jagger to The Dalai Lama. He has shot the Pirelli calendar twice and countless Vogue editorials. On his witty and candid blog Clive tells the stories behind the iconic photographs and here Clive Arrowsmith remembers shooting Peter Gabriel in Bath in 1978. These images – many unpublished – form an exhibition of Arrowsmith’s work currently on show in Bath’s Museum of Architecture.
Words and Photography CLIVE ARROWSMITH
I first met Peter Gabriel at the Vogue studios in Hanover Square, London in 1970. The studios were on the top floor of Vogue House, Peter arrived with various theatrical and creative costumes of his own design and his bizarrely shaved U shaped bald patch on the crown of his head. The point was, we got on really well and that helped establish a creative conversation between us. I didn’t hear from him for a couple of years, he then rang me out of the blue and invited me to Bath to take some pictures of him outdoors and suggesting we work in a more surrealistic way.
I drove down to Peter’s house near Bath with my assistants and over a long creative chat we came up with the idea that he should be photographed in the Roman Baths in Bath itself. Bath the town was an ancient Roman city, which still had functioning Roman Baths. Peter was convinced he could get permission to do a photoshoot there. His image had changed a lot between 1975 and 1978, his hair was short and he was wearing a suit and Nike trainers, long before anyone else cottoned on to this particular look.
"Peter arrived with various theatrical and creative costumes of his own design and his bizarrely shaved U shaped bald patch on the crown of his head."
Once we arrived at the Baths I had my assistants set up a flash unit, suspended over the Roman Bath on a boom. This would not have got past health and safety today and I was really nervous incase the boom failed, fell into the water and electrocuted Peter and myself. I would have been compelled to jump in to try and save him, had anything gone wrong, causing us both either to be severely electrocuted or to leave the planet prematurely. Fortunately all was well and Peter didn’t get cold because the water in the Bath’s is warm and heated by natural springs which is why the Romans built it there. We helped Peter out of the Baths, amidst the sulphur and steam which had fogged up the Hasselblad for a while, we then headed back to Peter’s house, Peter changed his suit and then we headed out to the Countryside around his house.
Peter discussed that he wanted to create a kind of British Sci-Fi feeling so he bought his brand new miniature portable Sinclair MTV-1 TV which was a really small rechargeable black and white television (a complete technical innovation at the time). He then led us across a large field until we reached an old abandoned and decaying railway tunnel. It was dark and mysterious and full of crumbling rocks, we chose it so we could see the television illuminated as we could not see it in the daylight. I only had a small portable tungsten hand light, so I lit Peter from beneath to give it a more other worldly look. The exposure was half a second to expose the television screen and I was not really sure if it had worked until the film was processed a couple of weeks later. I then felt there was something about it as an image, although it was not sharp it has an otherworldly mood. This is the first time this image had ever been published anywhere.
As we were walking back to the road I stopped in the field and photographed Peter again after noticing the long Giacometti style shadow his figure cast across the grass in the evening light. We then walked up to the road and I gave Peter the tungsten light I’d used in the tunnel for the TV shot and captured him as he ran towards me. I was sitting in the boot of the car holding my Nikon as he jogged towards the car and we drove slowly away from him. We then adjourned to his house, had a great dinner, with the crew and his family before driving back to London. What a strange surrealistic day with an amazing artist.