A Conversation With Albert Watson and Laurie Kratochvil

The Keynotes at PhotoPlus are always highy anticipated events and today’s presentation by Albert Watson, in conversation with Laurie Kratochvil, was right up there as being one of the best. 

Kratochvil, an icon in her own right who has worked with Watson in the past, first as director of photography at Rolling Stone, then as collaborator on his book Cyclops and more recently on his book Strip Search (due out next week), sat next to Watson. They discussed how he got started in photography some 40 plus years ago and his work in Vegas for his latest book.

 “I was trained as a graphic designer, which has held me in very good stead, even today,” Watson began. He then told the audience that his wife had bought him a Fujimatic decades earlier, and he was hooked on photography from that point on. “Whenever we went out I remember putting the strap over my shoulder and even though there was no film in the camera and I didn’t know how to use it, it had an effect on me. That night I even got up to check and make sure it was still there.”

As his iconic images flashed on the screen, the most memorable one being Alfred Hitchcock holding a goose by its neck, the audience was able to follow the path that has taken him to the present day and his new book, UFO (see PDN‘s October article, “Albert Watson’s Reflections on Style”), his current show at Hasted Krautler gallery in New York showing work from his 40 year career, and more projects on the horizon.

When Kratochvil asked the photographer, “Why Las Vegas?” Watson responded by contrasting his upcoming book, Strip Search, with a previous book he had done on Morocco, which was in black and white, was more like a photo diary and was shot in 31 days. “For Vegas I wanted something more raw, more decadent,” he told the audience. “With this book I could experiment with color and I could shoot whatever I wanted.” He stressed that Strip Search is not a book on Vegas; that’s simply where he shot it. “I avoided the typical fat tourist” he said in earnest. “I was looking for more odd, eccentric characters there.”

For example he photographed Briana, a professional dominatrix who Kratochvil pointed out shows up every 25 pages of Strip Search. I photographed her for 14 hours a day for three days in a row,” Watson said. She didn’t seem to be wearing that much in many of the frames.

Close to the end Kratochvil didn’t want to let us go without having Watson recount his longest day in photography, which truly conveyed the commitment he has made to his craft. 

“It was 1979 and I was shooting a cover of Catherine Deneuve for Vogue in Paris,” Watson recalled. “Then I took the Concorde to New York and shot an ad job, and then I took a 6 p.m. flight to L.A. and got to my studio at 10 p.m. to shoot Frank Zappa for his 20 Motels album…. I don’t do that anymore,” he laughed. And he doesn’t have to.

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