on 14 November 2010
'UFO', or 'Unified Fashion Objectives', is a long-awaited look back over Albert Watson's stellar photographic career. It is a monumental book, with over 400 oversize pages and clean design by Werner Jeker (which is reminiscent of, but calmer and less distracting than, David Carson Design's work on Cyclops). Gail Buckland provides an insightful foreword. The reproductions are excellent; predominantly full bleed, occasionally isolated on pristine white, his work has the production values it deserves.
The book focusses mainly on Watson's beauty and fashion work, from catalogues shot in the early seventies to editorial shoots for the world's best magazines such as Italian, French, German and British Vogue, Interview, Elle and Rolling Stone. Much of the published work, such as that for Stern and Per Lui, may well be previously unknown to international readers. There are casually chic mises en scene and elaborate studio set-ups; stark, graphic and incisive studies; sumptuous nudes. The mood moves from edgy to romantic, lush and saturated to the rigorously ascetic, sculptural to painterly. The range is extraordinary, yet the book has a coherence of vision that is remarkable.
There are memorable portraits here too, of the beautiful and famous, and also of unknowns and even cars (Watson's wonderful images of automobiles always feel more like portraiture than anything else). There is much for the star spotter to enjoy; Michael Jackson, Liv Tyler, David Bowie, Uma Thurman, Beyoncé, Sean Penn, Cate Blanchett, Prince, Jack Nicholson, John Travolta and Johnny Depp have never looked so good... a personal favourite of Joan Didion's hands is supremely elegant.
Watson also makes still lives to rival Penn. Impeccably lit, they show an eye for quirky juxtapositions or clear and graphic revelation. Looking at Watson's take on a pomegranate is to see it anew.
The book shows examples of work for his enviable advertising client list, including Levi's, Prada, Blumarine, Sony, Ferre, and the lovely Lost Diary catalogue made for the jewellers H. Stern. There are also, delightfully, spreads of polaroids, which reveal Watson's awesome natural talent for composition, and even landscapes, especially of his homes, Scotland and Marrakesh. No-one has used natural light as beautifully since Herb Ritts, and Watson also has complete mastery of studio lighting. He excels with movement, tone and colour. This collection shows that there really is nothing he cannot do with a camera.
It is good to see images from previous publications such as Cyclops, Maroc, Mad Dog and Rostock again, but there is also a huge amount of previously unpublished material. Buy it now; Albert Watson's books always become expensive and hard to find, for very good reason.