Scots honour for stars' favourite photographer
JACK Nicholson’s favourite photographer ordered eggs on toast in Miss Cranston’s famous Willow tearooms. It was a long way from Manhattan and the waitress was oblivious to Albert Watson’s global renown.
He is also the favourite lensman of Mick Jagger and Uma Thurman, photographed Kate Moss naked and he has seen Britney Spears in her pants.
Watson could have mentioned that his picture of Hillary Clinton appeared on the cover of last week’s Time magazine.
But he is a very Scottish celebrity, modest, and so rooted in the "bedrock" of an Edinburgh upbringing that, after 30 years of working with the most glamorous people on earth, he still does not appreciate how famous he is in his own right.
Watson, one of the most talented and prolific photographers in the world - 280 Vogue covers and counting - is home in Edinburgh today to receive an honorary doctorate of arts from Napier University.
His mother is delighted. He is delighted, and Edinburgh should be too.
Watson’s work is ubiquitous. He has dominated his craft since he left for New York in the Seventies, and on any day, anywhere in the world, one of his pictures adorns the cover of a magazine.
"When I come home, I stay with my mother," he said. "It seems natural. My upbringing is a bedrock upon which my life rests, and I’m delighted to be honoured."
He can add it to a raft of accolades, although reflecting on the adage that a man is never a prophet in his own land, he said: "I’m probably better known in America than I am at home, but I hope to change that very soon with a special exhibition."
Watson, the son of a boxer, attended Edinburgh’s Rudolf Steiner School, art college in Dundee and the Royal College of Art in London. He developed a love of photography. The catalyst was a career-defining assignment to photo graph Alfred Hitchcock holding a dead bird.
It accompanied a magazine article on celebrity cooking, and Watson imbued the image with all the menace the auteur brought to his films.
"That opened doors," said Watson, who regards it still as his favourite celebrity picture, the first of thousands.
As well as advertising shoots, his posters for films are everywhere - they include The Hours, Chicago, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He has directed 500 television commercials.
"Everything built from Hitchcock," he said.
Watson works at a daunting pace. He will be at home only until Sunday, when he leaves for London and then Paris.
Described as a "camera with a brain", his UK assignments have included the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.
He added: "There may be a certain point in my life when I’ll look back and say, ‘My God, I can’t believe I did all that’."
His Scottish schooling was vital, he said. "It was art- oriented, very interested in creativity, but at the same time instilling discipline.
"I have a very solid work ethic dedicated to good work.
"If you’re doing standing stones in the Orkneys, and then photographing [the actor] Dennis Hopper, then Tutankhamun’s socks in Cairo - I don’t really have a different way with them.
"I want power from a sock, a rock, and Dennis Hopper."
Watson’s photographs become icons of the subject. Laurie Kratochvil, the picture editor of Rolling Stone, said: "His photographs are iconographic and sculptural. You can always tell a Watson picture."
But, in spite of his success, Watson cherishes an enduring hope of a major retrospective of his work in his home city.
"I’m working on it. I think it would be popular," he said.
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