16 September 2012

Sukita / Bowie :: Speed of Life

Yesterday I went for a daytrip to the Wairarapa with Former Flatmate Al with the express purpose of seeing an exhibition of 12 photographs. Sleepy Masterton may not sound like a likely destination for an art-related pilgrimage, but as it happens the people at Hedley's Bookshop have opened an art space next to their shop, and they're displaying prints from Speed of Life, a new limited edition book of rock photos from the career of the legendary David Bowie. The photos in the book and exhibition are from the long collaboration between Bowie and his friend, the Japanese photographer Masayoshi Sukita, which started back in 1972 in London during the heights of Ziggy-mania and still continues today. Sukita is responsible for many of the most iconic Bowie images of the past few decades, not least being the famous cover shot for 1977's "Heroes" LP, reproduced on the poster above:

Sukita's sleeve photograph, based like that of [Iggy Pop's] The Idiot on Erich Heckel's painting Roquairol, shows a wild-eyed Bowie locked in a rigid pose of serio-comic agitation, raising a flat palm as though he had just mimetically lifted the final mask of artifice from his face.
- Nicholas Pegg, The Complete David Bowie, Richmond (Surrey), 2000, p.231

The 12 exhibition prints range chronologically from the heady fame of 1972, Japanese shoots in 1977 and 1980, up to a more mature New York portrait in 2002, and illustrates the performer's myriad guises and, in the late 1980s during the clean-cut Tin Machine era, his spooky resemblance to David Beckham. The contact sheet for the "Heroes" cover is intriguing, showing Bowie deploying his mime skills in a range of seated poses, both dramatic and comic.

When I first heard about the book I was excited at the prospect and considered splashing out for a copy - but that was before I heard it was $1000! There are only 2000 copies worldwide, all signed by Bowie and Sukita, and the display copy at the gallery was fascinating and beautifully produced - the sort of book that you have to don little white snooker steward gloves before you handle it. The photographs were also signed by both men and were offered for sale at a mere $3950 each. Perhaps I should check my Lotto ticket.

The shop has a long-standing relationship with British rock publishers Genesis, which has led to Hedley's being given the rights to market Speed of Life in both New Zealand and Australia. Sukita even made an appearance at the gallery, telling journalist Tom Cardy that Bowie must have soaked up some Japanese influences in his many visits:

I'm sure seeing the Kabuki shows while he was in Japan gave him some inspiration. He also liked Kyoto very much, and I believe the song in the Heroes album called Moss Garden was written after he visited Saihouji temple in Kyoto, which is commonly called a koke or moss temple.

It was my first visit to Hedley's, and I was very impressed with the range and quality of its inventory. Frankly, I didn't expect to find a bookshop of that quality in a quiet country town like Masterton. With the addition of the art space and an interesting roster of small exhibitions (one on Ans Westra is planned soon), Hedley's helps to make Masterton a destination for weekend trips out of the capital. Take in a movie at the old Regent Theatre just down the road too, while you're at it. Probably best not to anticipate a bustling nightlife scene if you stay over though.  

Bowie I Sukita / Changes
HedSpace Gallery
150 Queen Street, Masterton
4 September - 6 October 2012

See also:
Video - "Heroes" (Live vocals on Top of the Pops, 1977)
Review - In the Lair of the Goblin King (Bowie in Labyrinth)
Photos - David Bowie doing normal stuff (incl. Sukita shot at 1/25)
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