Photographer David Corio spent the 80s and 90s rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bob Marley, the Fugees and Marvin Gaye. An exhibition of his beautiful black and white photographic portraits – One Good Thing About Music – is currently on display at Chats Palace, Chatsworth Road.
Raised in a musical household in the 70s, Corio developed an early love for old blues and R&B. He left school at 16 on a mission to combine his love of music with his love of photography and snap superstars of the music industry.
Late nights in the pit were followed by long hours processing in a dark room – he would have his photos on the desk of NME early in the morning before any of the other music hacks had arrived for work.
It was this determination, says former editor of the NME, Neil Spencer, that made Corio stand out. “Talent and dedication are rarely stalled for long,” he says, “and the tall, modest young snapper duly became a mainstay of NME’s ‘live’ section.”
He was soon receiving commissions from NME, Time Out, City Limits and The Times – amongst other publications.
Corio admits that he was lucky, when he was starting out, to have a sister going out with singer/guitarist Wreckless Eric who had a record deal with Stiff Records in the early punk days. The musician introduced Corio to Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.
The photographs in One Good Thing About Music include portraits of Missy Elliott, Marianne Faithfull and numerous other big names. He has displayed short anecdotes alongside the images explaining what the experience was like for him.
Corio writes that he was over-awed at the thought of meeting Miriam Makeba. Has he been star-struck by anyone else?
“Oh yes. With varying degrees of success too. Curtis Mayfield was a big hero and it was a real surprise to first meet him backstage when instead of shaking hands he gave me a big hug. The same with Dennis Brown, Augustus Pablo, Lee Perry and Bobby Womack – they were all amazing people as well as incredible musicians.
“I got to photograph them all on quite a few occasions over the years and they were always a pleasure to hang out with. I had a bit more grief with James Brown and Nina Simone.”
Spencer’s admission that “David has always had an eye for a gig’s killer moment” is well illustrated in this collection of images. Each portrait captures the subject with all his/her emotion, fragility and energy intact.”
His 1995 photo of Notorious B.I.G shot – a close-up profile, honing in on Biggie’s lips sucking the mic, the sweat pouring down his cheeks – is testimony to Corio’s discerning eye.
Similarly, the photo of Marianne Faithfull on stage at the Dominion Theatre in 1982, smoking a cigarette – she always smoked on stage, says Corio – reveals an innocence and vulnerability that could so easily have be missed.
Corio has chosen to display only black and white images because most of the photos were taken in the pre-digital 80s; for speed of processing and to keep costs down, music magazines would avoid commissioning colour shots.
But he also prefers black and white, and he has a penchant for film over digital: “It has much more character and you can control what you get in the darkroom,” he says, “you can also put your own personal stamp on the image.”
Corio’s days backstage or jostling in the photographers’ pit are over. But he has also been put off photographing stars because of the constraints that record companies put on their shoots. “They have this ridiculous control over what is allowed and I hate the idea of working with hair, makeup and stylists,” he says.
He shot portraits of Sinead O’Connor earlier this year at her home, as well as of all the Wainwright family in New York a couple of months ago – all in the show.
Corio has an upcoming exhibition of his music photos in Florence and he will display his images of Megaliths in Stroud in September. He likes the idea of photographing Nelson Mandela but is otherwise happy to display shots from his formative glory-years on tour and spending many a late night at gigs.
One Good Thing About Music
Until 28 October, open weekends
42-44 Brooksby’s Walk
Tel: 020 8986 6714
More about David Corio.