What started as a snatched session at the film recording of The Style Council’s Confessions of a Pop Group was to become the break that propelled Lawrence Watson along a career in music photography that would take him around the world – from New York’s hip-hop soaked five boroughs to the streets of LA and back to the UK via the Gallagher’s Manchester. All of which is now captured in his new book The World is Yours released in May.
Born in Hammersmith in 1963, Lawrence Watson is one of the most talented photographers this country has ever produced. After leaving school with an ‘O’ Level in art he started an apprenticeship at a dark room in Old Street, moved on to London Weekend Television and then began contributing to the New Musical Express, freelancing at evenings and weekends. In the early 80s as hip hop took off, Lawrence went over to the US and captured legendary artists Run DMC. Eric B and Rakim and Public Enemy in their prime. From there he has gone on to work with the biggest names in music and is responsible for iconic portraits of Spike Milligan, Robert Duvall, and Harold Pinter.
At the end of the Confessions of a Pop Group session, Weller approached Lawrence and gave him the address of Solid Bond recording studios and asked him to drop the shots off there. “That was it,” said Lawrence, “I spent the whole of that weekend in the darkroom, painstakingly hand-printing 50 or so bromides. I wanted them to be perfect. On Monday night after work, I raced over to Solid Bond with my box of prints. Luckily Paul was still working.” Expecting Weller to like perhaps one or at best two of the prints, Lawrence was shocked at his response: “After looking at them, Paul telephoned his long-time friend and sleeve designer, Simon Halfon, and said he wanted to replace the artwork on the Confessions sleeve with my photographs. This was despite the fact that the sleeve had already been designed! Needless to say, I floated home that evening.”
After Confessions, Lawrence has worked with Weller throughout his solo career, creating iconic images for several of his album covers, directing videos and still works as his tour photographer. He has also worked extensively with Oasis and was invited to document the recording of their Dig out Your Soul album at the legendary Abbey Road studios.
These photographs can now been viewed in one place for the first time in The World is Yours, a retrospective of Lawrence’s iconic images including Morrissey, David Bowie, Pulp, Snoop Doggy Dog, Isaac Hayes, Ian Brown, Grace Jones, Pet Shop Boys, Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order and Terry Hall. Launched in conjunction with Adidas as part of their 60th anniversary, throughout the book, it’s clear there’s a love of the 3-Stripes amongst the artists, from LL Cool J and perhaps most famously Run DMC during those early days of hip-hop to Ian Brown and The Gallaghers.
Former NME colleague and Loaded founder James Brown said: “Lawrence was often the first photographer to capture the raw energy that’s so exciting in the early stages of their careers. He captures people before they become blasé.” He continued: “As a music photographer you can ask for no better recommendation than having the sharpest guys around ask you to work with them again and again.”
Writer, Sean O’Hagan, who also worked with Lawrence on the NME added: “You can sense how Lawrence works – quietly, unobtrusively, intently – from his portraits. You can sense the trust he engenders in people he has grown to know over the years. He kept on doing it, and he kept on getting better. He has that eye for the crucial moment.”
It’s certainly been an exciting journey for Lawrence and one that you can now see documented for yourself in this retrospective, and as he says himself: “It has never felt like work, always a joy.”