David Bowie like you’ve never seen him before
The idea behind Dek is that every issue will have at its centre a project that was initially overlooked and deserves to find a new audience. The jewel of this issue is a series of never-before-seen photographs of David Bowie, taken on a cheap disposable camera behind the scenes of the shoot for his 1995 album, 1. Outside. Sung from the perspective of characters from Bowie’s dystopian short story, ‘The Diary of Nathan Adler or the Art-Ritual Murder of Baby Grace Blue’, the album imagines a future in which ritual murder has become a form of performance art. The photographs, which are extraordinary, show Bowie clothed, variously, in blood-soaked bandages, dead fish, and a long white nighty; as he plays characters including a murderess, and a teenage girl who gets murdered. The architects of the shoot are interviewed in an accompanying feature, with the photographer John Scarisbrick sharing the unconventional tactics he used to bait Bowie into fully embodying the role of a waif-like teenager: “Okay, you’re this little young girl now. Have you been naughty? Just sit in a corner!”.
Wonderfully detailed, the portrait of Bowie that emerges is impish, and rather gallant. The assistant stylist, Christine Choate, remembers nervously threading his belt the wrong way: “He looked at me and clearly knew I was embarrassed. I loved his sweet smile as he kindly said, ‘My lady, a gentleman always threads his belt left to right.’”
Below, we’ve picked out three of Bowie’s wildest creations: the Acolyte, Ramona A. Stone, and Baby Grace Blue. Chris Jones, Dek’s designer and editor, gave us permission to reprint sections of the text, to tell the stories behind the characters.
“As the ‘Acolyte’, Bowie has bandages covering his eyes and fish strapped to his chest, in a recreation of Rudolf Schwarzkogler’s 2 Aktion (1965). The shot chosen for the sleeve, although still shocking, was far tamer than many of those taken. Wearing extreme makeup and agonized facial expressions, Bowie’s appearance in some of these photographs is so horrifying as to make them unusable on a commercial product.”
Ramona A. Stone
“Bowie, hair backcombed and face heavily made-up, transformed into the middle-aged ‘drug dealer and Tyrannical Futurist’ Ramona A. Stone. A central figure in the narrative, implicated in multiple suicides and murders, Ramona called for a dramatic look. Gesturing to Ramona’s role as a kind of high priestess of death, Bowie clasped a knife and wore a metal breast-plate, with a bullet belt slung around his waist. On the end of legs encased in black fishnets was a pair of massive platform shoes, stacked at least six inches high, that needed to be adjusted to make them comfortable enough to stand in.”
Baby Grace Blue
“The next character for Bowie to play was Baby Grace Blue, the teenage girl whose murder is described in gruesome detail at the start of the Diary. In contrast to his previous incarnation as Ramona, Bowie now needed to embody youth and innocence, captured by images of him barefoot in a light green dress, with dirty hands and feet. “Backstage I can imagine Jennifer [Elster, who styled the shoot] having a crazy laugh when he was the little girl”, says Scarisbrick. Elster agrees: “Oh my God, yes. We were laughing the whole time.” She had glued a pair of fake breasts to Bowie’s chest but when it came to taking them off afterwards they were stuck firm. In the end, the only way she could remove them was by putting a foot on his chest and pulling them off.”
Lead image: Michael Lavine
Behind the scenes imagery: Davide de Angelis