The 1980s were a decade that made Jean-Baptiste Mondino an icon. Until today his photos of actresses and singers have become world-famous and his style is unique. The list of icons he photographed is endless: from Madonna, David Bowie, Prince to Björk, Lenny Kravitz and Sting. He also counts among the most important and most influential commercial photographers even though he always wanted to shoot as little for the masses as possible. His love for breaking taboos is known and probably he became so successful just because of that. The fact that he became a photographer at all is probably owed to a coincidence, as he actually wanted to be a musician. He tells in several interviews that when he saw a live performance of his idol Jimi Hendrix he gave up his dream of becoming a musician right away, because he realized he’d never be as good as Jimi. At this time he was working for a marketing agency and spending a lot of time in the music scene. He took his first cover photo for friends who got a record deal. Then, the photographer says, he didn’t even think about becoming successful as a photographer one day.
We can hardly imagine this when we consider that many of the most popular record covers in the world were created by him. Who could forget the cover of Prince where the artist lolls about naked on a flower? Or Grace Jones’s “Island Life” cover?
He doesn’t fall for today’s image-flooded Instagram era at all. He doesn’t have an Instagram account nor does he care about this medium because he says there is no chance anymore to become an icon. In an interview with the Austrian daily Der Standard, he said that Instagram has led to a democratization of fame. He believes nowadays anybody can sing, take pictures or have a big fan community and he thinks that in the near future icons aren’t going to be artists but scientists instead.
Even if this is not a nice idea for me as a photographer, I’ve got to admit that Jean-Baptiste may be right. Of course, today you can still become famous with your art, but not getting lost in the mass of “celebrities” and rising up as an icon, I believe, has become almost impossible today.
What do you think? Do you believe he’s right?