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Interview: Kate Bush's brother John on a lifetime photographing his sister

2015-10-29
Ever since she first wrestled total control of her music from her record company and started producing her own albums with 1982's The Dreaming, the popular view of Kate Bush has been that of a lone genius, tinkering away solo in her studio for days, weeks, years at a time. But while Kate certainly steers the ship, there are a core group of creatives helping her to realise each aspect of her ambitious musical projects - from her epic 2005 masterwork Aerial, to last year's spectacular Before The Dawn live residency. Key in this inner circle is Kate's older brother, the photographer and writer John Carder Bush. John headed the Kate Bush management team for twenty years and since her early childhood, and throughout her career, he has photographed his little sister both candidly and professionally. His images have appeared on album, single and magazine covers worldwide. That instantly iconic Hounds Of Love album cover? He was behind the lens. To coincide with Before The Dawn, last year John published a new edition of Cathy, his collection of photographs of his younger sister as a little girl. What's been sorely lacking, though, is a catalogue of this remarkably visual artist's career to date. Until now. Kate-872x1024 Kate: Inside The Rainbow is a collection of beautiful images from throughout her career, from her early days pre-Wuthering Heights right up to her most recent album, 2011's 50 Words For Snow. It includes outtakes from classic album shoots, rare studio shots and behind-the-scenes stills from video sets, plus many other candid shots from John's years turning the camera on his sister. Basically, Kate Bush fans: here's your new bible. John Carder Bush himself tells Attitude about this amazing project, some 40-odd years in the making... John, Kate - Inside The Rainbow is just gorgeous. Why did now feel like the right time to put a book like this together?  I think the timing of this book was dictated by the reprint of Cathy [last year]. So many people had shown an interest in that book long after it went out of print, and it seemed logical to see what would happen if I brought it up to date. Originally, when I published Cathy back in 1986, I had planned to do three books – Cathy, Catherine and Kate, but like so many ambitious plans, it never happened. Let’s start with those earliest photos you took of your sister, the ones that formed the book Cathy. Was it a case of your little sister being an easy subject to practice on, or were you aware even in those early days that there was a 'star quality' to her?  In those days I had only just started to feel that the camera could evoke something I wanted to express about childhood and the world of the imagination that so many children live in. I was also excited by my personal discovery of the pre-Raphaelites and had started collecting illustrated books of the turn of the century, which nobody was interested in in the early sixties and could be bought for next to nothing. My little sister was the perfect model, and although I was pleased with the results, I don’t think I detected star quality – we were a long way away from the her future career; when you know someone so well and see them every day of your life, you just don’t notice that kind of thing, although looking at them now it is quite clear she had something special. 348779 This feels about as close to an ‘official’ retrospective book of Kate’s career as we might get. What are her thoughts on it? I first discussed the book with Kate back in the summer of 2014. The live shows then swept her away for a few months. When I had done a preliminary selection of photos and written the text, I showed them to her for her comments and I then worked with her final selection of images for the rest of the project. As I remember, she pointed out that she had ten ‘O’ levels, when I had put nine. Related story: Kate Bush - 10 of her very best When you look through the images in the book, do you see changes develop as the years go on? There’s a sophistication that seems to really develop in Kate’s imagery from Hounds of Love onwards… Yes, I agree. You can see the development in the sense that she becomes more expert at conscious projection, more confident in knowing what works and what does not, and I think the same thing applies to my photography. One thing that strikes me, looking through the book, is her willingness to try different things - poses, props, costumes etc - in the pursuit of a great shot. Did either of you take the lead in those situations, or was it quite a 50/50 partnership? I think this is dictated by two different things. With album and single shots, there is a very specific intention to project a persona that matches the songs; with promotional shots, variety becomes very important otherwise every session would have looked the same. With album and single sessions, Kate always had a very definite idea of what she wanted before she stepped in front of the camera and it was a question of trying to realise that in a photographic context. 348786 In the book, you mention Hounds of Love being a favourite record - it’s the album with perhaps the most iconic artwork of Kate’s career. What is it for you that makes that album / period a particular favourite?  Hounds of Love seems to me to demonstrate the perfect combination of Kate’s power and ability to be able to operate successfully in the world of popular music, and at the same time create something iconic like The Ninth Wave that transcends the throwaway nature of the charts. I also had a lot more involvement with that album executively and creatively, and writing and performing the poetry section on the song Jig of Life meant that I had many happy memories of that time. There is a big time gap in the book from The Red Shoes to Director’s Cut - eighteen years between photos. How had things changed when you went back to photographing Kate after all those years?  The big difference was that I was photographing her face and not her feet! But, seriously, nothing seemed any different except the machinery I was using; digital and not analogue. And, of course, she now had a son who was popping in to see what was going on, whereas it used to be the other way round. 348782 I loved reading your thoughts on Before The Dawn - it was the sort of thing fans couldn’t really have imagined would ever happen. Do you have any idea where Kate’s headed next? New music, or a continuation of Before The Dawn perhaps?  The silence that usually surrounds Kate between projects in a ‘golden silence’, and out of that ‘golden silence’ always comes a golden nugget of creativity, like Before the Dawn. Let’s wait and see… Before the Dawn was really the first big opportunity for many Kate Bush fans to interact, to feel part of a community. Have you had much interaction with Kate Bush fans over the years? There has always been a very active and fertile fan scene around Kate and her music even when there has not been any new product for a few years. Kate fans are very dedicated people, and the depth and originality of her work has allowed them to maintain an ongoing dialogue with each other that is quite unique. Certainly, Before the Dawn was a wonderfully dynamic coming together of that energy, and sitting in the audience I could feel their love for her as an overwhelming presence. Over the years, I have developed some friendships with a few of her fans that I value highly. 348767 info: Kate: Inside The Rainbow is out now, £40 RRP, from bookstores, Amazon and directly from katebook.co.uk. All images c/o John Carder Bush, and feature in Kate: Inside The Rainbow.  More stories: Win £500 worth of MR PORTER store credit Gus Kenworthy perfectly shuts down troll who asks if he’s ‘the man or the woman’