|Interview About ERIC WATSON
| The photographer and video- maker who played such a key role in the Pet Shop
Boys’ visual vocabulary in their early years, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on March 9, 2012,
At the age of 56. “It was a shock,” says Neil.,Because Eric had been ill, but nothing to do with his heart that we knew of.” Eric Watson had lived on the south coast for many years with his partner Krysta, with whom he had a son and daughter.
(Readers of Pet Shop Boys, annually will also be aware that at the beginning of the Pet Shop Boys’ career Krysta also looked after the Pet Shop Boys’ fan mail.)
The funeral was in Hastings crematorium. Both Pet Shop Boys, who had just returned from
Los Angeles, attended. On ‘It was a beautiful day,” says Chris. “Weather-wise. And it was full. A
Good turn-out.” The photos on this page (never previously published) are a contact sheet from the second half of 1985 for the release of the new version of “West End girls” and were taken outside Eric’s studio in Wands worth. The photos of Chris on page2 are from another contact sheet from a
Session earlier that year in Lime house, London, during the shoot for the first release of “Opportunities”. Neil spoke at the service, delivering the following eulogy:
Eric came down from Newcastle to London in1974. It seemed he left in a hurry. Our mutual friend John Cooper who nowadays plays the vicar in Emmer dale had got to know him in a youth theatre in Back worth, near North Shields. They moved down together to a house in Wood Green.
We lived in Tottenham, Mount Pleasant Road, Krysta and me and a fashion student called Bil1.
Christopher (who died in 1989) had moved out to go to Exeter University and Krysta had moved in instead. John Cooper came over to the flat bringing Eric with him, opinionated, handsome, and clever.
We were quite impressed and own feathers slightly ruffed. Eric met Krysta and that was that.
A year later Krysta rented a flat in South Kensington and moved in with Eric. It was a beautiful maisonette on two floors with handsome future and a view of a square. A couple of years later
I moved to a room in Knightsbridge and frequently wandered down to the flat in Evelyn Gardens.
It’s a served wine and salami and cheese the Europa shop in the Fulham Road.
Sent to midnight double-bills at the Paris Pullman cinema. Bloody Allen or Warmer Herzog. Drank wine and listened to records and talked about music.
Eric liked Americana which I didn’t – Little Feat, Tom Waits etc. – but we could all agree on Craftwork and Bowie and later The Ramones and The Sex Pistols.
Eric did a foundation course at Hornsey College of Art and then began to specialise in photography. tern he graduated, he got a job as assistant to Red Saunders,
a distinguished photographer who worked for the Sunday Times Magazine amongst other publications. He also assisted Greed Markowitz who famously had photographed the Rolling Stones in the 1960s but Red made the biggest impression on him.
Somehow along the way, Eric designed the cover for Sid Vicious posthumous live album.
(Years previously he’d taken me to see one of The Sex Pistols’ first concerts.)
By then, I was working in publishing. As the 70s rolled into the 80s, I was able to commission Eric to take photographs for the TV tie-in trivia I worked on.
First, The Belly Foster Knitting Course. Eric made crisp colour images of models in naff knitwear.
Then, for the Madness Take It Or Leave It flitted-n, he shot each member of Madness (at the height of their fame and handsomeness). I took the transparencies to the designer I’d commissioned who also designed The Face and Smash Hits magazines.
The prohibits were solemn and beautiful, rich in colour with intense in-focus backgrounds and Dave Hepworth, the editor of Smash I1irs, said something like: “These are great. The music business is going to eat him up!” At the same time he had shot several sessions with the Scottish indy band, Orange Juice. In Eric’s photographs, they looked as beautiful as the flowers they held.
Some of his best work. Dave Hepworth’s prediction proved correct.
Eric became Smash Hits’ most commissioned cover photographer for about four years
in a very creative period in pop music when the stars all had their little manifestos
and a distinctive “look”:
The Human League, Adam Ant (Eric had been at college with him), Altered Images, Culture Club,
Eurythmics, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Spandau Ballet, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Madura…
Eric’s approach was often art-historical, referencing painting and American photography.
His technique was excellent and informed his creative thinking.
He was something of an intellectual in a super-commercial and superficial world. Which meant that things weren’t always smooth. I also worked for Smash Hits at this time and remember being in the Dorchester Hotel in 1983 when Duran Duran flew in from America to play a charity concert in the presence of Princess Diana. All the press were there going nuts and then the band and their press officer and me retreated to a suite upstairs where Eric was ready to photograph them exclusively for the cover of Smash Hits.
His first words to them were somewhat impertinent: “Well, for a start, yours is all looking shiny…” Simon Le Bon shot him an “Oh we’ve got a right one here” look.
In the same year Chris Lowe and I flew to New York to record for the flrst time as the Pet Shop Boys. Eric very sweetly suggested that it might be a good idea if we had some photographs of us ready and so we did our first photo-session. A strip of light across our faces, illuminating our eyes.
We recorded “West End girls” in New York and Eric played it to an A&R man at Epic Records in London.
Thrillingly, he wanted to sign it and Epic released it in 1984 in a colour sleeve with Eric’s photo on the front. We were on our way.
A year later we signed to EMI records and there were many discussions with Eric about how we would present ourselves, how we wanted to distinguish ourselves from the mainstream of pop. Our images would look like stills from films. We wouldn’t smile unless there was a good reason.
Dignity would be maintained at all times. Eric had bought a beautiful, long, linen coat. He suggested I acquired one so I looked like the fake preacher in the film,
Was Blood (a film I’ve still never seen). An image of us formed and, when we started to have hits, became famous. We insisted to EMI that Eric direct our videos and, with many misgivings, they agreed. Less than a year later the videos were all over MTV in America and Eric was now a photographer and a director. By the end of the decade he was directing commercials as well.
What I remember about this period, apart from the exciting and sometimes panicky momentum of it all, is how everything was discussed in detail all the time in an often heated way. We and Eric and our designer, Mark Farrow, shared an important characteristic: We didn’t see any need to compromise just because we were working in the mass-market. If there was an easy way and a difficult way to do something, we’d probably do it the difficult way. Everything mattered.
I remember Eric telling me that the Rolling Stones product manager had phoned him up asking to see his showered and Eric retorted “You don’t want my showered!” and slammed down the phone.
I thought he was nuts for behaving like this but I think what he meant was this: there was no point in them seeing the showered, and discussing an idea and its budget when they’d only try to make changes and fatally weaken the original idea. So it was simpler – and less grief – to put the phone down. In the 90s Eric moved away from London and pop music to Rye and landscapes and fatherhood and finally teaching. He went through a phase of disparaging his pop work but in recent years enjoyed seeing his work gain new appreciation in the Thames and Hudson bo ok, Catalogue, and the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, Icons Of Pop.
He wrote to our friend the writer, Philip Hoare, that much of his work had been… “…about the juxtaposition of shiny pop things and decay. The implied entropy. The book and exhibition have given me a renewed confidence. the book I am especially happy about. It has created a fixed set of meanings for things that were previously forgotten or unresolved. It is an unsettling experience being talked about but not an unpleasant one.” Eric was a photographer and director working, for many years, in a commercial world.
He was highly aware of the conditions involved which both inspired him and drove him away.
He was an artist.