Capturing Kate Bush

How can two prominent photographers create images of an enigmatic star that are so different? When a subject matter is complex enough to sustain multiple aspects of their persona, photographs from varying points of view can enter popular culture. A photographer’s approach to image-making, expressing their creative vision, made photography a rich art form. As we look at the work of photographers Clive Arrowsmith and Gered Mankowitz, working from two various aesthetics and periods, both photographers captured the iconic British musician, Kate Bush, during the prime moments of her most inventive periods. Using their unique imaginations, they presented two very different personas of the same artist, portraying her mysterious image.

Becoming a Musical Powerhouse

When British audiences were introduced to Kate Bush, they were taken by surprise. In 1978, the eclectic nineteen-year-old singer-songwriter entered the UK’s musical landscape through her beautiful, haunting, and unexpected hit “Wuthering Heights.” Bush’s ethereal melodies, unique vocals, and theatrical mannerism were germane with the wave of experimental and progressive rock sweeping the airwaves. Rapidly, the English musician became a sensation, creating an original sound that mixed her peculiar vocal range with pantomiming, interpretive dance, and lyrical profundity. Avant-garde and expressive, seemingly from another planet, the ostensibly shy girl with a wispy voice would turn into a reverberating songstress with an unmistakable sound, becoming a musical powerhouse. Kate Bush’s innate artistry and songwriting introduced a unique feminine dimension to the generation and ultimately cemented her as an embodiment of the times.

Gered Mankowitz, Kate Bush in the Box
Gered Mankowitz, Kate Bush in the Box, 1978, Silver Gelatin Photograph

Transcending Genres

Her body of work created a cultural legacy in British musical history that transcended genres and became an influential base for many aspiring artists ready to engage in experimentation. Bush’s disposition toward a private personal life and a willingness to relinquish the constant attention inherent with celebrity stardom preserved a distinctive authenticity that, through the years, made her an enigmatic figure. Today, her iconic sound has become as recognizable as it was in the prime of her career.

“She’s got credit for her pioneering use of the Fairlight synthesizer, in the eighties, and the headset microphone onstage, for producing her own albums, and for evolving an ahead-of-its-time sound that combined heavy bass with the ethereal high notes, swoops, and screeches of her own remarkable voice. She is a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty, and critics have always noticed that.” – Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker.

Back on Top of the Music Charts

Kate Bush is once again remarkably back on top of the music charts. As a result of the Netflix series “Stranger Things” using her song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” intertwined within a coming-of-age plot of sci-fi, mystery, and drama, the revival of Bush has unveiled her sound to an entirely new crowd of young listeners. The song has managed to shoot up the charts globally, thirty years after its initial release, which begets the question, is great art truly timeless? Aside from an effort to put into words the spellbinding qualities of Bush’s sound, we can look at iconic photoshoots created with her and get a glimpse at the genesis of the art rock maiden of the 1980s.

“I’d never heard anything like it before, it was like banshee music.” – Neil Gaiman, English Author.

Gered Mankowitz, Kate Bush, Close-Up, 1978
Gered Mankowitz, Kate Bush, Close-Up, 1978, Silver Gelatin Photograph

Gered Mankowitz & Kate Bush

Throughout her career, several photoshoots were made of the iconic artist that further elevated her emblematic persona as a theatrical chanteuse of experimental rock. In the late 1970s, Kate Bush posed for photoshoots with photographer Gered Mankowitz, responsible for some of the most circulated pictures of Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. Mankowitz was interested in the up-and-coming Bush and her impact on the airwaves. The young, emerging artist embraced a cultural explosion of synths sounds and witchy lyrics.

The pictures emerging from this photoshoot became some of the most renowned Kate Bush images, showing her in dancer’s leotards in reference to her love of dance. The pictures present a youthful and striking musician who engages the viewer directly with her gaze. These frontal pictures show an unapologetic, sensual, yet direct exterior that nonetheless shields an abundant ocean of emotions and lyrics behind a calm expression. The images entered the public imagination and helped Bush transcend music to become a superstar performer of the era that was at once sultry, passionate, and playful. They ultimately reference Bush’s powerful artistic personality, which was on its way to take the music world by storm. She was a fresh face brimming with potential.

“When I first heard Kate’s single “Wuthering Heights,” I knew that her record company needed a really strong portrait to support this strange and enchanting music. Her interest in dance inspired me to suggest that she wear dancers’ practice gear and she looked wonderful! She was frenetic and exhausting to work with but endlessly rewarding!” – Gered Mankowitz.

Gered Mankowitz, Kate Bush, Green Leotard, 1978
Gered Mankowitz, Kate Bush, Green Leotard, 1978, Archival Pigment Photograph

Clive Arrowsmith & Kate Bush

In 1981, Kate Bush arrived at the Holborn studios in London for a Hearst Magazines photoshoot with internationally acclaimed fashion, star, and cultural photographer Clive Arrowsmith. Arrowsmith, highly experienced and always daring, looked for an appropriate way that wasn’t straightforward but would highlight the musician’s characteristics. Noticing a quiet, sullen disposition, Arrowsmith directed the photoshoot to create a seductive portrait that takes the viewer into an otherworldly ambiance, directly engaging Bush’s gaze. Arrowsmith captures how Bush affected her audience through a lyrical and tonal moodiness along a dreamscape of fantastic imagery. Undulating vines surround the singer’s head, creating a misty dreamlike image that seems set in the moorlands of an ancient and magical rural England. Thus, the picture has a certain strength and affinity that mirrors the qualities of Bush’s oeuvre. The deep, saturated background colors frame her persona in an almost ghostly way. Spirits are conjured.

“When you are shooting portraits, you have to take people as you find them in that moment, so I did try and reflect the wistful and ethereal feeling I got from her… Although these could be seen as fashion or beauty images, Kate’s presence adds such a depth of feeling that they have become an artwork in themselves.” – Clive Arrowsmith.

Clive Arrowsmith, Kate Bush, Ivy
Clive Arrowsmith, Kate Bush, Ivy, 1981, Archival Pigment Photograph

The Enduring Fantasy

These photographs of Kate Bush preserve the magnetic attraction she created as much as the songs and albums she recorded. Kate Bush’s use of imagery and her experimental sound textures broke through the mold of pop music beginning in the late 1970s. Her daring propensity to experiment using unanticipated components like modern dance or obscure instruments is influential, inspiring many musicians, from Björk’s eclectic alternative rock to Outkast’s defining hip hop craft. It’s hard to separate these images from Kate Bush’s iconic career, but alas, we need not. These memorable pictures augment the music and help create the enduring fantasy she imbues in her work. They elevate her as a cultural icon and genuine, inquisitive artist, solidifying her enduring legacy and allure.