Luke Goss of Bros in the bath – Neil MacKenzie Matthews' best photograph


People think of the Bros brothers as very serious and into themselves, but I’ve known them from the start and they’ve always been up for a bit of a laugh. This picture of Luke was taken for Cosmopolitan towards the end of the 1990s. The magazine had done a famous portrait of Burt Reynolds on a bearskin rug in 1972 and I wanted this shoot with Luke to resurrect the idea of the male pin-up. It was something I’d already had experience of because I’d done a couple of calendars called the Blues Boys in the mid-80s – it was a company run by women who were sick of all the male-orientated pin-up calendars that were on the walls of garages.

I initially shot Luke smoking a cigar, with just a towel hiding the crown jewels, and that shot was what ended up going in the magazine. But I wanted to try out something more jokey too, so I hired a roll-top bath and got Luke in it. We tried filling it with water but the plug didn’t work properly. The studio was on the top floor of a block in Islington and the water dripped through into the office below – they came up to complain only to find a naked pop star in a bath.

I always like photos that make you smile. I used to carry a bag of props around with me just to make photos more interesting – I’ve shot Toyah wearing rabbit ears, Ian McCulloch with a bunch of carrots and Robert Smith up a tree.

The band had broken up by the time of this picture and Luke was embarking on his acting career. He had no problem getting completely naked – although his missus was there, keeping an eye on him. The makeup artist had to strategically apply the bubbles. She didn’t mind. In fact, I think she quite enjoyed her day!

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One of my biggest inspirations is the Hollywood portrait photographers of the 40s and 50s, who took those lovely pictures with little dapples of light. That’s what I was going for here. I’m self-taught and learned all about lighting from a book by Walter Nurnberg [Lighting for Photography: Means and Methods]. I use tungsten lights rather than flash lights so you can control where it lands better. You’re trying to sculpt a 3D image within a 2D format. On this shot there’s just a slit of light going across Luke’s torso, which gets the shadows on the muscles. The lighting is what stops it looking too porny – if I’d shot it with a full-on front flash it would have been a different story.

I remember taking some Polaroids to show Luke and he said: “Oh my God, I look like I’ve got a body.” He actually had a good upper body but very skinny legs. That’s why I turned him sideways and hid them in the bath.

I had a good relationship with both Matt and Luke. They were ordinary teenage kids when I first met them, although as they got bigger they became a bit more precious and their timekeeping definitely got worse. They’d turn up four hours late and we’d have to then work until 3am. I watched the recent Bros documentary, which shocked me. At the beginning, when Matt was in his Las Vegas apartment talking about crystals, I thought: “My God, what’s happened to him?” But by the end I recognised them as the same people – especially their need to always break off and discuss things intensely.

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I didn’t set out to be a photographer. My degree was in economics and I’d envisaged maybe getting a job at the BBC, but a friend of mine was managing what was then the “school band”, who turned out to be Spandau Ballet. I ended up shooting them and it all went from there. [The early 80s] was a great time for music, especially visually.

I’d actually forgotten about taking this picture. I only printed it recently when I was looking for pop-star images for a new book. It makes me smile because he’s really going for it. I guess he had to – otherwise the whole thing might have looked a bit pathetic!

CV

Born: Hampstead, London, 1957

Training: None. I taught myself to take pictures, develop film and print as a hobby while looking for work after university. Luckily, my hobby became my job.

Influences: When I first started it was the work of the Hollywood portrait photographers, such as George Hurrell and Angus McBean, as I loved their lighting. But now it can be anything from films to paintings to nature or everyday life.

High point: When I had a portrait of Hugh Grant hanging in the John Kobal exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery.

Low point: The slow demise of film and the rise of all things digital.

Top tip: Try to be spontaneous. Many of my best shots are spur-of-the-moment ideas.

Snap! Music Photography, Vol 1, by Neil MacKenzie Matthews is published by Red Planet on 27 June.



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