Book Review: Ricochet
Most of us want to know the lives behind the celebrities we admire. There’s always a market for the inevitable ghost-written memoir of the famous athlete, singer, politician, actor, or director that promises us a way to see through the blinding spotlights. Often, we crave this intimacy because we know that despite how much that celebrity or artist has shaped our emotions, our lives, and our identities in an intensely intimate way, they don’t really know us, and there’s this nagging unsettling chance that what we see on stage isn’t real. We don’t want to pull down the mask of performance and see some strange alien face beneath.
This desire to know these celebrities is understandable and can itself be noble, but it can also be easy prey for salespeople ready with a sloppily made, ghost-written memoir that reminds the reader just how “relatable” the superstar really is. Often, we can become so caught up in what’s behind the mask that we forget the fact that they chose that mask for a reason; the performance these artists conduct onstage is just as much a part of them as the conversations they have backstage.
David Bowie was more than just a celebrity. He was an icon, an artist, a performer who combined his music, shows, and appearance to create an identity that touched millions while still defying easy classification. He was elusive and beautiful and captivating. When I first opened up Ricochet, a photo-book filled with images of Bowie’s 1983 tour, I couldn’t help but say, “I forgot he died in 2016.” To which my friend, Noah, answered, “You mean he went back home.” It’s not hard to see how Bowie’s performed identity inspired countless artists and musicians.
In 1983, photographer Denis O’Regan and David Bowie set out on a journey together with the start of Bowie’s biggest and longest tour yet, the Serious Moonlight Tour. Flying across continents, O’Regan spent almost every moment of that tour capturing Bowie on stage, backstage, in hotel rooms, and on streets during one of the most important years of his life.
Ricochet’s photos show both artists, O’Regan and Bowie, in their primes. On stage, Bowie’s passionate yet alluring alien movements are caught in exquisite frames, showing the crowd clamoring for more as he serenades them. The black and white photos of the musician create stunning scenes of wonder, while the calm lights of the color shots recreate the cool and swelling atmosphere of the music itself. But not only does O’Regan capture Bowie as he was as he plays for sold-out crowds, he also manages to find moments of small personal joy away from the stage as his camera documents Bowie living out his regular life, or at least his version of regular life, as he walks unnoticed through bustling streets, laughs with his friends, and enjoys himself.
Far from merely recording just the spectacle of Bowie’s concerts, or only showing the quiet man beneath the glitter, O’Regan shows both sides of the man in all of his nuance and complexity, and how the quiet man eating dinner both fed off of and pushed forward the same man who would spend that night in front of thousands of people all clamoring to know him.
Ricochet by Denis O’Regan, published by Penguin UK, is available now, and can be found here.