Ways of Seeing Kate Bush

Harari’s images are not so much windows unto an inner soul or even openings to the performer’s penchant for the conspicuously odd, but rather hopes for the undisclosed.

There may not be much more to say about Kate Bush at this point. But there’s now more of her to see. Renowned music celebrity photographer Guido Harari — collaborator with John Lennon, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Andrea Bocelli, and more — has put together The Kate Inside, a collection of more than 300 images taken of Bush between 1982 and 1993, many off the set impromptu shots. The book also includes some of Kate’s hand-written notes reproduced in glossy form. Published by Wall of Sound Gallery in two separate limited editions (De Luxe and Regular), it has been available through advanced order, and was recently celebrated with a free exhibit in South London at Art Bermondsey Project Space.

Trying to capture The Real Kate Bush is no small challenge. If the performer is not resistant to such exposure, she is at least famously selective — as well as pretty smart — about cultivating it. This savvy distance to publicity reflects not just Bush’s preference for personal privacy, but also the artistic autonomy of her haute-bourgeois appeal. Thus, while The Kate Inside’s title may suggest an encounter of sorts reminiscent of a gendered platitude — Bush as sacred space, and Harari as objectifying male gaze — the very ideas of insider perspective made accessible to all by a looking glass is increasingly difficult to sustain in a world of hyper-connectivity. Indeed, that Harari’s images were taken in the pre-Napster age of MTV, Rolling Stone, and film only ensconces the project — and not just the pop star — in nostalgia.

Judging from several images on my laptop — a poor substitute perhaps but still how most of us will see it — The Kate Inside looks like something between an archive of alternate publicity promos, and a classic case of pop culture iconography presented in its most lustrous form: voyeuristic yet artsy, tidy, and ultimately poised. The revelatory pretenses of this kind of photography (the kind shown in the work of Annie Leibovitz), derive from candid set-ups and representations of high-profile subjects, who are sometimes bored, sometimes just horsing around, but always focused upon for the cult of the subject.

Yet if the status of The Real is itself ever interrogated, then there may not be much to see in these images other than a simulacrum of their subject.

Thus, there are perhaps two ways to see Kate Bush: as postmodern art-pop pariah haunted by a Faustian bargain with fame, or perhaps more cynically, as media strategy invested in that very bargain. The first Bush is a double-edged sword capable of gesticulating through the ether as both performer and performance: at one side, the very down to earth, thoughtful, charming, discreet, and authentic, individual with an endless reserve of poetic and musical insight within her; at the other side, the myriad artistic products of hocus pocus and make-believe, like wailing in the wind Cathy of Wuthering Heights, Babooshka, and all the Running Up That Hill stuff. While both performer and performance inevitably play off one another, the distinction between them remains essential for their integrity. Fantastic creatures in orbit require the imagination, dedication, and lucidity of their autonomous creator, the origin of all Bushian Being, to plot their coordinates and take offs. The perennial comebacks that occur after periods of public withdrawal — and even private regret — only make them all the more timely and beautiful.

A second way to see Bush looks upon the relation of artist and art — like that of public and private, authentic and fake, outer and inner — not as a dialectic or symbiotic relationship to be renewed through interaction, but rather as a shell game of continual self-reference and sampling to disguise the disappearance of the real altogether. In other words, The Real Kate Bush is here just another media contrivance — a pop-Queen Garbo living in retreat somewhere in the English country side, in a castle conversing with birds and half-baked spirits, fashioned by publicists, lawyers, stylists, and photographers. To look for traces of authenticity in this Bush — either in her son or in the Yeti — merely leads to more smoke and mirrors.

Cathy of Wuthering Heights was inspired not by the Bronte novel but by a TV adaptation of it. Even Bush’s non-appearance is here a concoction of the Kate Bush brand. “Simulation”, as Jean Baudrillard put it in the ’70s, “is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal… It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real.” (Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, translated by Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman (NY: Semiotext(e), 1983) pp. 1-2)

Harari’s images bring La Bush back into the spotlight for a brief time. Whether they say anything ultimately about the artist — and not the banalities of a trampoline bouncing celebrity — should remain an open question. That said, it’s always difficult not to fix upon the sad angelic eyes of Bush. When met with voice and vision, they can communicate extraordinary power. Even when imparting silent ennui, or just half-lit shades with small smiles, as they sometimes seem to with Harari pointing the way, they are not so much windows unto an inner soul or even openings to the performer’s penchant for the conspicuously odd, but rather hopes for the undisclosed. This Bush is too wonderful and too peripatetic to be captured in photographs.

Pietro de Simone is a writer and musician, born and raised in NYC. He is ABD in Political Science with a background in political theory. His work has appeared in PopMatters, Cinema Adrift, and OtherVoices. He can be reached at [email protected]

RATING 9 / 10