“Björk Is Sort of Mythical”: Spike Jonze and Humberto Leon In Conversation

by | Mar 2, 2024 | Music

Björk by Spike Jonze
Björk© 2024 Spike Jonze

AnOther: As a new zine of previously unpublished photographs of Björk is released, Spike Jonze talks about shooting the Icelandic musician on the cusp of stardom, and the lost mystique of Chateau Marmont.

This interview is taken from The Day I Met Björk, a zine of photographs by Spike Jonze, curated by Humberto Leo. 

Humberto Leon: Ok, can you tell me about the day you met Björk?

Spike Jonze: I loved her first album, Debut and I’d done videos but they weren’t that far out of my world – Beastie Boys or Weezer, Dinosaur Jr or REM – so this was very exciting to get to do a Björk video. They sent me four songs off of Post and they were all incredible.

The idea that came the quickest was for It’s Oh So Quiet. And then I had a call with her and we just talked and I told her the idea and she said, “I love it.” And I was like, “Well, do you have any tweaks, anything you want to do?” And she’s like, “I just want to wear an orange dress.” My reaction was, “OK, perfect.” And that was it. It was so easy and so fun and she was just the warmest, up for anything. But I could also tell she had a very clear point of view on who she was, what she wanted to do, who she wanted to work with and I was very, very honoured to be somebody that she wanted to work with.

Then I didn’t see her, we didn’t talk for a couple of months and I started prepping it and putting it all together and scouting it and working on the choreography and all that stuff. And then she came to town and Detour Magazine asked, “Hey, we want to shoot photos of Björk for an interview.” So the day she got in town, I went to the Chateau Marmont, where she was staying. And it’s funny, because the Chateau is now something else …

HL: I think it’s a place where people like to be seen. It has a clout to it. But I think back then there was so much mystique to it. And it wasn’t anything. It wasn’t “a thing”.

SJ: The people we knew, that we were friends with, would want to stay there, but it wasn’t expensive. It was probably still pretty run down then, but it wasn’t crowded. You would run into people there and it was really fun, but it was just less precious or pretentious. Also, you could kind of do anything there. We just went down to the pool and shot photos in the pool for two hours and nobody cared.

HL: Was it the beginning of the day when you’re in her room and she’s in that orange outfit drinking coffee?

SJ : Yeah, probably. And then walked around the garden and then ended up at the pool. And Casey [Storm] just had a duffel bag of clothes, so it was just me and Casey and our other friend Scott who was my photo assistant and helped me with the whole underwater housing. But it wasn’t a big production in any way. And when I look back, I’m like, “How did we shoot that many photos in two, three hours maybe?” As soon as I met her, it was instantly natural. But before that, I thought she’s sort of mythical, or you don’t know who she is. She’s this mystery from another dimension or something. And then as soon as I met her, I was like, “Oh no, she’s just this awesome Icelandic girl from a punk band.” And she’s from that scene and I’m from this scene, but they’re the same scenes just from different cities. That’s why she was so down. She didn’t have any entourage. She didn’t have a publicist. She didn’t have a hair and makeup person. I was like, “Oh, OK. We’re just going to make something together.” Our friendship still sort of meets at that place. She’s just this Icelandic punk who probably can drink a lot more vodka than, well … definitely can drink a lot more vodka than I could.

HL: She’s otherworldly.

SJ: So otherworldly, yeah. She was just roaming around the Chateau. If you’re at any other fancy hotel nowadays, within five minutes of shooting photos, the security would be there. And nobody cared at this time. I don’t even know if they even had a security guard.

HL: I feel like looking at all the contact sheets I live through the day with you and her because I saw the sequence of the day. 

SJ: I’ve never really gone back to look at them. When I think about them, I think about how I got to capture her at this moment right before that album blew up. It catapulted her into this other world, this new life. But it’s very easy to shoot photos of someone when they’re compelling, when they’re imaginative, when they lack any self consciousness and when they’re as singular and original as her. Really, I almost can’t even take credit for any photos being good because they’re just … I think sometimes if you’re shooting photos of someone that doesn’t know how to be in front of the camera or play or just create something with you, then it’s hard. But this was just her. Just pointing the camera at her and she’s compelling.

The Day I Met Björk, a zine of photographs by Spike Jonze, curated by Humberto Leon and presented by WeTransfer and Arroz & Fun, is out now

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