“Leonard Cohen Hangs My Daughter”: Meet AJ Barratt, Legendary Rock Photographer

Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Leonard Cohen, Barry White, Sonic Youth, Sinead O’Connor.

You’d be hard pressed to find an ’80s and’ 90s music star who hasn’t been under Tony (AJ) Barratt’s lens.

As a child growing up in Manchester and reading the British music magazine NME (New Musical Express), Barratt quickly became influenced and in love with music photography, starting with rival magazine, Melody Maker.

Prove he had what it takes to succeed in music by photographing concerts, Barratt quickly began taking portraits of artists interviewed for the magazine.

A few years later he reached the NME.

Draw spontaneity from his subjects

From that point on he became known as AJ due to a food photographer of the same name floating around the stage.

Barratt said his approach to each photoshoot differed depending on the artist.

If the magazine interviewed an emerging artist, it wouldn’t know much about him and wouldn’t have access to the Internet as an inexhaustible source of information.

Some shoots were planned on site, like when he asked the group The Charlatans to jump into a lake for the money shot.

Other shoots, with more important artists, could be planned weeks in advance. Some shoots were extremely short – a few minutes – others could lead to something unexpected, like playing pool with Tom Waits.

Then there was his portrayal of Leonard Cohen – an artist he called a “gamer” despite his reputation for writing introspective and heartfelt songs – holding his daughter by the ankles.

Days earlier, Barratt was playing with his daughter Lucca when he caught himself in the mirror while holding her upside down, thinking it would do a good job.

He pitched the idea to Cohen and he was ready – they pulled off a few shots before Lucca started to cry.

Barratt photographed for NME from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, the heyday of music magazines.

In 2018, the magazine ceased publication and is available online only.

The days of being sent around the world to shoot a star may be over for many media outlets, but for over a decade Barratt was able to do “a dream job.”

Watch AJ’s interview in the media player above.

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