Photography The R&B Imagery of David Corio

The R&B Imagery of David Corio

Anna Frattini

David Corio began his photographic career in 1978 when he began shooting for New Musical Express, The Face, Time Out and Black Echoes. But not only that, subsequently there have been the Daily Telegraph, The Times, Q, Theathre Royal Stratford and Greensleeves Records, among others. Last June 13 saw the release of the reissue of The Black Chord published by Hat & Beard Press – a comprehensive collection of David’s photographs of black musicians, previously published by Universe in 1999 with text by Vivien Goldman. On this occasion, we had the pleasure of exchanging a few words with the photographer who took the time to tell us about himself in a genuine and limpid way.

Grace Jones – Drury Lane Theatre, London 1981 © David Corio

What made you want to start working in the music industry as a photographer?

I’d always had a love of music and started to seriously take photographs when I was about 14. I went to art college studying photography when I was 16 in 1976 and there was a lot of exciting music beginning to happen at that time. Punk and new wave was creating a new youth culture and reggae was being played in all the clubs which sounded really exciting to me. I was at college in Gloucester which had a large Jamaican community so I heard a lot of great music in those formative years. When I moved back to London in 1978 it seemed like a natural thing to combine photography and music as I wasn’t going to join a band. I started to freelance for NME and The Face etc and getting into concerts for free and getting to meet many musical heroes was a big incentive too. 

James Brown – Hammersmith Odeon, London 1985 © David Corio

What is the most emotional photograph you have shot for a music cover?

That’s a good question but difficult to answer as music creates so many different emotions and photography does too. Probably shooting Bob Marley would be one artist I photographed in 1980 that had a big impact for me. I was standing in a lake up to my chest in water to get close to the stage so it was a very difficult shoot but there were many emotions of love for him and the music from the crowd and no-one knew that he was ill and would have passed away less than a year later. I was happy with the photos that I got in the circumstances, so those photos bring me a mix of emotions of love and sadness. They have appeared on quite a lot of magazine and record covers and one of the Bob Marley photos is the cover of The Black Chord (There are three alternate covers – Nina Simone and Biz Markie are the others). 

What are your main reggae influences, and how do you feel they have impacted you?

I love Roots reggae – largely from the 1970’s and ’80’s and the sounds of Studio One Records as well.  The roots music is heavy on the bass and dub and needs to be played very loudly. Reggae sound systems have had a big influence on the music and on me personally. Often performing all night, the music becomes hypnotic and it feels meditational and spiritual as well. Studio One was the Jamaican equivalent of Motown and has produced countless amazingly well-crafted songs with great productions and brilliant singing and musicianship. It is where almost all the major reggae performers of the 60’s and 70’s started their careers. 

Whitney Houston – Wembley Arena, London 1988 © David Corio

Who are your favourite reggae artists from back in the day and now?

My specific favourite reggae artists would be Dennis Brown, The Abyssinians, Burning Spear, Horace Andy, Augustus Pablo, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Alton Ellis and Jah Shaka who all feature in the Black Chord along with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Shabba Ranks, Beenie Man and many more. Of the more recent crop of reggae artists I like Protoje, Chronixx, Jesse Royal. Tarrus Riley but I don’t think any of them will reach the heights of the earlier artists I mentioned. I wanted The Black Chord to highlight through my photographs some of the well-known but also the lesser known names in Black music that have had an important impression and how they all link and influence each other. The music of the African drum and the early storytellers travelled to the US with the slave trade and planted the seeds for early jazz, blues and gospel that was heard throughout the Caribbean combining influences with their own local music like calypso and ska and Cuban percussion. All these rhythms made an impression on soul and r&b music and reggae which had an impact on hip hop, drum & bass and Afrobeats and it goes full circle. I hope the message comes across through my photos and Vivien Goldman’s words.

© David Corio

Written by Anna Frattini
Listen on