On Image
Wasn't it Oscar Wilde who said that man's first duty is to strike a pose, and that no-one has yet determined his second?

Making pop records in the 80s, I had two ways to strike a pose, to control my own public image as Momus. I had a series of record contracts which contained clauses saying things like 'Record company and artist will mutually agree on artwork and photography... The artist will have the right to approve all likenesses'. This meant that Mike Alway at el would suggest a photo shoot by an ex-member of The Monochrome Set, or Alan McGee at Creation would tell me that the girlfriend of one of House Of Love would take me up to Hampstead Heath and snap me looking forlorn on a bench.

I'd then be within my contractual rights to suggest my friend Thomi Wroblewski instead, knowing the affable and easygoing Thomi would let me select the final image.

When it came to promoting the records in the papers, I'd be at the mercy of the music press's tight cadre of approved photographers -- people like Derek Ridgers at the NME (rigidly PC, he also happens to live with my critical nemesis, Betty Page). These photographers sometimes seemed to treat their art as an extension of music criticism, delighting in capturing singers they considered pretentious or awkward in unflattering light, with wispy hair and incongruous backgrounds.

And so it came to pass that I first appeared in the New Musical Express standing in front of two anachronistic King's Road punks (it happened to be 1986), and was introduced to the readers of Melody Maker, thanks to a slip with the contact sheets, sporting the fetching face of Morrisseyesque francophile Bill Pritchard instead of the one I was born with.

Bad photos of me actually filtered through to reviews written by journalists I'd never met, as when Select (nominating me 33rd coolest person in pop in 1993) described me as 'no oil painting', or a Barbara Ellen review in the New Musical Express began 'Ugly men get their hatred of women with their milk teeth'. That's what I call an attack ad hominem. Not so much 'strike a pose' as 'punch that poseur!'

In the 1990s it started getting easier for me to strike those poses without getting the shit kicked out of me. First, at record label level, because I invested in a home studio. So my recording costs plummeted while my sales stayed constant. Instead of spending 5000 quid of record company money on recording an album and 200 quid shooting its sleeve, I could spend 2000 for the studio and 3000 on a Pierre et Gilles portrait.

But also because, all of a sudden, along came a digital revolution that, as one of its side-effects, spun a lot of power into the hands of smart creative people. The recording equipment I bought with my royalties lived around a multimedia Apple Mac, so the whole world of image manipulation opened up to me. Soon I was scanning photos and retouching them, designing my own record sleeves in Photoshop and Quark XPress. I remember Creation getting its first Quark-equipped Macs the same year I got mine (1993). It was like a race between artist and label to have control over these powerful new image technologies... and hence over the artist's own soul.

Then along came the web. Suddenly there was a way for me to bypass the music industry, the labels and magazines, altogether. I was free, at virtually no expense to myself or anyone else, to control likenesses, play image games, post demos, and get even deeper into the fabulous tangle of creative self-invention, marked by its play of credible and incredible, sublime and ridiculous, strophe and antistrophe. Are you really a pervert, Momus, and were you really once a hippopotamus?

Suddenly I could see exactly how many people per month were hitting my site, what they looked at, how long for, even their computer domain names with their dark clues to occupation and location.

Look, here come Japanese boys surfing from work at Seiko, Konica and Kyoto University! 'Garnet.scphys.kyoto-u.ac.jp'is interested in 'Monsters Of Love', while the mysterious lurking Swede 'claudius.wmdata.se' wants to read my press file.

Now, like a spider hiding and spinning, I can prepare games for these curious strangers, lead them through my autobiography, complain to them about my neglect, tell them interesting lies... and blink at them as though I was somehow more 'alive' here online than down there in my Montmartre den. (I probably am).

A man's first duty is to strike a pose. His second, as Oscar Wilde surely knew but chose to block from his mind, is to market and sell it effectively. One day, no doubt, I will be offering you records and CD ROMs directly from these pages, blushing as I ask you to swipe your plastic through the little groove on top of your monitor before following me into some perverse VRML labyrinth. One day I may live by these image games instead of paying for them.

But in the meantime I'm having too much fun just being -- no, concocting -- myself.

Momus, Paris, April 1996

Previous Columns:On Columns and On Flatness.