In 1984, Richard Corman was asked to photography Jean-Michel Basquiat, and now 35 years later, he looks back at his experience.
A young artist in the Eighties, now an esteemed photographer, Richard Corman captured a moment in ’84 which turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Photographing Jean-Michel Basquiat for L’Uomo Vogue, Corman headed to the artists loft in New York City and never looked back. “The room was a swirl of people, paint, canvas, color and smoke. Off in the corner was Basquiat submerged and almost invisible,” the artist explained, “My initial instinct was to remove him from all the distractions and place him in front of a thin four foot wall of grey seamless paper. I wanted to see behind his eyes and allow him to tell the most elemental part of his story – the human spirit behind the art.” Deciding to shoot the renowned rising painter in a simple and intimate vibe, Corman captured his presence intimately and eternally.
Now available for the first time the 79 total images at Basquiat’s studio have been made into a limited 500 books signed by the famous photographer. Housed in a blood red, hand-made slipcase, the interior portfolio of shots unfolds to nearly 4 meters and is available exclusively on Vero.
“It is tempting to second guess the decision I made that day at 57 Great Jones Street, but I was interested in a simple portrait of a complicated genius.” We meet the established photographer to take us on a visceral journey of that day, and find out how Richard Corman memorialized the icon that is Basquiat.
What is your most visceral memory of your time with Basquiat?
Although I knew prior to my shoot I was to meet someone unique, but upon reflection, I remember feeling a sense of gratitude. Gratitude, because I had just experienced an individual who was both heroic and honest in his process with which he shared his work.
Did you have a clear idea of how you wanted to shoot him? Did this change upon meeting him?
I was so young, inexperienced and raw in my own process. Knowing less was knowing more in this case, as I did not overthink from any past experiences. I had done my research on JMB the artist, but I was clueless about the person I was to meet. I walked into a surge of people, smoke, art, paint, music and frenetic energy! I immediately pulled JMB aside, place him in front of a narrow sheet of grey seamless paper and hoped that his luminescence would shine. I have never regretted my decision.
When capturing portraits how do you approach your subject?
I approach everyone the same…an introduction, a conversation and always a feeling of responsibility for my subjects. Although the scenario and individuals are always different, the goal is always to see something behind the eyes of those I am photographing and allow them to morph into whom they are or whom I see at that moment.
What did you learn from that session with Basquiat?
I certainly learned a bit more about JMB, but most importantly about my own experience as an artist. Sometimes it is best to get out of the way and allow my subjects to reveal themselves without imparting my will on them.
Do you remember the moment you fell in love with photography?
I fell in love with photography on those days where I lost myself behind my camera in NYC as the sun rose and the streets were empty.
What influences have you drawn on over your career?
NYC has always been an inspiration for me as I encounter diversity on every level daily…the people, the colors, the determination, the art, the fashion, the music, the architecture, the conversations, the sports, the food, the poetry and the carnival of creativity I felt on June, 1984 in JMB’s studio.
How do you feel your work has evolved since these early days?
Initially, I was terrified to photograph a human being. As time passed and as I began to feel more comfort in my own space, looking at someone through my lens became more empowering and allowed me a certain confidence I had never felt prior.
If you could photograph one subject for the rest of your life who or what would it be?
The disenfranchised. Those that have been forgotten and pushed aside by too many as a result of fear, ignorance and lack of interest. I am beginning a project, TRANSMILITARY, photographing the dignity, courage and heroism of those transgender Americans who put their lives on the line to preserve our freedoms as they serve all branches of the military.
Basquiat: ‘A Portrait’ is a limited edition publication of 500 books. Each book is signed and numbered by the photographer Richard Corman. Available to buy exclusively on Vero for £200 here.
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10 May 2019