Jeff Katz, portrait painter of the Prince

On the occasion of the reissue of the album 'Sign o 'the Times', the photographer who had been dubbed by the kid from Minneapolis tells us.

Luck is like a phone call. In the spring of 1984, Jeff Katz was a young photographer with little experience. The Warner record company contacts him: could he play the assistants for their star Prince who wants to shoot his new group, The Family himself? Of course. Katz finds the place, a lake near Malibu, sets the scene, prepares the session. Prince arrives, observes, manipulates the devices for an hour. Then the star returns the boxes to Katz to let him act as he pleases. "You are the professional, continue," he told her. The character of the character? "Very calm, thoughtful, he had a quick and low-key sense of humor. He remained focused. "

    Prince was very aware of his movements, he possessed a natural grace

Then Katz has no more news. A few months later, the manager of the creator of the violet rain made him an offer that he could not refuse: "Prince would like you to accompany him to the Studios de la Victorine in Nice in order to become his personal photographer during the shooting of his film. film “Under the Cherry Moon”. »Overjoyed, Katz stammers an OK. For their first joint session, the photographer receives a single instruction: “Prince wants you to take pictures of him. »There were more complex briefings ... From the first roll of film, he captures this famous portrait that appears on the cover of the album" Parade ", his hands around his face, his eyes intense, his belly bared ... Katz had understood that the feature film would be in black and white, that the director of photography, Michael Ballhaus, would broadcast a timeless atmosphere. "I imagined classic lighting, a strong portrait, a white background behind. When I showed him a Polaroid test, he asked everyone to leave the room. There was only us left. I conducted it without emphasis: “Look to the right, to the left.” If I liked a gesture, I encouraged it. Prince was very aware of his movements, he possessed a natural grace. If he hadn't liked my suggestions, he would have left. "

Katz describes a beast, an instinct that decides quickly, speaks little. This session marked the start of an eleven-year collaboration between the Prince and his portrait painter. Each record was the pretext for a change in appearance, a new look. “I didn't choose his clothes. When he showed up you thought he was wearing stage clothes but not at all, he dressed the same in concerts and in life. The photographer visited the god's lair near Minneapolis and walked through its huge wardrobes. He says: “He didn't own any jeans or a T-shirt. "

    Nothing was programmed, like a free-jazz score

The brilliant musician was not a pretentious swagger, a party jerk, a gallery eccentric. “He was polite, friendly, intense, serious, respectful. But you shouldn't ask him too many questions or demand explanations. Once Katz requisitioned, he had to fend for himself. The cover for "Sign o’ the Times "? His future mega studio Paisley Park in Chanhassen (Minnesota) being under construction, Prince was renting a place nearby to rehearse. Empty place except for this battery on a car, visible on the album cover. “Prince arrived with his glasses, his styling. I had to proceed quickly. He suggested filling the room with “stuff”, those are his words. The new compositions are broadcast on a portable amplifier without specifying anything. "Nothing was programmed, like a free-jazz score," he recalls. Katz photographed Prince's wedding to Mayte Garcia - "I had never seen him so happy"…, underlines the portrait painter: Prince hired talented and unknown people to carry out his vision. "He did not confront other famous people who might have imposed their wishes on him."

And one day comes the last session, without the photographer knowing it. Prince seems to be crossing the street, a guitar on his shoulder, the Love Symbol painted on his face; 1996, black year, the singer's sick newborn does not survive. He argues with Warner. Jeff Katz has no more news. It's finish. Prince would call him back a few years before his death to evoke certain images. Pleasant discussion, tinged with nostalgia: “We talked more in an hour than in all these years. We laughed about it. We hypothesized to work together again, he was very warm. "

The rights of the photographs belong to the heirs of Prince. “Young, I signed contracts that were not to my advantage. But his managers kept booking me… We signed an agreement. I can sell some photographs as art. Katz was stunned by Prince's cause of death, a Fentanyl overdose one evening in 2016: “I have never seen drugs or alcohol behind the scenes or anywhere. It was not tolerated. He kept himself in shape, took care of himself. A crazy time when, after the scales and the show, Prince would go back to the club stage to play funk, rock and pop until dawn. He only liked music then.

"Sign of the Times "from every angle

It is an invaluable treasure. A sum that comes in several formats and which allows you to discover all of Prince's work when creating this album. In the most expensive edition, consisting of 13 vinyls (295 euros), we are delighted to discover the layout of each song. But also many unpublished that Prince dismissed at the time of the final choice. Or a live that remained in the boxes, which goes for the presence of Miles Davis on one of the tracks. In total, 92 titles that really make you dizzy. Those who just want to discover the album can settle for the 4 vinyl version (65 euros). And for those on a budget, the 2 disc version (32 euros), which only contains the remastered album, is also highly recommended.

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