Interview conducted by Sarah Bacon.
Back in September, another HQ member shared David’s blog post about taking photos of Paisley Park. On a whim, I emailed him and asked if he’d be willing to do an email Q&A; for the fans at Housequake. Thanks to David for his time and thoughtful answers! Enjoy.
Based on your website bio, it sounds like your work at Paisley Park and with Prince was fairly early in your professional career. How did you end up working with Prince?
I was working on a movie with the late Jose Ferrer on Paisley’s soundstage and one day ended up having lunch with Harry Grossman, the head of the studio. Harry is a great guy and kind enough to start calling me for photography work when they needed promotional shots of the studio interiors as well as music videos and rehearsals for acts that rented studio space there. The studio had just opened so it was a really great time to meet all the players. Lots of bands rehearsed for their tours and also recorded there, and most times it was so full that Prince himself had to fly to Los Angeles to record.
I didn’t really consider myself a music photographer. At the time I was primarily shooting photojournalism- Presidential campaigns, world leaders, natural disasters and the like. Documentary work has always been my passion and still is to this day. My early work with musicians was certainly satisfying at some level, but I think the main satisfaction is the friendships I made. Prince’s hairstylist Earl Jones and I were housemates, and he was a dear, dear friend until his death in the late 90’s. Earl spent every waking day with Prince starting from the Purple Rain era through Grafitti Bridge (trust me, if a truthful biography of Prince’s rise were ever to be written, Earl’s diaries are the only real, honest source). So I’d have to say my personal experiences around Paisley far outweighed the time I spent actually taking pictures. And of course through Earl I became close friends with his niece Jill and her mother Winnie, who was a big help in introducing me to Michael Jackson.
What projects did you work on while at Paisley Park? Did you work on the premises only or did you do shoot for Prince elsewhere as well?
A few Prince pet band projects/proteges, BeeGees One Tour, Steve Miller Band, Stevie Ray Vaughn, REM, Graffiti Bridge, MC Hammer. At the time Prince was using L.A. photographer Jeff Katz for all his portraits and album work, and since I was covering politics I wasn’t all that interested in the job.
What makes Prince an interesting subject to photograph?
Probably the fact that he is so goddamned talented and gives off an really surreal electricity when you’re close to him. Musically, nobody in the last century can compare to him.
On your site you mention you were featured on VH1’s True Spin: Prince 1999. Unfortunately this never aired on VH1 can you tell us what your contribution was to the special?
That show was quite a disappointment for everyone involved. VH1 used my pictures of Prince and Paisley Park for the show, and asked if I could arrange an interview with Jill Jones, the co-lead vocal with Prince on 1999 (I helped her put her 2001 album with Chris Bruce together). While arranging Jill’s interview, they wanted my comments as both a listener and my experience at Paisley Park. I spent a couple hours in front of the camera at VH1’s studios in Los Angeles talking about music in the eighties, Prince, and Saturday Night Live’s influence on musicians. The show looked great, and original 1999 contributors from Jill to Lisa Coleman gave great positive comments about Prince.
But at the eleventh hour Prince wouldn’t allow use of the song so it was shelved, so I guess he’s wasn’t into interpretations of the song. They ask lots of seemingly irrelevant questions so they can use them in their multitudes of shows that use interview clips, so it wasn’t a total loss.
What is your favorite shot you took of Prince. Can you share it with us?
It’s probably the shot of Prince smiling at the camera during the Nude Tour, as I constantly get comments from people about it. Earl said he told Prince to give me a smile during the 2nd song so I guess I had some strings pulled for me on that one. I’ve given that picture as a fine art print to celebs like Jack Nicholson and Kirstie Alley, both huge Prince fans.
On your site there is a photo from Prince’s Nude Tour in 1990. Please tell us about your experience with the tour. Did you travel with the tour for the entire time or just shoot various shows?
I shot lots of Prince concerts from the Sign o the Times through Nude, always for magazines, mostly European like France’s VSD and England’s Q. Many of them went on to be syndicated to other foreign magazines like French Elle. I’d usually let Paisley take their pick afterwards. I also shot the cover and a 2 page spread for the Rock In Rio II (in Rio De Janiero) tour program.
The inevitable question 🙂 You’ve photographed both Prince and Michael Jackson. Any comments?
Michael’s people were always much friendlier and generous, whereas most of Prince’s people were always afraid of their own shadow. They were both superstars at the time, and I think equally great subjects. Even with Michael’s personal problems today, I’m still proud of the fact that he has one of my concert photos hanging on the wall at Neverland.
Your work spans across a wide range of topics: music, culture, architecture, exotic animals. What draws you to photographing musicians?
It used to be the thrill of being next to a superstar during a performance, but I’ve become a little bored by the supertight control that publicists have over musicians now and do very little of it. I did shoot alot of shows on Billy Idol’s last tour, as his guitarist Steve Stevens is a friend of mine. I also shot some fun pictures of the Revolution at Sheila E’s Family Jamm a couple years back. Other than that I don’t pursue it much anymore except for the occasional concert job in Europe.
I see from your site you’re working in the Middle East. What kind of photography are you doing now?
Once I hit 40 I started to look at my photography as the longer term project. I’d like to leave an archive of relevant photos to my kids-something that shows more of a world view and not just a guy jerking off on stage. I live in Istanbul now, and really get passionate about the history that surrounds me. Plus there’s lots of conflict to photograph in the surrounding countries that are really shaping how we will all live in this century. And Prince still sounds fantastic on an iPod, even in Northern Iraq.
And one final note I received from David…
Here’s some groovy pictures I did of Dr. Fink’s studio a couple years ago. He didn’t care for them much but maybe Prince fans would enjoy. They’re 360×360 degree pictures, but they’ll view Ok on most browsers.http://davidhonlphoto.com/mattfink
About David Honl
A freelance professional since 1986, David’s photographs have appeared in hundreds of newspapers and magazines around the globe including Newsweek, People Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Paris Match, Bunte, and Q.
A Gamma-Liaison contributor through the 1990s, he covered subjects ranging from stadium concert tours to disasters like the 1994 California earthquake.
In 2003 David discussed photography and music on VH-1s “True Spin: Prince 1999”. In recent years his work been featured on the Kodak Times Square billboard and Lexar’s Pro Digital website, where he has contributed technical articles on digital workflow.