We are proud to present the Housequake questionnaire conducted with Jeff Katz. He is a distinguished photographer in the entertainment industry and Prince’s personal photographer and creative collaborator from 1985 to 1996.
In 1985, in his early 20s, Jeff was honored to become Prince’s primary personal photographer and collaborator. He took the most iconic photographs ever taken from Prince’s celebrated eras of Under The Cherry Moon, Parade, Sign O’ The Times, Lovesexy, Batman, Graffiti Bridge, Emancipation and more. Jeff embodies the history of Prince. See below a small sample from his work for Prince.
Hi Jeff, it’s truly an honour to have you for this questionnaire. You have made some truly captivating and iconic photos of our beloved musician. Let me kick-off with the first question. I’ve heard you might be picking up film again. What do you think might be the benefits and/or drawbacks of using analogue film as a professional photographer these days? Housequake
Artistically – there are only benefits shooting with film. Because It is a more methodical and thoughtful process – it can produce imagery with much more emotion and depth. All of my Prince photography was shot on film. Commercially – the fact that film shooting can get quite expensive and is not an immediate process might be a deterrent for some subjects and clients. Therefore – I will re-introduce film shooting slowly to my new photo sessions with digital captures still making up a majority of the shoots.
What was a typical shooting process like with Prince? Adamnarain
Nothing was “typical” – It was Prince!
We know from other photographers that Prince would have concepts and ideas but let photographers do their thing. Later in life, he began to dabble himself. Would Prince ask you straight up technical questions about photography during a shoot? For example, ask about aperture? Depth of field? Lenses? Lee Hollands
Prince and I only discussed the desired creative imagery needing to be achieved. He trusted my vision and technical skills.
What’s the story behind the Sign O’ The Times album cover? Bruthabud82
It was multiple days of nonstop shooting. We started with an empty stage and it grew and grew and grew. At the end of the shoot Prince sat on a box with his face very close to my lens, and after he saw a test polaroid he said “This will be the cover!”
In regards to the above question, what’s the story behind the pale blue versus peach-coloured pictures for SOTT? I see photoshoots with the blue outfit, blue drums, blue scarf, and then I see the cover off SOTT and it’s all peach. Is this manually, digitally corrected, or did Prince, change his mind, and do the shoot all over again with a new drumset, new outfit? Luc Groosman
There were multiple setups and multiple wardrobe and instrument changes with usages to be decided after seeing the processed film. Photoshop did not exist for SOTT and what you see in each photo is exactly the way the film was shot.
In your opinion what was so special about Prince that set him apart compared to the many other artists you photographed and worked with? Anthmillington
Visually – the truly defining difference was that he was “Prince” 24/7. There was no stage vs private persona. He dressed exactly the same all of the time and embraced each of his eras as a complete lifestyle.
As Prince would change his hairstyles, colour schemes, and overall moods from album to album. Did you try different lenses, lighting techniques, or shooting styles to match each project? And if so what are some of the most drastic changes you made? Billhartung
My photography of Prince compliments each project and era. On each shoot (except for Parade / UTCM mostly Black and White) I shot all types of film stocks with different cameras and lenses and lighting techniques. The most drastic change was for the Emancipation Album – the one and only digital shoot I did with Prince. Digital photography was in its infancy so there was a technical learning curve I had to master in advance so not to waste Prince’s time in front of the camera.
What was your favourite era from your time working with Prince? Manray44
Even though all of his eras and photography we created together were equally exciting in their own way – being on location for months in the South of France for Parade / UTCM – Certainly had an extra amount of fun!
They say artist’s portraits of others are more often portraits of the artists themselves. Therefore, my question is “What image of Prince, that you’ve taken, is most like a self-portrait of yourself?” Ricasso
I like to think that I capture the unique personality and style of each person I photograph. I definitely have certain lighting techniques and a personal artistic vision, but I don’t let that dominate the person I am photographing. I strive to always capture the person underneath the hair, makeup, and wardrobe.
As I’m a huge fan of the Parade album, my questions will be focused on the shooting. Was it intended already for the album cover or any other reason knowing it was taken in September 85′ (at Studios de la Victorine)? How many poses? Did Prince choose the final ones? Rachel Benssoussan
What became known as “The Parade Album Cover Shoot” was my first ever private one-on-one shoot with Prince. It had no designation for any particular usage, but after many months of other unique photo sessions during the filming of UTCM – this first shoot with its bold simplicity and starkness remained the cover winner.
What photoshoot with Prince was your least favourite/most challenging and why? Violet Aura Official
They were all artistically challenging (in a good way) because I always strived to shoot the best and most unique photography I could possibly create – each and every time! I honestly enjoyed all of our photo sessions and the only unfavorable element may have been an extreme Minnesota winter or two!
Was Prince’s overall attitude, willingness to experiment with the medium of photography & approach to your mutual collaboration changing/evolving as you went from the mid-’80s to the ’90s or remained he the same individual with whom you first met back in the day? Yan K
I always gave Prince so much variety in B&W, Color, Lighting Techniques, Composition, Special Film Processing and Darkroom Printing, that he was always receptive to my new ideas and photographic experimentation throughout all of our years of artistic collaboration.
Do you remember any unreleased film projects you did photography on that never came out? Franklin Bo Rush
Images from every photo session we did were always used for something. Fortunately – there were never any reshoots or complete sessions that didn’t work out.
What was it like to have Prince open up to you while capturing his most intimate moments on camera? Cynthia Rose
At first it was a bit intimidating, but as I got to know him (and he got to know me) it was greatly appreciated and cherished.
You were doing photographs with Prince for a long time, and the end of your collaboration was in the Emancipation era. Prince was, at that time, in a bold personal and emotional time, with big plans for the release of Emancipation, where he dealt openly with his emotions. Could you tell us how the photo sessions for Emancipation unfolded? Did you perceive a change in Prince with respect to the work you did for previous albums? Cateto
Prince was in a very happy place during our Emancipation shoot. He had his specific look for this era and we visually created on the fly throughout the Paisley Park complex. Because we were shooting digitally for the first time – he was extra excited about seeing everything immediately! The energy was looser and more carefree, but the artistic expectations remained as high as ever.
We know mainly your studio photography with Prince but you also took some iconic live shots (Parade: yellow suit, SOTT: guitar pic for movie poster). Can you tell us some more about concert photography? Did you get specific assignments? Or were you asked to shoot the photos and afterwards it was decided what it was used for? Raspberry Baret
I was brought in to shoot key concerts during the particular tours. As always – I shot the most artistic images I could – and all of the usages were decided later. The most notable live shot I took of Prince is the SOTT movie poster image. In addition to the moving emotion conveyed in this photo – the location in West Berlin before The Wall came down is of chilling historical significance!
The photos in the Nude Tour book have been heavily modified. The cross on Prince’s chest has been turned into a ‘symbol’, the Batman symbol was removed. This was all pre-photoshop. I’d like to know if this was done by Jeff himself and how it was done. Edgar Kruize
Before Photoshop the retouching was done directly on a large piece of duplicate film. This was a highly specialized art form and was mastered by few. Photographers were not expected to do the retouching – just to facilitate it with the retoucher. Composites and content modification were even more difficult. I was not involved with the post-production of the photography for this tour book – that was probably left to the tour book designer.
It’s widely known that Prince was big on control not only with his music but his image. While you were working with him, did he lessen that control a bit and allows you to have total creative control to get the image he envisioned for whatever project you were photographing him for at that moment? Was he receptive to your suggestions and direction? Ann Belle
Yes – He liked my lighting and composition and artistic ideas. He certainly knew how he liked to pose, but would elaborate and repeat a pose or try a new one at my suggestion. In the end – Prince knew he could pick (or not pick) whatever images he wanted for whatever purpose – so we worked quickly and never got bogged down.
I’d like to know how it was working with Horst P. Horst on The Family album artwork. And how Prince and Horst worked together on that project. Thomas de Bruin
As a photographer – I am a great admirer of the legendary Horst P. Horst. I never met him or worked with him. The inside gatefold photography of this album that I shot with Prince was on a separate, special day at a park by a lake above Malibu.
Are there any pictures available that shows Prince having blond hair in the mid-80s? For instance, before the Raspberry Beret Video shoot where he was wearing a wig? RossVerba
I have never seen, photographed, or am aware of any photos of Prince with blonde hair.
After a photoshoot, did prince tell you to erase hundreds of photos after he picked out 1 or 2 that he liked? Daavee Jumpin Sausages
No – This was physical film – there was no erasing. I would send him or show him in person the entire photo session. He would then mark his many initial favourites and would decide right away or soon after what the usages would be.
Will you be releasing a book or documentary of your photos, and experiences of working with Prince in the near future? Benscr
I would love to do a book and possible documentary of my Prince photography, but as of this answer – I still need the proper legal permissions to do so. I will keep trying!
More on Jeff Katz
The Guardian Interview