For more than 30 years, photographer Deborah Feingold has been capturing the spirit of music’s biggest names, from Madonna to James Brown to Prince. What started as a hobby, learning to develop prints in darkrooms when she was just 12 years old, quickly turned into a successful career shooting New York’s jazz stars, and eventually rap icons and pop divas.
“I’ve shot everything there is, including food,” Feingold told BuzzFeed. “I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of different stuff. But if I was going to do a book, this was the book I wanted to do.” Feingold’s first, Music, a collection of her favorite photographs of musicians, will be released on Sept. 30 via Damiani Books.
The book is Feingold’s first photo anthology, and she says she realized her desire to pull it together with the help of one of her younger assistants. “He was like, ‘You’ve got something really special here. You were there at a lot of people’s beginnings of their career and a lot of different areas of music.’ [I went,] ‘You’re absolutely right.’”
In anticipation of Music’s release, Feingold shared nine photos from the book, as well as eight rarely seen exclusive outtakes (including a photo of her taken by Prince) with BuzzFeed.
I only had 12 frames. When I had asked to shoot her, I had called up a couple of publications because it was a smaller world then. [David Keeps] was one of the editors at Star Hits magazine and I asked if I could shoot her for it and he said sure. It was just me and a young woman who was assisting me, we shot in my apartment.
There was no makeup artist — she came ready to go. There was no stylist. I have no explanation why I served a bowl of bubblegum and lollipops. She came in and we worked for 20 minutes and she left. It was just two working girls, staying focused, doing it.
When you are in the presence of someone who has a bit of magic in them, or confidence, it’s contagious. I don’t know if I followed her lead — she certainly wasn’t following mine — but it just worked. Every one of the photos is absolutely beautiful to me, and, to me, they show a side of her that I don’t think you see of her.
I wanted to give you [the outtake above] because the other one is so posed and staged … but she was adorable. Just imagine what it was like having none of that [interference from handlers]. There was no one there, there was no one telling me what to do.
[I was shooting her for a] cover for Ms. Magazine [and] when the shoot was all over, I didn’t really feel like I had anything for myself. I said to her, ‘Would you mind if I took a few pictures of you outside?’ So that is right outside my studio in SoHo.
Those are the clothes that she wore into my studio, and we are just standing four feet from my doorway. That’s daylight, on Crosby Street in SoHo.
The outtake [above] was from what I did for Ms. Magazine. It’s not the one that was on the cover, but it’s from that series.
I felt like I was from Mars with [The Ramones]. Because who shoots them in a formal studio setting? I don’t know… I did! That’s what I was really good at. I’m really glad that I did that. I loved that kind of lighting and I didn’t realize that I was probably the only one that ever shot them like that. I kind of wish I was at CBGB’s with them, but that just never really happened.
It was daytime, a publicity photo session for their record company. I was maybe not that familiar with all the photos of them. Remember, you couldn’t go on Google and look at all the images, so what did I know? I saw some pictures in the Village Voice and Soho Weekly News. I thought it would be nice to do a nice portrait of them.
They were quiet, they were obliging, there were some beautiful pictures that came out of it, but I look back now and go, ‘What the fuck was I thinking?’ But you know, I didn’t think that we should go and do it in some grungy place. I liked the juxtaposition of it, but it wasn’t a deliberate thought, like, ‘Oh, this would be different.’
He lived in his grandma’s house in Queens and that’s where we went. It was August, it was really hot. That’s kind of what the place looked like. I’m very neat, so I didn’t really know what to do except to get on a ladder and shoot down on him. It would’ve been inappropriate had I started organizing, which is what I do. I didn’t show the bed, I didn’t go that personal. But the truth is I only had one lens and that was as much as I could get, and the ceilings were low, so I was right up to the top just shooting down on him.
It was just playful; I mean he’s 19 years old! So I was laughing my way through. I always felt like I was kind of goofy, and you wouldn’t call me ‘cool.’ I tried to be what I felt the subject needed.
I don’t think I [attached the streamers to the fan], but I turned it on. I don’t even know why it’s there. We weren’t that clever, we weren’t that deep. I just thought it was funny for him to fan himself.
These took place in a record label, in an office. That was my challenge: How do I get to own this somehow? Because it wasn’t always mine.
She was pulling her face back to hide the wrinkles. We didn’t do Botox back then. ‘We’re pulling back the lines!’
We met at her mom’s apartment; I think she lived with her mom at that point, somewhere in the city on the west side. I had a car and we drove to Central Park. I was still able to just wing it. That was for People magazine and they always wanted something kitschy and all that.
It’s hard to just say to someone, ‘OK! Be really loosey-goosey!’ So sometimes I would just bring something to be playful with — like the lollipop. Something to work off of. I just bought [the toy piano].
They’re all looking so tough, but in the frame before that the young man in the middle is acting like a goofball. One of them breaks the pose — it’s really funny.
In the beginning of my career I didn’t know what to say. I was as shy as my subjects. It was only with experience and age that I became more comfortable. But that anxiety is what pushes you. There was always a fine line. I never wanted to totally direct. I wanted so much for it to come from them. But it was always a dance. I believed in improvising and I believed in just putting it out there. And you know what? It didn’t always work. I didn’t want to have everything down so pat that everything always looked the same. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
I was hired by the Soho Weekly News to photograph him at The Bottom Line. They said, ‘Yeah, there’s this new guy, there’s a lot of talk about it, he’s from Minnesota. We want you to get some concert shots. And we want you to ask to go backstage and see if you can get a photo.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t do that.. I… I…. I…’ I was really shy.
So, I go make my way backstage, knock on the door. Introduce myself to the man who answers the door — big tall guy. I really quickly ask if I can get a portrait backstage of Prince. And the guy said, ‘Nah. Prince doesn’t do that.’ And then with great relief I was like, ‘OK, thanks!’ and went running back to my [place in the pit]. I’m getting ready to shoot, and I feel a tap on my shoulder. That same man signals for me to follow him backstage and looks at me and says, ‘You were so nice about that, come on in and take a few pictures.’
I get in the room, it’s the two of us, it’s a really teeny-tiny space. And I think after 12 shots, I didn’t know what the hell to do after that. I mean, really, what were Prince and I gonna talk about? After ‘Hi, how are you?’ What was there to say? He’s getting ready to go on stage for his first New York show, and I didn’t know what took over me but I just said, ‘Would you like to take a picture of me?’ So I now have a picture of me taken by Prince.
I didn’t know what the hell to do. I didn’t even finish one roll of film. Look at the picture of me, I’m just sitting like a dork smiling, and then there’s a picture of him all happy walking out the door.
You had to be pushy in that business to get your pictures. It was mostly men — there were a couple of us women, but it was a lot of men — and the last thing you could ever accuse me of was being pushy. To a fault. And I think [my manner] hit a nerve with him and I think he felt like doing something nice in turn. That was kind of always my experience. I was always polite.