Life & Culture

Candid and Unseen Photos of a Pre-Fame Prince

‘This is Prince before he became Prince’

The year was 1977, the location Minneapolis, USA. A 19-year-old local musician by the name of Prince Rogers Nelson came to the attention of music agent Owen Husney and his partner Gary Levinson. They wanted to get him shot and, in an attempt to lure photographer Robert Whitman, played him some of his music – an early demo of Soft and Wet. It paid off. Whitman was transfixed and, soon after, photographed Nelson, who would later become the music icon we know as Prince. These photos see the musician – fresh-faced and on the brink of stardom – on the studio and in the studio, modelling typically 70s fashion and, in some instances, topless. There are even pictures of him smiling. Now, 40 years later and just over one year since his death, Whitman is publishing these images for the first time. Titled Prince Pre Fame, the book contains the entire collection and, in Whitman’s words, “is a book that every Prince fan should have on their table, telling the story of two guys from Minneapolis following their passions, trying to pursue their dreams”. Here, the photographer tells us more about the images and his encounters with the High Priest of Pop.

“This is Prince before he became Prince.

I first met him when he was rehearsing in the studio. He was very quiet but very friendly to me. I could tell he wasn’t very talkative but when I saw him playing the different instruments you could tell he let his music do the talking.

[The first time I photographed him] we met in downtown Minneapolis and planned on doing a shoot on the street in front of the Schmitt Music wall. Everything came very naturally and nothing was really planned. I have seen the mural many times and when I was driving with Prince in my van it just came to me as a perfect place for a shoot.

We also shot in the street with a lot of random people passing by. Prince was very shy but, as you can tell, the photos came out very real.

We start warming up in the city, running around – he was moving, laughing and dancing and it surprised me seeing him so comfortable. I would say that the key words to describe our days together are ‘spontaneous’ and ‘authentic’.

[My favourite memory of Prince was when] we were shooting in my studio in Minneapolis and out of nowhere he decided to take off his shirt. From there we started experimenting with sticky rhinestones and very improbable props and I was finally able to use my star filter on my lenses. They turned out to be my favourite photos!

Prince was able to change and transform himself, and is still to inspire [different] generations. I met him when he was a young man with a dream and, through the years, saw him become the King of Music. It was a great journey [that was] cut short!”

Prince Pre Fame is available for £100 (Limited edition) or £550 (Strictly limited edition) through the Vero App. For every book sold there will be a contribution donated to amfAR.