Albert Watson Shot Rock: The Photographer on His Photo of Michael Jackson

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 © Albert Watson

By Albert Watson

This was the first and only time I worked with Michael Jackson. We were booked for a two-day shoot for the Invincible album cover and some inside photos. The shooting was divided into one day of portraits and one day of dance shots at my studio in New York.

I already owned a mirror rig that allowed me to adjust eight mirrors individually. And, of course, before Michael arrived, the mirrors and lighting were completely prepared on the set. To give Michael more flexibility (and to add a little fun) I gave him what was essentially a stripper's pole on a white Plexi stage. When he arrived on the set, Michael spent two or three minutes stretching and then started dancing in front of the mirrors to "Billie Jean," which we played over the studio stereo system. Because of the set-up and the preparation, it was hard not to get some magical shots in almost every frame during the roughly 30 minutes he danced in front of the camera. This was Michael Jackson dancing, after all. How could you go wrong?

I found Michael charming, cooperative, totally professional, and a pleasure to deal with. The shooting was actually quite easy. After seeing the contact sheets from the shoot, the final print was essentially one gigantic contact sheet. From far away, the print looks almost like a piece of wallpaper, but close up, it gives you a very good idea of the entire shooting, and the charisma and power of Michael's dancing."

See more of Albert's images in Who Shot Rock & Roll, showing at the Annenberg Space for Photography through October 21, 2012. Learn more about him on his website at www.albertwatson.net.

Comments

I was a client of Arnell Group and, of course, worked closely with  the famous (or infamous depending on your view) Peter Arnell. I must say I found him an amazing character, never boring and, always engaging and creative. Of course, I was the client. Years later, he mentioned in passing the agency's involvement in the Invincible project -- he knew I admired and respected Mr. Jackson --  though always scrupulous about client confidentiality. I did not know at the time that you were the photographer. I was so impressed and, of course, the final cover is now iconic.

Thank you for sharing your experience, Mr. Watson.  Sounds like you realize what an amazing privilege it was to be a closehand witness of Michael Jackson dancing to Billie Jean. 

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