Madonna in Motion: One Photographer on His Years Spent Capturing an Icon
As the pop legend turns 60, Kevin Mazur looks back on his career with the Material Girl.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
Published August 15, 2018
Published a month ago
In the years before he became a renowned entertainment photographer, Kevin Mazur was a young man from Long Island who loved music and loved Madonna. One night in the early 1980s, he ran into her while out with friends at Danceteria, the legendary New York nightclub where she was a regular among such future luminaries as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, LL Cool J, and Sade. Madonna was barely older than a kid herself and just starting to break big. "We were out having a good time and, bam, there she is," Mazur tells FOTO. "Like a little kid, I freaked out. She looked just like the album cover, with all the bracelets and the hair. And I’ll never forget: The club photographer took my picture with her, but I never got the photo. It kills me, to this day. Somewhere that picture exists."
If Mazur, now 57 and a photographer for FOTO’s parent company Getty Images, doesn't have that shot, then he's certainly made up for it in the intervening years. He's photographed the singer across three decades now, through world tours like Blond Ambition and the Girlie Show in the early 1990s and the more recent MDNA and Rebel Heart. Mazur is known for his dynamic concert photography, and it's clear why she trusts him to capture the extravaganzas of her live shows. "It's so much fun to shoot her because you don't know what you're getting," says Mazur. "Every tour is different, and every look is different. To try and capture that is not easy." Madonna remains one of the world's biggest music stars: The Guinness Book of World Records names her as the best-selling female artist of all time with 335 million albums sold worldwide, and she's sold 64.5 million in the U.S. alone. As she turns 60 on August 16, here’s a look back at some of Mazur's most indelible images of the singer, dancer, and pop provocateur. (Above: On the Rebel Heart tour in Philadelphia in 2015.)
Kevin Mazur/WireImageFOR THE VERY FIRST TIMEA trained dancer, Madonna was a Manhattan club kid with dreams of stardom when she recorded her first album "Madonna" for Sire Records. It was that early batch of songs, released in 1983, that caught Mazur’s attention. "The first time I heard a Madonna song was 'Borderline' on the radio," he says. "It was one of those songs where you heard it, and you're like, 'That’s a great song! It makes me want to dance!' And then you go out to a club and that's the song everybody is dancing to." A lifeguard on the south shore of Long Island at the time, Mazur remembers going to a nightclub near Long Beach one night in the early 1980s to see her perform. "The lines outside that club — let me tell you, thank God I knew the bouncers, or I wouldn't have gotten in," he says. "It was her and two backup dancers, and they did just a couple songs. And the place went nuts." (Above: An undated early Mazur shot.)Kevin Mazur/WireImageRADIO GAGAEverything about Madonna in those days was a shock to the mainstream system, from her wild, bleached hair to her ragged jeans and crop tops to her punky, sexy self-confidence. After she performed "Holiday" on "American Bandstand" in 1983, host Dick Clark asked what her plans were. Madonna, wrists adorned with an armor of a bajillion black rubber bracelets, smiled and replied, "To rule the world." Her charisma made that seem like a possibility. "People gravitated towards her right away," Mazur remembers. "Right off the bat, girls were dressing like her." He first started photographing her from the audience of early shows, including 1985's Virgin tour. "I started out as a fan, and I’m still a fan," he says. "And because I love live music, I was always in the front. I started bringing my camera to shows for fun, and eventually it turned into a job." (Above: At Live Aid in 1985.)Kevin Mazur/WireImageOFFICIAL BUSINESSIt wasn't until Mazur joined the staff of Rolling Stone magazine that he solidified his professional relationship with Madonna. "We ended up developing a good rapport, and she felt comfortable enough to have me around, so I could get those up close and personal photos of her," he says of his shots from tours like Blond Ambition and many others. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Madonna became one of the biggest names in pop music with smash albums "Like a Virgin," "True Blue," "Like a Prayer," and "Ray of Light." Billboard counts her as the all-time top performer on the Hot 100 with 12 no. 1 songs. And she's a major force as a live act: Between 1990 and 2016, her tours have earned more than $1.3 billion. (Above: Madonna during the Who's That Girl tour.)Kevin Mazur/WireImageFAN DANCEIt's on those tours where Mazur has made his mark, documenting her evolution from lo-fi dancing queen to a pop diva who commands the world's arenas. "I've never seen an artist rehearse that much to make sure everything's right for a show," says Mazur. "If you're going to join a Madonna tour, get ready to work. Because she does. And if you can't keep up, you might as well leave." (Above: Performing at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1990.)Kevin Mazur/WireImageYOU CAN LEAVE YOUR HAT ONOn Blond Ambition in 1990.Kevin Mazur/WireImageHEADPIECEOn the Girlie Show tour in 1993.Kevin Mazur/WireImageBIG BLONDOn the Girlie Show tour in New York in 1993.Kevin Mazur/WireImageDUETPerforming with Lenny Kravitz at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards.Kevin Mazur/WireImageLADY IN REDPerforming at the 1999 Grammys.Kevin Mazur/WireImageSURFING SAFARILetting the crowd take her in 2000. Over the years, Mazur has gotten to know the hard-core Madonna-philes personally. "I always shoot the opening show at every tour, and I've seen the same fans throughout her career," he says. "And actually, my wife and I have become friends with a lot of them."Kevin Mazur/WireImageYOUNG AND THE RESTLESSHer famously provocative performance with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. "I love the way she embraces new talent," says Mazur. "And I think that's because of the way she came up in the industry. She understands how hard it is."Kevin Mazur/WireImageTHE ARRIVALPerforming in 2005. Though he's shot most of Madonna's incarnations, from her rosary-and-bangle phase to her more recent guitar hero concert look, he says there's no way he could ever pick just one. "Asking me for my favorite Madonna tour is like asking someone who their favorite child is," he says.Kevin Mazur/WireImageMADONNA AND CHILDOn stage with son Rocco Ritchie. Madonna has been married twice, to actor Sean Penn and director Guy Ritchie. While the marriages haven't lasted, Mazur has been on hand as her family expanded to six children, including eldest Lourdes, Rocco and adopted son and daughters David Banda, Mercy James, and twins Estere and Stella. "She includes her family in everything," he says. "On one tour, Lola was working with wardrobe, and then her son Rocco was dancing. It's going to be interesting now on the next tour to see how the other kids get involved."Kevin Mazur/WireImageSTRIKE UP THE BANDOn the MDNA tour in Tel Aviv in 2012.Kevin Mazur/WireImageCHEERLEADERSPerforming with Nicki Minaj at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2012.Kevin MazurWHO RUNS THE WORLD?With Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Beyoncé in 2015. "There's no one cooler than Madonna," says Mazur, laughing. "The funny thing is being around her and watching other celebrities totally geek out when they meet her. I take their picture with her, and they're immediately coming up to me to say, 'I gotta get that photo.'"Kevin Mazur/WireImageSHAREDMazur still gets a thrill when Madonna shares one of his photos on her Instagram account. "This is the thing: She's a perfectionist. She's on top of everything that's happening with her career, and the photography is definitely one part of that," he says. "For her to work with me and like one of my photos enough to put on Instagram is just great." Also key: Madonna never fails to credit his work, something other performers neglect to do.Kevin MazurFEMINISTAt an event in Brooklyn in 2017.Kevin Mazur/MG18/Getty Images for The Met Museum/VogueMET MADNESSHer performance during the Met Gala in 2018.Kevin Mazur/WireImageCONE OF SOUNDDuring the MDNA Tour in Tel Aviv in 2012. Mazur says shooting her tours can be physically exhausting, but the adrenaline rush keeps him coming back. "I try and tell the story through my photos," he says. "I want people to feel like they were there if they weren't. And if you were, you should be thinking, 'I remember that moment. I remember that outfit.'" He doubts Madonna will ever stop performing. As for Mazur: "Listen, I’m riding the wave. I'm blessed to do what I do. And I'm so blessed to have her trust me."