The way Larry Busacca remembers it, he was just a young entertainment photographer starting his career when he received the gig of the decade: the chance to shoot Prince at Madison Square Garden.
At high-profile concerts like this, photographers are typically only allowed in the photo pit for the first two or three songs, but Busacca decided his job wasn’t finished. “It was the ‘80s, and back then it was a lot more lenient than it is now,” he recalls. “So after we hit our song limit I walked into the audience, jumped on a chair, and shot from there.”
Even though he knew he wasn’t supposed to keep shooting, Busacca could see that Prince himself was looking right at him. So Busacca, who is now a senior director of photography at Getty Images (FOTO’s parent company), did what any young, hungry photographer would do: He snapped away.L. Busacca/WireImage
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“Prince saw my camera and for the next two or three songs he was making faces and pointing at me, so I thought he was hamming it up,” Busacca remembers.L. Busacca/WireImage
“What was really going on was that he was trying to get security to throw me out. After a while, I ended up putting my camera down on my own and decided to just enjoy the show, and it’s a good thing I did,” Busacca says.L. Busacca/WireImage
Years later, Busacca actually used these photos to get hired as one of Prince’s tour photographers, where he would be a part of the artist’s core entourage – a gig that came with much more access to “His Royal Badness.”
“When I first met him, I told him the story of the concert and he said something to the effect of, ‘You’re lucky my guys didn’t get you,’” Busacca recalls. “It was pretty funny – I almost got my butt kicked by Prince’s security without even knowing it.”
Working on the tour, Busacca was able to witness Prince’s genius firsthand.
“He was the consummate musician’s musician and was always working to better the craft. He would work with the band and bust them on little things — not to be a jerk, but to make them better. He was the hardest-working guy there,” Busacca says. “Prince kept to himself and was a little aloof, but once you engaged he was warm and genuine and passionate about creativity. He allowed the people he worked with to be who they were and pushed them to be their best. He was always about improving the creativity around him.”
Prince would occasionally help Busacca edit his photos, and there was one picture in particular he admired that hasn’t been widely seen by the public. Until now.
“We were talking about art and the longevity of imagery and history, and he pointed out this one photo I’d taken that he really loved,” recalls Busacca, who granted FOTO special permission to use the photo (above).
“It must have been a high point for him in the song. We never talked about what it was that he loved, but that wasn’t really the point. It was just an authentic moment that he found special.”
Busacca said that Prince, a visionary in so many regards, could already see the world becoming more digital and the massive impact this would have on creative work as the Internet was born. The superstar urged Busacca to hold on to the photo.
“He told me that he didn’t want to cheapen the photo by having it available to everyone,” Busacca said, “and I’ve always respected that wish.”
Busacca has lived through the deaths of many of the music legends he once worked with, but Prince’s death in April 2016 was particularly emotional for him.
“This is a guy who had such an influence on so many artists, even legends who were around before him,” Busacca says. “His performances were always stunning. He would jump off the piano and do splits in the air while doing a guitar solo, land, and then keep walking like he just stepped off a curb. He was amazing. There was pure talent running through that soul.”
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