I received a call from Tupac's publicist (Interscope Records), asking if I wanted to photograph Tupac in Harlem. He was having a press day and being filmed for music video channel, The Box. The format of the segment, Box Talk, was that camera crews would follow the artist around their childhood neighborhood. They would then shoot a particular segment in front of a location meaningful to the artist.
For Tupac, it was to be his elementary school in Harlem.
The Photographed Moment
When I arrived at the location (155th Street & St. Nicholas Avenue), not far from Yankee Stadium, it was chaos. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. had just dropped the prior year and 'Pac was already a household name. Everyone wanted a piece of him as he had recently released the album Thug Life: Volume 1. Magazine and newspaper photographers, The Box camera crew, and local news teams were yelling at Tupac to look at their cameras.
I watched it for a while, then slowly got out my camera and moved toward some of the action. I was relatively close to Tupac and I kept to certain angles so I would not be intrusive in ‘Pac’s space. The connection became more endearing. At times, both of us looked at each other and quietly laughed at the media circus around us.
I was able to capture a personal vibe among Tupac and his friends — guys from the groups Thug Life and the Outlawz. After the main taping was done, the news cameras started to leave. The bulk of the news press got the shots they needed to portray Tupac as the “Dangerous Thug,” which they would print in the next day’s papers. It felt like Tupac knew how to play with the media to keep his name in the press. He knew how to press their buttons, challenge them mentally; their only recourse was to portray him as a troublemaker. The pattern was reactive and visible.
As more people left, Tupac and his friends stayed to themselves, lingering by one of the walls within the city park where filming had just concluded. They created a space and moment to relax together. Within that time, Tupac would peer beyond the edge of his red bandana, which dangled in front of his eyelash as he prepared a blunt. As he finished, he kindly glanced at me. I got the shots I needed. I heard the lighter spark as I stepped away, giving them their personal space.