|PARIS—Michael Jackson moonwalked to Mozart’s “Requiem” as Arno Bani’s shutter clicked. Sometimes pensive, sometimes smiling serenely, the King of Pop opened himself to the young French photographer. Bani even took the liberty of having Jackson’s hair cut short because he “liked him that way.” Afterward, Jackson let it grow back out. “He really didn’t like his own face,” Bani said. “With longer hair, he could hide it.”
Eleven years since the intimate session, one of the few artistic collaborations ever initiated by the singer, four striking series of photographs will go on the auction block in Paris on December 13.
“We were like two boys playing on the floor, putting puzzles together,” said Bani, greeting ARTINFO France in his northern Paris apartment for a talk about the never-before-seen photographs that are today unveiled to the world. “I was a kid then, but he was ten times the kid I was. I would bring glitter pots and he would stick his finger in them and watch how it sparkled. We would spread it everywhere. The fashion design folders were like toy catalogs to him.” He added, “Michael Jackson wasn’t just asking me to take pictures. He wanted me to build him a look for the next ten years.”
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Surrounding the pair was Jackson’s entourage of artistic directors, clutching notepads, scribbling down whether the King of Pop liked the blue glitter better than the red. “It was the world in which he lived,” Bani said, “like seeing him in his little golden prison, discovering. He was extremely curious and cultured, but always humble, respectful, and kind. He would jump on the couch and clap when he fell in love with a new detail. He would give me hugs and bow with his hands together, Japanese-style. I had to ask him to stop thanking me, but I was really very touched.”
The project came about by chance. Michael Jackson had spotted a fashion shot by Bani on the cover of the Sunday Times style section and immediately decided that he wanted to work with the young photographer. At first, Bani thought someone was prank calling him, before his lawyer friend confirmed that the King of Pop was inviting him for an audience. Bani would make six return trips to New York ahead of the three-day shoot.
One image, “The Golden Cape,” was originally intended for the cover of Michael Jackson’s final studio album “Invincible,” but it was nixed by Jackson’s label Epic Records. “It was a great disappointment,” said Bani, sitting between his eight-month-old son and a stack of Michael Jackson prints, discarded among the more than 8000 he has signed and dated during the past three months for the collector’s box that will accompany the sale.
The auction by Pierre Bergé & Associés is itself unique. Four large, single-print photographs headline the sale, flanked by 31 contact sheets showing a non-airbrushed Jackson, many with the singer’s handwritten notes. Last, there are 55 prints from the contact sheets. All will be sold without reserve or estimate, starting at €1,000 ($1,410) for the prints and €500 ($705) for the smaller lots. There will be no reprints, no mass-market posters, and no T-shirts, said Frédéric Chambre, vice president and associate at Pierre Bergé & Associés, in his office across from the historic Drouot auction rooms.
The collector’s box, priced at €1,000 ($1,410), will hold a large format catalog and four silver prints of the Bani photographs. A second catalog will be in bookstores for €45 ($63) and, in a rare auction-house nod to the masses, a €19.90 ($28) edition will be sold in supermarkets. Co-editors around the world signed up for translated versions without seeing any of the Bani pictures.
“The project is more rock and roll, or pop, than Pierre Bergé & Associés is used to,” Bani said. “We wanted to create something that was edgy and arty but open to a large audience.”
Bani was bound by contract to keep the photographs out of public view for 10 years and kept them locked in a safe in southern France. The blockade expired three weeks after Michael Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009. “We decided to take our time,” the photographer said. “We didn’t want to drown in everything that was being unearthed for sale following his death, to surf that somewhat morbid wave.”
Bani and Jackson had developed an intimate but simple collaboration, where the photographer was given carte blanche to assemble his team and create his vision of the singer. Bani brought along star hairstylist Seb Bascle, makeup innovator Topolino, and fashion trendsetters Frédérique Lorca and Maïda. It was summertime in Paris and everyone was in T-shirts and Bermuda shorts.
Topolino became the eccentric troublemaker of the bunch, Bani said. In an almost “diplomatic incident,” the makeup artist and his assistants spread vaseline around Jackson’s eye and softly blew the shiny blue glitter onto the singer’s face. “Jackson’s staff was shocked,” Bani remembered. “‘You can’t blow on Michael Jackson’s face,’ they protested.”
Topolino liked to have background music, so he brought a five-dollar radio with horrid sound and set it to French oldies and pop stations. “Michael Jackson was curious and wanted to know what this French music was. He was listening to (Joe Dassin’s) ‘Aux Champs Elysées’ and old Georges Brassens tunes,” Bani recalled.
The makeup artist also snuck into Jackson’s purpose-built shower that was always carefully sanitized and supplied with ultra-clean, plastic-wrapped towels. In the end, Jackson “didn’t care about any of that,” Bani remembered. There were no eccentric celebrity demands, no complaints about the food or the room temperature.
The singer entered a zen-like, meditative state as he sat through the hours-long makeup sessions — first to rebuild and mask, then to create the desired look. “He had this ability to turn himself off and then back on in two seconds. I had asked him to dance for some of the pictures and I thought he was dozing off. He looked tired. Then he just kick-started and did it.”
Any tension surrounding the shoot came from an uneasy relationship with Jackson’s label and management. “Michael Jackson had capriciously decided that he wanted this twenty-three-year-old kid from nowhere, some young fashion photographer from Paris. There wasn’t much trust, certainly not on a very expensive project like this one,” Bani remembered.
“I had no spending limits,” the photographer said. “If the inseam of Michael Jackson’s pants cost 10,000 euros, no problem. At one point, the Sony people told me they had never spent that much on a suit and even brought Michael’s stage costumes out of storage to show me what they usually did. There was an awful jacket with round mirror sequins that were just glued on. It only worked at 100 meters distance with tons of spotlights pointed at it.”
For “The Blue Eye,” Jackson wore an embroidered Yves Saint Laurent suit, an oddly coincidental link today to Pierre Bergé, the late fashion designer’s life partner and guardian of his legacy. “He wanted to dream, to feel the elegance of a ‘French touch’,” Bani said of Jackson’s wardrobe selections. “When I brought him François Lesage embroideries he touched them and was fascinated. He had never seen such delicate, handcrafted work.”
The project did hit a few stumbling blocks. Once there was no news from Jackson for two weeks and Bani wasn’t sure if he still had the gig. The singer would sometimes be three or four hours late because he had to circle the block “15 times” to get past the fans. The planned location changed from Paris to New York, Germany, and Disneyland Paris, before the French capital was finally selected. Jackson then missed the first day of the shoot.
The Arno Bani prints will go on public display two days before the December sale and Frédéric Chambre said he couldn’t quite predict how popular the event will be. “We would of course be happy if the room was full and there were 2,000 people waiting in the street,” he said. “Michael Jackson is a popular item and auctions are not democratic enough for my taste. We have to give people access to this sale and the memories it revives.”
See and reserve the limited edition collector’s box here.
|París, 15 oct (EFE).- El fotógrafo Arno Bani, que inmortalizó a Michael Jackson en 1999 para la portada del disco “Invincible”, reveló hoy a Efe que el “rey del pop” detestaba hacerse fotografías, pero que quedó satisfecho con su trabajo al tratarse de un profesiona “joven” y “no corrompido” por el sistema.
“Michael detestaba hacerse fotos. Creo que estuvo contento porque yo era muy joven en ese momento, tenía 23 años. Ya era profesional, pero aún no estaba corrompido por el sistema. Michael podía trabajar con cualquier fotógrafo y decidió trabajar conmigo. Él estaba contento de haber encontrado un fotógrafo tan joven”, comentó Bani.
El fotógrafo presentó hoy en París los retratos inéditos que tomó a Jackson y que finalmente no fueron utilizados para el citado disco guardándose en una caja fuerte.
Estas fotografías del artista fallecido serán subastadas por la casa “Pierre Bergé & Associés” el próximo 13 de diciembre en la capital francesa.
Se trata de 93 instántaneas, entre las que destacan los cuatro retratos que Michael Jackson escogió.
Entre éstos sorprende uno en el que el artista aparece con un semblante triste, afligido, y con un ojo pintado completamente de azul.
La historia de estas fotografías, guardadas en secreto durante más de diez años, nació de la propia voluntad de Jackson, que tras ver un trabajo de Bani en la prensa reclamó sus servicios para su nuevo trabajo discográfico.
“Todo nació de una foto que había hecho para la portada del ‘Sunday Times’. Una foto de moda. (…) Michael Jackson vio esa foto cuando salió en la prensa un domingo en Londres. Se enamoró de ella y quería encontrar al fotógrafo que la hizo”, relató el artista.
Bani se desplazó en varias ocasiones a Nueva York para trabajar con el “rey del pop” en lo que fue “un gran trabajo de preparación” en el que le planteó varios opciones de peinados, maquillajes y estilismo.
“Fue algo excepcional trabajar con él”, aseguró Bani, que no tuvo reparos en sugerir a Michael Jackson que se cortara el pelo porque, dijo, pensaba que estaba más guapo.
Esta sugerencia fue algo que sorprendió al entorno del artista pues el intérprete de “Thriller” aceptó sin rechistar.
“Lo que Michael buscaba, más que una sesión de fotos, era que reflexionara sobre su ‘look’ para los próximos diez años”, explicó el fotógrafo.
Arno Bani aún desconoce el motivo por el que las fotografías no se publicaron para el álbum “Invincible”, y manifestó que tras el paso del tiempo, una vez murió Jackson, quiso organizar un gran evento para dar a conocer las instantáneas y para que llegasen al gran público con la subasta de diciembre.
Bani, que apenas mantuvo contacto con el artista después de su colaboración, señaló que tras conocer su defunción se sintió “muy triste” y se fue a buscar las fotos que “no había visto desde hacía años y años”.
“Me emocioné mucho, sobre todo al ver la foto del ojo azul, que le hace un poco triste, con los ojos cerrados y encerrado en sí mismo. Es el recuerdo que guardo de él”, sentenció.
© EFE 2010.