This photo of Prince is one of Larry Busacca’s favorites. But the story of how he got the shot is one of ours:
“It was 1991 and I was shooting Prince at Madison Square Garden when I was just starting out in my career,” said Busacca, who is now an award-winning Chief Entertainment Photographer at Getty Images.
“Typically, they only let you stay in the photographer’s pit for two or three songs and then you had to leave,” he said. “Back then it was a lot more lenient than it is now 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 the captivating showman looking right at him. So he continued to snap away.
“Prince actually 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 for the camera,” he said.
“What was really going on was that he was actually 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 said. “Thankfully, I never got kicked out. I was just a kid and didn’t even realize I was doing something wrong — I was just so excited to be shooting and that Prince was looking at me. It was a great concert, Prince performing at Madison Square Garden. That’s classic.”
About three years later, Busacca actually used these photos to get hired as one of Prince’s photographers for select dates on his next tour.
“As a tour photographer I was part of this core entourage, so he was aware that I was working for him and I wasn’t just another press guy. 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.’ It was pretty funny. I almost got my butt kicked by Prince’s security without even knowing it. I was just so excited to be shooting and having such a good time because it was such a great concert that I didn’t even think about it.”
Working on his tour, Busacca got 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 said. “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 in particular he really took a liking to that hasn’t been widely seen.
“We were talking about art and the longevity of imagery and history and he pointed out this one photo that he really loved, 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,” he said.
Busacca said 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 onto the photo.
“He told me that he didn’t want to cheapen the photo by having it released [for license] all over,” Busacca said, “and I’ve always respected that wish.”
Busacca has lived through the deaths of many music legends he worked with, but this one has been 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 said. “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, not a piano. He was amazing. There was pure talent running through that soul.”