Todd Gray presents Michael Jackson before his 'anointing'
7/3/2011, 3:30 a.m.
Originally published on Nov. 19, 2009.
Ever since his death in late June, the market's been flooded with Michael Jackson-related material available for consumer purchase. While one should expect such when considering the subject matter, a magnanimous artist with no peer, it gets hard to separate the products that are just looking to make a buck from the those that want to provide more.
Enter Todd Gray's "Michael Jackson: Before He Was King."
Gray, who currently teaches aspiring artists and photographers at Cal State University, photographed Jackson over a 10-year period during his last days at Motown with the Jackson 5 (1974) all the way up to the filming of the video for "Beat It" (1983). Gray shot Jackson at various locations for magazine covers, tour and concert photos and during those moments where we see the King of Pop as a person and not a commodity.
While allegations abound as to what his personal life was like from the height of Thriller-mania up to his untimely demise this year, there's no getting around these particular photos of Michael. King portrays early Michael for what he was: genuinely gifted, shy, but ambitious kid who wasn't fully ready for stardom, but felt comfortable in the spotlight. "He was wearing ill-fitting slacks and hovering around the mixing board, his eyes fixed on the hands of Stevie Wonder," Gray writes in the introduction of his first meeting with Jackson back in '74. "Our eyes met, but he quickly looked away, returning his gaze to the mixing board and its countless knobs and switches."
Gray goes on to explain Jackson's dedicated to his profession and how he admired certain types of images from classic Hollywood's past. Like any performer, he wanted to cultivate an image/look for himself and looked at the greats for inspiration. While many people knew that Michael the person was vastly different from Michael the performer, it's still jarring to see the attitudes that each one projects. The still photos of the King on stage show someone who's completely sure of himself; someone who was born to dominate. The shots of Jackson in crowds are a completely different story.
One particular shot from an after-party during the Triumph tour with the Jacksons where it's him, his brother Randy, Magic Johnson and actor Dan Aykroyd in a crowd of people. Magic is staring at someone in the distance and Randy is introducing himself to Aykroyd (along with actress Margot Kidder). Jackson is wearing shades, with a drink in his hand, seemingly alone and clearly uncomfortable in this environment. Little did we know that this would be the least of his problems in the following few years.
With artwork in permanent collections all around the world, this might be Gray's best work. King, without words, takes us into the mind of an individual right before ubiquitous stardom changed his life.