An Hour with Jean-Michel

Photographer Richard Corman reflects on his brief acquaintance with Jean-Michel Basquiat, culminating in a set of unpublished photographs shot in a New York studio during the summer of 1984

Although still somewhat of a cult figure at that time, I was definitely aware of the unique canvas of Jean-Michel Basquiat, as his poetry, painting and culturally poignant vision moved so many of us at the time. When I stepped into his studio on 57 Great Jones St., the room was a swirl of people, creative energy and smoke, and Basquiat was submerged and almost invisible in a corner, taking it all in.

I think by nature, Basquiat was extremely vulnerable, and he wore that sensibility on his sleeve. Yet I remember feeling his curiosity, his intensity, his anger and his honesty in his eyes as his body language shifted from frame to frame. I placed him in front of grey paper in order to remove him from the surrounding confusion and to create a simple setting where I would hopefully see a piece of his humanity. I think I was more of a voyeur on that day than a director – I did not want to interrupt the process.

As with most photography, and mine in particular, I leave it up to those viewers who look into the eyes of these portraits to determine their own truth about the man, the artist, the genius. I have tried to create a portfolio that was indicative of that moment in time with an individual who, in many ways, is more relevant today than ever. With the world in such confusion, we need the honest voice of a dreamer like Basquiat.

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