Michael Jackson’s Former Photographer Talks

Kim's Kronicles, News — By on June 26, 2010 at 7:43 pm

CSULB Professor Todd Gray was Michael Jackson’s Personal Photographer.

Todd currently professor of art and photography at Cal State University in Long Beach  CA.  He is a worldwide traveler and has experienced many things, among them drumming in Ghana.  A few years ago, he was given a grant from Syracuse University in New York to work on a computer program incorporating drumming with visual art.  His photography and visual art are exhibited in galleries worldwide.  But, before all of this, he photographed The Jacksons and became Michael Jackson’s personal photographer.

Todd began photographing rock groups in 1971 while in high school.   His photography earnings helped pay for college and art school. “I first met Michael in 1974, when I was sent on an assignment to photograph Stevie Wonder at the Record Plant studio in Hollywood,” he said. “Stevie was recording the single ‘You Haven’t Done Nothin’ which featured backing vocals by  The Jackson 5.”  He continued taking photos of  The Jacksons for various publications and was called in 1979 to shoot their performances on  American Bandstand and Soul Train.  Todd remembers laughing, joking, talking about sports, movies and “guy stuff” with Tito, Marlon, Jackie and Randy.  He also recalls how industry personnel would always vie for Michael’s attention and how sometimes Michael seemed quietly preoccupied.

On one occasion at the Forum Todd and Michael made eye contact;  Todd just “nodded slightly to acknowledge his presence.”  On December 18, 1979,  Todd photographed  Michael at the Los Angeles Forum when he was awarded platinum records for singles from his album “Off the Wall.”   Todd recalled being backstage when Michael walked over and asked in what Todd described as a “quiet, hurt whisper,” why he never spoke to him, he wondered if Todd liked him because he always joked with his brothers but never with him.  “I didn’t know what to say. He took me completely off guard with both his voice and his question.”  He assured Michael that he liked him and he also told him he always seemed so busy.

The following January, Michael requested Todd to “photograph him while he was taping a TV special with Danny Kaye at Disneyland.”  Michael loved Disneyland and invited Todd to join him on the rides.  “I joined right in with screams and laughter. We really had fun.”  Todd got a call shortly after this shoot from Michael’s manager saying that Michael wanted him to be hired whenever a photographer was needed.  “I was Michael’s photographer and friend for the next four years.  It was the ride of my life!”

In 1981, The Jacksons began rehearsals for the “Triumph Tour,” scheduled to hit thirty five cities in North America.  “Michael was often tense and nervous just before going on stage, but it was this dedication and perfectionism that made him such an extraordinary performer.”  Whenever Michael could relax, he would enjoy looking through various photography books.  Michael talked to Todd about collaborating on a photo book of children from countries around the world; showing their poverty and suffering in an attempt to help them.   Although this, unfortunately, didn’t happen, a few years later Michael co-wrote and participated in “We Are The World” raising millions for the charity USA for Africa.

Todd describes his photos of Michael “as the engaging, charming, youthful person he was before the insatiable demands of his extraordinary celebrity wore so heavily on him.”    His favorite photo session with Michael was in the Presidential Suite of the Peachtree Hotel in Atlanta.  It was late afternoon, photographers call it the “magic hour when the light casts a warm glow and the angle of the sun creates deep shadows.”   There was, “no one else in the session I really felt that he was at his most unguarded moment.”  Todd Gray credits his wife Kyungmi Shin for her “love, insight, and inspiration” in completing this project.  ” MICHAEL JACKSON BEFORE HE WAS KING,” is a book of memorable and happy moments in the life of Michael Jackson.

If you would like to purchase this book it is now available at www.Amazon.com.

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