By 1974, David Bowie had introduced the world to Major Tom, lived the extraterrestrial life of Ziggy Stardust, and just launched Aladdin Sane. Later that year, photographer Steve Schapiro received an invitation from Bowie’s management for a private photo session in L.A., which he very happily accepted. The resulting images, published as a book last year, have provided audiences with some of the most vibrant and enduring portraits ever taken of the icon.
“From the moment Bowie arrived, we seemed to hit it off — incredibly intelligent, calm, and filled with ideas,” remembers Schapiro. “He talked a lot about Aleister Crowley, whose esoteric writings he was heavily into at the time. When David heard that I had photographed Buster Keaton, one of his greatest heroes, we instantly became friends.”
The two kidded and laughed about shooting a series of close-ups on a putrid green background, believing it was the worst possible background color for a magazine cover. And so they shot one on a lark, which eventually became a People magazine cover in 1976. Iconic album art resulted as well, including Low and Station to Station. Bowie’s Thin White Duke persona was ascending.
Most astonishing, in hindsight, was the costume and doodles of a particular session. Dressed in blue slacks and a cropped shirt, painted with diagonal white stripes, Bowie scribbled down what appears to be a diagram from the Kabbalah. It show up again in the video accompanying the song “Lazarus” on the Blackstar album. Its significance, however, shall remain a mystery.
Bowie: Photographs by Steve Schapiro (Powerhouse Books, $40)