Madonna has been “just Madonna” for so long, that it’s easy to forget that she was once Madonna Louise Ciccone, an aspiring dancer from Detroit, who moved to the ghetto of New York’s lower east side in search of a better life. That wasn’t what she got at first. In the summer of 1983, the driven 24-year-old sustained herself by waitressing, dancing, and posing nude for art classes. “Daring them to think of me as anything but a form they were trying to capture with their pencils and charcoal,” she wrote of that time for Harper’s Bazaar. “I was defiant. Hell-bent on surviving. On making it. But it was hard and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going.” She also wrote of being raped and robbed at gunpoint, but things began to look up for her when her first demo track “Everybody” started to gain traction on the club circuit.
It was around this time that photographer Richard Corman was coming out of a two-year apprenticeship with Richard Avedon. He took some casual casting polaroids of Madonna who was still starving, and still a dancer at Funhouse. Little did Corman know, four weeks later her first self-titled album would produce top iconic hits like “Holiday,” “Borderline,” and “Lucky Star.” At one point during their conversation, Corman recalls asking Madonna what her immediate goals were. The singer looked at him point blank and said, “to rule the world.” Musically speaking, she succeeded. She was the first and one of the only performer to have complete control over her own image. It all started with her signature lace gloves and layers of rosary necklaces and would evolve several times throughout her three decade span as a chart-ruling artist.
Corman was introduced to Madonna by his mother Cis, who had been the casting director for famous ‘80s films like Once Upon a Time in America and Deer Hunter. Corman says that his mother’s work gave him access to all kinds of brilliant young artists on the brink, and finding those talents still remains the focus of his photography today. Throughout his career he’s taken portraits of Jean Michel Basquiat, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Kurt Vonnegut, and Elie Wiesel, but none has captivated him quite like Madonna, the dancer from Detroit who paved the way for every female pop act to follow her.
Here, Corman weighs in on the story of his 66 polaroids that were taken on Friday June 17th, 1983. After being lost for 30 years, the unpublished images were shared three years ago with the public in the form of a 164 page book titled Madonna 66.
How did these Polaroids come to be?
“My Mother, Cis Corman, a producer, had written a treatment for a modern revision of Cinderella called, “Cinde Rella.” She had hoped to have Madonna play Cinde. With the treatment written and a major Hollywood studio interested, she asked me to photograph Madonna ASAP in-character, as Cinde, so that she could overnight treatment and images of this unseen young artist as the lead. At the time, the most expedient was to take Polaroids, as of course the digital world did not exist yet. Thus I had these raw, tactile, and accessible Madonna 66 Polaroids.
What do you remember about Madonna from that time?
“My first reaction was ‘wow!’ I had never seen anyone like her; a sense of style, a sense of confidence, a sense of humor, a sensuous swag that was totally original. Her charisma was unique and she allowed me into her world in the most accessible way. It was loose, simple and such fun.”
What was it like to be a photographer during that time?
“NYC was a creative carnival at that time…unbelievably inspiring and available to those who were willing to throw themselves into the creative fray. I was quite fortunate. Although I spent 2 years apprenticing Avedon, my formal education was being thrown into situations with various young artists, from Basquiat to Keith Haring to Madonna where people seemed to be less guarded and more open to being real and exposed in such a tenous and raw manner.”
Why wait until now to release them?
“In particular, the Madonna 66 polaroids were just found, over 33 years later. I thought they were lost and only recently found as I was looking through my storage facility as I was moving apartments. A small unlabeled box in the farthest corner of a large storage facility I was amazed to see, open and expose a part of my personal history thought lost forever. Holy Shit! However, if I had these polaroids long ago, I would probably have not shown until now as I did not they were truly relevant in the past. Of course Madonna has always been relevant, but the images and her visionary sense of style allows them to feel more relevant/modern today than ever. Like so many of the images I shot of M in 1983, I have only recently shared as a result of this feeling I have always had. It seems as though everyone looks more like her today than ever!”
What was it like to work for Avedon?
“My experience with Avedon, without question changed my life. To be in the presence of Dick as he was shooting Fashion Campaigns and Vogue Covers daily and traveling with him as he created, l think his most iconic work, “In the American West”, allowed remarkably intimate time with arguably the father of modern photography of the 20th Century. I think of those discussions we had almost daily and he remains a huge influence on my process. I will be forever in his debt. The intellect and quality with which he worked was unsurpassed.”
How did your mother’s work as a casting director assist your path to photography?
“As a New York City casting director, Cis Corman had access to all of these young actors and artists in the city. At the same time, I was working with [Richard] Avedon and I was very keen on building a portfolio of characters of all types that I could eventually share. She would consistently tap me on the shoulder when she came across someone of interest. She always seemed on the pulse of what was happening at the time and I was blessed to have such a connection.”
What story do these photos tell?
“I think Madonna 66 tells a brief story about the brilliance of a young artist who took on this character of “Cinderella,” without selling her own persona short. Her sensibility shines through as her sense of style was her own: torn denim with white laced leggings, dark rooted hair with blonde highlights, red lips with a faux mole, rubber friendship bracelets with chained belts and necklaces, a ball gown that ultimately sent her to the Cinderella Ball. She was so chic and elegant, and it probably cost all of .80. It was a crazy vision that I was privy to collaborate with. And most important, it was her relentless determination and attitude that absolutely took my breath away.”
What do they say about fame, and what do you think about fame?
“When I initially met Madonna, I asked her in so many words, ‘what are your immediate goals,’ as she lived in the ghetto of lower east side at that time. And without taking her eyes off of me, she immediately said, “to rule the world.” So I would say that fame and fortune are most important to her and, I think, creative autonomy—to be able to do whatever she felt at a given moment, which we all know has happened. And it’s what continues to drive her as she has a voice that is heard throughout the world. I guess, fame has followed Madonna from day one! Fame is a funny concept to me, as this was never a goal of mine. Respect, joy and my beautiful addiction of photography continues to lead me down that yellow bricked road. I anticipate walking to Oz for some time to come, hoping to never arrive.”
How has releasing this book helped you to reflect on your own career?
“The brilliance of this experience is in the collaboration; the narration and content of this Madonna 66 has been driven and inspired by the book’s publisher NJG and by creative director Nick Groarke. This has been the most remarkable time of my career. I have never worked with someone who was so passionate about his work and such a champion of my work, where compromise is the very last straw. I remember clearly, Dick Avedon telling me that ‘as photographer’s we are only as effective as those around us.’ It has taken me 35 years to find Nick Groarke and I hope this is just the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
What’s next for you?
“You will have to wait and see, but Nick and I have talked already about our next collaboration, which is all extremely exciting! In the meantime I am prolific as I continue to photograph and engage young artists, non-profit organizations that can make a difference, commercial work, and of course I continue to take pictures with my eyes on a continuous basis. I have never been more excited about the future as I am of a young mind in a world of creative possibilities where there is nothing stopping me. My goal is definitely to be more courageous and fearless as I try to document the world I see.”END
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createdAt:Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:40:48 +0000