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Stevie Wonder

I photographed Stevie Wonder many times beginning in 1974. Motown Records became one of my first clients shortly after they moved their headquarters from Detroit to Los Angeles. His real name, by the way, is Steveland Morris Hardaway, and his friends call him Steve.

Stevie Wonder

This portrait was made in the mid seventies in a rehearsal studio (Studio Instrument Rentals) on the site of the old Columbia Pictures sound stages on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. By coincidence, a painted New York Cityscape was left hanging in the background by a previous entertainer before Steve's band set up their instruments and sound equipment. Steve was preparing for a live performance tour to promote the album Innervisions, with the tune "Living for the City" containing the lyrics: "...skyscrapers and everything, just like I pictured it!". What a perfect backdrop for a portrait. Furthermore, Steve only wears his dark glasses in public, rarely in private. So I asked if I could photograph him au natural. He agreed.

Before the shoot, while I was sitting on the lip of the stage showing some photos from my portfolio to his manager, Steve came over and sat down next to me. He put his right hand flat on one of the prints and exclaimed, "Wow! You are one helluva photographer."

We always got along well. He always seemed to know where I was, even though I might be hiding behind an amplifier shooting pictures on stage during a concert.

Once, in front of 18,000 people at the L. A. Forum, where he was, ironically, the opening act for the Rolling Stones, he dragged me out to the front of the stage with him, with all my cameras hanging around my neck, and made me dance with him. He is a great practical jokester. Once he asked me if he could drive my car, as I was taking him to a restaurant where his brother had planned a surprise birthday party for him.

It was a Tunisian restaurant in Hollywood where patrons sat on the floor eating couscous with their fingers. Steve was groovin' to the exotic music and rhythms as a belly-dancer entered the dining room. She was working her down to where Steve was sitting. Someone warned him she was on her way, so he put out his hands. She let him "see" the belly-dancing by Braille, as she placed his hands on her tummy and she wiggled away.

Hasselblad 500C; Balcar strobe and umbrella; Tri-X. I used a very slow shutter speed with the camera on a tripod to balance the ambient light exposure with the flash.

© 2003 Tom Zimberoff
tom@zimberoff.com
415/246-2417