Prince as “never seen before”: a new exhibition

Steve Parke shows Prince’s intimate, complex side in a new exhibition at Proud Central, London

Blue, Paisley Park Studios, 2000; 24in x 34in print, £3,600
Blue, Paisley Park Studios, 2000; 24in x 34in print, £3,600 | Image: Steve Parke

It is a year-and-a-half since Prince left this world, but a fascination with the enigmatic star shows no signs of dying with him. The myth of the Purple One is now the focus of a gallery show on November 9 in London – the selling exhibition Picturing Prince: Photographs by Steve Parke, which will run until December 3. Coinciding with the publication of a book of photographs of the same name, the work will be showcased at Proud Central, the group’s new gallery on the Strand.

Moon in the Mirror, Paisley Park Studios, 1999; 16in x 20in print, £1,920
Moon in the Mirror, Paisley Park Studios, 1999; 16in x 20in print, £1,920 | Image: Steve Parke

Parke met Prince at Paisley Park, the star’s Minneapolis-based mansion-cum-recording studio in the late 1980s, and went on to become his official photographer and art director, eventually producing an archive of over 500 photographs and working with him on album covers, designs and Prince’s image. This exhibition presents a more intimate portrait of Prince, as Parke became a friend as much as a collaborator, stepping behind the scenes at Prince’s home.

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“This photographic collection reveals Prince as we have never seen him before,” says senior gallery manager Amy Thornett. “Parke’s intimate pictures are both playful and commanding, reflecting the duality of Prince’s persona with a remarkable story behind each and every shot. Parke captured the complex character of an artist who not only had a significant impact on the music industry, but also on gender politics and sexual liberation.”

Caught a Plane to Spain, 1999; 20in x 24in print, £2,400
Caught a Plane to Spain, 1999; 20in x 24in print, £2,400 | Image: Steve Parke

Of course, no exhibition of images of Prince could fail to reflect that he knows how to work the camera, though often his vulnerability shines through the theatricality – which Parke often captures by playing with focus. Moon in the Mirror, Paisley Park Studios, 1999 (16in x 20in digital archival prints, £1,920), is a case in point: a coquettish head tilt, a pout, eyes looking up through lashes – and a soft, shadowy, out-of-focus reflection. In Blue, Paisley Park Studios, 2000 (24in x 34in, £3,600), Prince has a dominant legs-apart stance, but there’s a sadness in his eyes and Parke’s soft-focus halo lends him an almost angelic air. Caught a Plane to Spain, 1999 (20in x 24in, £2,400), has a kaftan-clad Prince strolling moodily in front of a hacienda-style building, but the star is not the focus. In fact, he’s out of focus.

Love Came to my Door, Spain, 1999; 16in x 20in print, £1,920
Love Came to my Door, Spain, 1999; 16in x 20in print, £1,920 | Image: Steve Parke

Smaller (16in x 20in) digital archival prints include those that walk the line between intimacy and staging. In Love Came to my Door, Spain, 1999 (£1,920), Prince stands by a French window, his hand resting on the handle. What lies beyond, as with so else much concerning Prince, we cannot see.

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