Paul Natkin is undoubtedly one of Chicago’s most successful music photographers. He’s worked with some of the biggest names in the industry including Madonna, Prince and The Beastie Boys (pictured above) but he rather modestly puts his success down to “being in the right place at the right time”.
Now after a long and successful career, Paul is finally releasing his lifetime's work in Natkin: The Moment of Truth, published by Trope Publishing Co, which includes previously unseen backstage portraits and concert photos.
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Photography wasn’t a path Paul had planned on pursuing, but rather fell into after discovering the perks his Dad was privy to as a photographer. Both his mother and father were freelance photographers but quit to go into other areas of work when Paul was born. By the age of 19, his father's business as a building contractor was beginning to falter and he decided to get back into taking pictures.
Paul’s father's first job was working for the Chicago Bulls basketball team, which is what sparked Paul’s interest in photography. “When I heard you could get into games for free and get the best seats in the house, I decided that that was the career for me!”
Paul’s career in sports photography was relatively shortlived, and by 1975 he had decided to persevere with music photography as he figured out he could combine two of his biggest passions.
Success didn’t come straight away for Paul but, when it did, it came in thick and fast. During his career spanning four decades, Paul has had some incredible opportunities including ending up as the tour photographer for The Rolling Stones but one defining moment is what led Paul to believe that he had 'made it'.
“I was hired to be the tour photographer for Keith Richards’ first solo tour, and because of that was then hired the following year to be the tour photographer for the Rolling Stones Steel Wheels tour.”
From there, Paul went on to be a regular contributor for Creem Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and even Playboy. He shot album artwork for Ozzy Osbourne’s live album, Tribute, and the single cover for Alanis Morisette’s biggest hit, Ironic. But the highlight of his career thus far was yet to come and would take the form of exclusively shooting for Prince.
Paul was asked by his publicist if he wanted to photograph Prince’s birthday party in June 1984, where he was going to be wearing all the outfits he was to wear in the then-upcoming film Purple Rain, and of course, Paul jumped at the opportunity.
“I went up to Minneapolis, expecting there to be about 100 photographers elbowing each other in front of the stage. Got off the plane, got in a taxi and headed to the venue, where I found out that I was going to be the only photographer allowed in the building that evening! So I camped out in front of the stage and waited for Prince to come out. When he started playing, he was about five feet in front of me and posed for me all night.”
Since Paul embarked on his career music photography career in 1975, there wasn’t a gig in Chicago that went under his radar. He was an in-demand photographer who was lucky enough to shoot most major music starts during the 20th Century.
Despite his celebrity-filled career, only one artist has ever made him feel starstruck – and that was country singer, Emmylou Harris. “The combination of beauty and talent doesn’t happen much in life, and I have a very hard time talking to her when we are in the same room! But I love photographing her."
Never one to care all that much about equipment, to this day Paul shoots on a 50-year old Hasselblad with a digital back and various Nikon DSLRs. Even though photography technology has advanced significantly since Paul started his career, he believes there is “no difference between the 'film' era and the 'digital' era except there are many more people calling themselves photographers and the competition is fierce."
When asked what advice he would give to someone just starting on their music photography path he said, “ It is much more difficult these days, with restrictions placed on photographers and the lack of magazine clients (most blog sites don’t pay very much for images). I would say to start at the bottom and photograph bands that will give you access, and hope that they become famous someday!”
Paul Natkin’s first book, Natkin: The Moment of Truth, will arrive at bookstores in late spring 2022. This 288-page, casebound monograph, priced at $55 (approximately £42 / AU$75), contains work covering every music genre from jazz and country to punk, blues, rock & hip hop. To learn more please visit Trope's website.