Todd Gray makes International noise with newly released Michael Jackson book
By Brandon I. Brooks
Sentinel Entertainment Editor
Photographer Todd Gray releases new book titled, “Michael Jackson: Before He Was King,” released Friday (November 6, 2009).Â
Back in the early seventies, photographer Todd Gray was hired by CBS records to photograph Gladys Knight and the Pips. Gray had just gotten out of art school and the photo session with the Pips went really well. Little did Todd Gray know at the time, but Gladys Knight’s management was the same management team that handled the Jackson’s.
The Jackson’s management team, were really pleased how Gray conducted the photo shoot and how the photos came out so they decided to try photographer Todd Gray out with the Jackson’s. Gray was hired to do a couple of publicity sessions with the Jackson Five.
The Jackson’s appeared on the Soul Train television series and the world famous American Band Stand. The two television photo opportunities led to then Michael Jackson personally requesting Gray to photograph him at Disneyland. It was for Disneyland’s 75th anniversary special. Todd Gray photographed Michael Jackson and then went out and hung out with him for the rest of the day riding rollercoaster’s and enjoying the amusement park.
“This opportunity is what solidified our relationship,” Gray shared with the Sentinel. “I had to get in touch with my inner child. When I hung with him (Michael Jackson), it was really clear that I needed to sort of get in touch with my inner child and I did. And then I got a phone call two weeks after that saying that Michael requested only that I photograph him. And I asked Michael’s manager at the time why was that and he said, “Well, Michael likes you because you don’t talk too much.”
The first time Todd Gray photographed Michael Jackson was in 1974 for Soul Newspaper with Stevie Wonder for a recording, “We Haven’t Done Nothing”. Gray photographed Michael Jackson over a ten year period but Gray’s book “Michael Jackson: Before He Was King,” mainly concentrates on the years 79′ through 83′. This is the time when Gray photographed Michael Jackson regularly.
“What there is, is a real sense of joy,” Gray shared with the Sentinel. “There is a sense of pride and you can really see the joy that comes from his creativity. And that’s what I really wanted to emphasize, how this is a really joyful, creative individual, the Michael Jackson I had a relationship with. And so I was really looking for that to come across in the book. So you the reader feel him because I want the reader to feel what I felt when I hung out with Michael (Jackson). Sometimes he was distant and sometimes he was very forthcoming and very open. So there is a range of emotions but you really feel his love and his spirit. I was really trying to get a sense of his spirit.”
“Michael Jackson: Before He Was King,” is a collection of 100 images, most never-before-seen, taken by Todd Gray. Gray was granted personal access to the private life of Michael Jackson appearing with his family and friends, as well as to his incredible career-making live performances and the video shoot for “Beat It.”
Todd Gray’s most memorable moment with the “King of Pop,” came when both Gray and Jackson were looking at some photo books back in 1981.
“I was in the back of the tour bus,” Gray shared with the Sentinel. “I was on tour with the Jackson’s and we were going through some photographs by Louis Hines that was showing children working in factories. It was before child labor laws came about and they were really tough, the work conditions and you could see the pain and suffering in the children’s faces. They looked like were twenty. They were maybe seven years old but they had the face of maybe twenty or thirty. Michael started trembling and I could see he was tearing up. He was just so affected by these photographs that he looked at me and said, “Todd, I want to do a book of photographs with you. I want to do something where we go to Africa, go to India and show the pain and suffering of children around the world so that we can help alleviate that.” He wanted to write it and I would do the photographs and so we talked about this a few more times and it sort of whittled on the vine but I will always remember how emotional, touched and sensitive he was just from looking at these photographs. And then of course, three years after he produced, “We Are the World”.”
Todd Gray first turned onto photography in high school when he took a class and just fell in love with it. Gray shared with the Sentinel that he chose photography for a career mainly because he couldn’t draw. Early on Gray specialized in mainly photographing music groups. Gray shot his first album cover at age 17. To date, Todd Gray has shot over 100 album covers and his photo-based artwork is in the permanent collections of museums in the U.S. and abroad.
Todd Gray’s first big break came when he was still in high school and was lucky enough to get photo passes for the Rolling Stone’s concerts in all of California. So then at age 17, Todd Gray traveled from San Francisco to San Diego.
LIFE magazine heard there was a 17 year old photographer who had access to photograph the Rolling Stones. LIFE magazine called and ask to see Gray’s photos from the concerts. The magazine was really impressed to say the least. LIFE magazine saw the photos and liked them so much that they they contacted the Rolling Stones and told them that Todd Gray would be the photographer for LIFE Magazine, “put him on the stage.” So at 17 years of age Todd Gray was published in LIFE magazine. “I think that’s when I thought this is pretty big,” Gray shared with the Sentinel.
Gray would go onto shoot for many of the hottest rap groups and even Teddy Riley (producer/artist) requested Gray to do all of his work.
“So I was doing Teddy, Guy and Bobby Brown. I was like the New Jack Photographer,” Gray shared with the Sentinel.
After a while, Todd Gray felt like he was out growing this kind of photography and wanted to get into something a little more serious. This is when he decided to go back into teaching.
Gray saw that there was a job opening at Cal State University Long Beach and he was fortunate enough to get the job position. At the time he applied for the job, Gray had already earned a Masters Degree and that was the main prerequisite for the job opening. Gray has been the professor of art and photography at CSULB for over ten years.
Being a teacher comes with lessons and principles so the Sentinel asked Todd Gray to share what he considers the most important principles behind his teaching.
“There are two principles,” Gray shared the Sentinel. “One is you have to trust yourself and find out what is special about your point of view and the second thing is something I learned from Michael Jackson and I always tell every class that I teach that life is so competitive, at least in this culture, that you cannot settle for mediocrity. You have to push yourself to your highest absolute level and then do that every day. Not once in a while but every day if you want to really achieve great success. So I tell them (students) you have to aim for the stars because if you fail, and land half way, at least you reached the moon. So I tell them to dream big and reach big because if they get even half of that, they are going to be much better off than not. So I try to inspire my students to reach their full potential and don’t settle for second best.”
“Michael Jackson: Before He Was King,” is a vital contribution to the history of this international superstar and a must for fans of all ages. For more information please visit www.chroniclebooks.com