WHEN British photographer Dave Hogan first met Michael Jackson in 1983, the ascendant King of Pop was wearing a tuxedo and standing in the corner of a side room in London’s Grosvenor Hotel.
Jackson was near the height of his immense fame, having just released Thriller a few months before, a monster collection of songs that is still among the best-selling albums of all time in the United States.
He was in town for the British Recording Industry Awards, a star-studded event with other music-world luminaries like Paul McCartney and The Who’s Pete Townshend in attendance, and Hogan took the opportunity to do what most people probably didn’t in those days: approach Jackson for a chat.
“I went up and just started talking to him,” says Hogan.
“I said, ‘Hello, how’re you doing? How long are you in London for?’ And I think he was just a bit baffled because nobody ever really did that to him.”
That conversation began a long relationship between photographer and subject that lasted almost two decades and across several world tours, from Bad in the late 1980s to Dangerous and HIStory in the 1990s to the 30th Anniversary Celebration in 2001.
Hogan, a photographer for Getty Images, is known for his striking music-industry work, having captured such acts as David Bowie, U2, and Madonna over the years.
“I’ve just been working with Taylor Swift and the Rolling Stones — one of the biggest female stars and one of the biggest rock bands,” he says.
“But there was nobody bigger than Michael Jackson.”
Jackson, who died in 2009, would’ve turned 60 on August 29, 2018. Here, we take a look back at his career through the lens of one photographer who helped document it for the ages.
THE FIRST MEETING
This 1983 portrait of Jackson was circulated widely after his death and is actually from that night Hogan met him.
“That’s the first time I ever shot him,” says Hogan. “I just remember thinking, ‘Gosh, he’s got a lovely face!’”
Jackson was pictured below at the BRIT Awards with Kim Wilde, Pete Townshend and Paul McCartney on that same night in 1983.
After Hogan chatted with him, Jackson asked him to take some pictures with friends in the room.
The next day, Hogan dropped off the prints at Jackson’s hotel and from that point on, he was on the singer’s regular rotation.
“I built up this really quite strange relationship with him,” says Hogan.
“The record company would call up when Michael was in town and say, ‘He’s going shopping at (London toy store) Hamleys, do you want to go shopping with him?’
“I wasn’t his new best friend — I was just there to record what was going on in his life at the time.”
FAR FROM THE MADDENING CROWDS
Hogan often got an up-close view of Jackson’s effect on people. “Of all the people I worked with, there was nobody whom people were that hysterical with,” he says.
“They would scream and cry just seeing him. It was really a quite bizarre way of living your life.”
On stage, Jackson’s power was otherworldly.
“There’s a couple of pictures where I’m standing on stage with him, and he comes out of this space capsule and 75,000 people are just screaming at him,” Hogan remembers.
“He stands there with his arms outstretched, Jesus-like, and doesn’t sing, doesn’t do anything. The actual goose pimples you get from this guy! I’m standing behind him dressed all in black, with a camera, looking like a Ninja Turtle, never trying to stand out. But the feeling that you got: The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you’re thinking, ‘This is going to be something special.’”
It was on the HIStory tour in 1997 that Hogan got a rare look backstage, including this one of Jackson’s costume setup.
“I opened up all the flight cases to photograph what was in there,” says Hogan. “And then I thought about how the whole of Michael Jackson’s history is in there — the werewolf costume, the sequined gloves, and the hats.”
THE GLOVED ONE
At one point, Jackson’s wardrobe manager asked Hogan if he wanted to try on the hat and glove. “Then you immediately start moonwalking backwards and forwards,” says Hogan, “And the guy said, ‘Yeah, everybody does it.’”
On Michael Jackson’s collection of footwear: “I never picked them up and had a look,” says Hogan. “But I [learned] afterwards that he’d cut into the heels, so the shoes would hook onto a peg [onstage] and that helped him to lean forward and backward.
People would ask, ‘How did he do that?’ Well, he was the greatest showman that ever was.
It was a bit like a magician: Don’t give your tricks away.”
JACKSON AT REST
Below is Jackson in his dressing room. If you look closely, you can see his set list, his markers, and his orange juice.
One of Hogan’s most memorable moments with Jackson was also one of the most casual ones. Hogan was standing in that tiny dressing room when Jackson came in, stripped off his shirt and sprayed deodorant on.
“All I could think was, ‘Oh my god, Michael sweats,’” says Hogan.
“Because you elevate him into this godlike genius, and you forget that he was a normal human being.”
Hogan and Jackson chatted for a bit, though as always, on a superficial level. “I always find as a photographer, you’ve got to be careful you don’t ask questions that make them think that you’re interviewing them,” says Hogan.
“Because it closes [them off] — if you start asking, they’re wondering, ‘Is this an interview or pictures?’”
Hogan also photographed Jackson’s lavish 30th anniversary celebration in New York, during which he played two shows at Madison Square Garden on September 7 and 10, 2001, with guest stars like Destiny’s Child, Whitney Houston, Liza Minnelli, and Slash, pictured below.
The pictures from Michael Jackson’s 30th career anniversary concerts were mostly forgotten in the wake of the September 11 attacks a few days later.
The timing led to an incredible and persistent legend in the years to come: that Jackson, Taylor, and Marlon Brando, who also attended one of the concerts, got out of New York when air traffic was grounded by road-tripping west together.
HIStory was Jackson’s last major tour.
Hogan shot the singer a few times after 2001, including this appearance at the World Music Awards in 2006.
In March 2009, Hogan shot the press conference during which Jackson announced a comeback tour called This Is It that would’ve started with a 10-concert run in London.
Hogan likely would’ve gotten the call again, but it was not meant to be: On June 25, 2009, the singer died at the age of 50.
This article was republished with permission from Getty Images.
Originally published as The truth about Michael Jackson