T U P A C U n s e e n
Photography and Art by J o e l D. L e v i n s o n
I met Tupac in the summer of 1993. Upon introduction, Tupac greeted me with unguarded enthusiasm and a megawatt smile
that welcomed me to create photographs. To say, he lit up the room is both a cliché and an understatement. Every request made was met with his full presence and a natural quality, encompassing both exuberance and introspection, that I‘ve found exceedingly rare, even among the most celebrated artists and celebrities at any age.
Tupac was an active collaborator - all he needed was a phrase,
an idea, and he would open up. I felt that if you gained his trust, there was nothing he was afraid to expose of himself. Since that day, I’ve followed much of Tupac’s music, success, trials and tribulations. When he was tragically murdered, I experienced the same type of sadness and reflection I had when John Lennon was senselessly gunned down. Over time, I reviewed my photographs of Tupac and found them among the most satisfying and revealing portraits produced in my decades of photographing people.
I found my interest in Tupac’s work grow deeper and deeper
with each month of research, and developed a strong affinity for this man and his sensibilities. In the years since, my appreciation and comprehension of Tupac and his work have continued through extensive research of his poetry, lyrics, books, hundreds of internet articles, virtually every published and syndicated photograph, and a great deal of what has been written about him. A unique personality, I am most struck by the enduring depth of his poetry which I feel is honest, heartfelt, gripping, and timeless. In Tupac’s poetry and selected song lyrics one finds glimpses that illuminate this artist’s potential, truest nature, and journey.
Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain each passed away at the age of twenty-seven. Unlike these famous colleagues, Tupac, who passed at the age of twenty-five, at the mere beginning of his ascent, was afforded only a very small fraction of the media and attention that these and other artists, in their all-to-short careers received.
It is every generations calling to question authority. With Tupac those questions came straight from the heart, sometimes masked in anger, always grounded in compassion and ultimately enlightening. I wanted to illuminate sides of Tupac I had witnessed through his work and working together, rarely offered in any other photographs or constructed images.
Although the emphasis of my photography has revolved and continues to revolve around the art world, I also enjoyed an eight year stint as an album cover photographer, movie poster photographer and designer. My most recent fine art photography series involves advanced techniques of image blending, montage, collage and painted areas. Beyond the thirty-six straight photographs of Tupac, I had been experimenting with art constructions involving my Tupac photographs for years.
During the past year, I updated and created thirty-six art constructions, one for each of the book’s images and every one a unique and original homage to Tupac. Akin to the photographs, which I consider among the finest portraits of anyone that I ever made, the Tupac constructions are among the most satisfying artwork I’ve ever created. While the photographs all are designated with untitled numbers, each construction has a title.
Working together, it became clear to me just who Tupac was.
Tupac was the guy you wanted to be friends with. I know this sounds simple, yet, it simply is the most accurate way to describe the experience of spending time with him. Tupac allowed me the privilege of feeling like his friend, a feeling I carry to this day.
To date only six of the thirty-six photographs have been published, including one on the book cover of They died Too Young: Tupac Shakur, Chelsea House, 2001. The the vast majority of the photographs and none of the constructions have been previously published. The Seventy-two (combined) photographs and artworks contained in TUPAC Unseen, are a testament to that relevance, and a book that reflects both my personal experience with Tupac and my great appreciation for his life and work.
What began as a six month, purely photographic project to publish portraits, developed into something that encompassed much more. Eventually, it extended into an eighteen month project, which further extended to four years and finally after seven years, it is being released first in an eBook.
Although Tupac’s very early death was an enormous loss to a
great many, what he accomplished in just twenty-five years is remarkable, enduring and has increased in relevance and popularity with each passing year. It is my sincere wish that images showing Tupac’s serious, sophisticated, meditative, and fun sides, previously unseen and largely unrecognized, may be revealed in these photographs and artwork, and offer a fuller portrait of this extraordinary man. I look forward to fans of Tupac having the opportunity to view and enjoy what I hope is a revelation and will become a standard bearer in Tupac-related imagery.
Joel D. Levinson – 2014