Parsons-trained illustrator Curtis Knapp moved to Athens, Georgia, in the late 70s to be part of the art scene. His focus turned to photography around the time his friends, the B-52’s, needed photos for gigs.
Returning to New York, Curtis’s stark portrait style landed him top magazine shoots, epitomized by this 1983 black and white cover shot of Madonna for Island magazine. Madonna lived a block from Curtis’s downtown studio, and stopped by after the shoot to select images from his contacts.
The pop star’s first magazine cover coincided with the release of her self-titled debut album, which brought the world “Holiday” and “Lucky Star.” But around that time Curtis Knapp’s star was also unquestionably rising as leading cultural figures including Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, and Timothy Leary were already sitting for portraits in front his Hasselbad.
“Simple is best,” says the photographer, who has also shot REM, Lou Reed, Brian Eno and David Byrne.
The September 1983 issue of Island is in short supply for collectors, but Rock Paper Photo offers Curtis’s hand-signed original cover photograph in several limited editions, each numbering 50 and smaller.
Some months after the Madonna shoot, Curtis had the opportunity to meet his idol, Irving Penn. “An hour of his focused time going over my portfolio was worth more than any schooling which had come before,” recalls Curtis. “He made many things clear for me with a keen awareness and knew instantly what was good and what was not and over the years almost all he said has come true.”
Curtis moved to Tokyo where he lived for 20 years, working for the top agencies and music companies. He traveled often to the U.S. and Europe for major commercial advertising campaigns while always adding to his portrait portfolio.
In 2002 he returned to the States and taught classes at the Smithsonian. He has published nine books of his work, which has been featured in many exhibitions and is included in the permanent collection of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
On May 29th, it is in that city where, 28 years after her first magazine shoot, Madonna will open her 2012 world tour