Photographer Richard Corman gives an exclusive look
at his new book of the pop star's early days
Those Cat Eyes
In May 1983, photographer Richard Corman's mother, a casting director at the time, was working on the Martin Scorcese film, The Last Temptation of Christ. She became enthralled with a young woman who auditioned, who went by Madonna, and she insisted her son had to photograph her. Before long, Corman was walking up to Madonna's Lower East Side apartment for a photo shoot with the budding starlet .
"I walked into the corridor and I heard her yelling from above," he recalls of their first meeting. "She leaned over and I just saw those eyes looking at me. Those cat eyes. I knew right then that this was somebody who just had something special." Now, 30 years later, Corman has compiled the multiple days he spent shooting Madonna that year into a new book, Madonna: NYC83, and in this exclusive gallery, Corman reflects fondly to Rolling Stone on his inspiring time spent with a young Madonna.
By Dan Hyman
"I've been working with an incredible designer, Yolanda Cuomo, who has created some incredible collages throughout the book. This is an image [of Madonna] as Cinderella. She's got her gown on. There's this kind of coy, sexy look that she just brings to the camera. You really begin to see into and behind her eyes. This image here is nothing more than her on a rooftop just being herself."
Espresso and Bubblegum
"I believe this is the first shot I took of her. To her left there there was a tiny little wooden table and a kitchenette with two chairs. She served me espresso and bubblegum on a silver-plated tray. We sat there and just chatted. I said 'Let's go.' She just got up and just leaned on the stove. There's nobody that can lean on a stove like that. Those eyes; the body language. There was that sensuality. It was playful. It was smart. And it was absolutely her."
"Instead of creating a contact sheet as we all used to see when we developed pictures, this is just a modern version of that. She was at home. It's a story in it of itself. She's in her bathroom, she's leaning on her stove, she's by her desk. And this one shot that we just enlarged bigger … it's just looking into those glorious eyes. I think it's intimate. This was her world. And it was basic and simple and less was more."
Strange Beautiful Alien
"This was crazy. We were literally a couple of blocks from where she lived. We're walking through the Lower East Side and we come to this American Nursing Home. And she finds this group sitting there and she just literally walks between these two gentleman and nuzzles herself in there. They are speechless. Everyone is speechless. Not a word was spoken. They didn't have a clue who she was. They just thought she was this strange beautiful alien."
"This was a bodega on the Lower East Side. I just asked her if she would lean against it. I don't know why but it was so ridiculous. Again, she just did her thing. It was funny, spontaneous. And it was all her."
Those Dark Roots
"With her hands up, framing her face, these are things she did. It's not that we haven't seen this kind of thing before. But her features, her eyes, her mouth, her hair. It's so contemporary with those dark roots. This is what people are doing now. The sweaters are so now. It's Madonna being Madonna."
"My designer, we decided to make collages with. It's poppy. It's fun. It's silly. It's Madonna doing things I don't think she could even imagine doing now. Totally unguarded. It was a silly outfit but she made it come to life. 20 years ago [these pictures] would have felt dated. Today they feel dead-on."
A Sweater Story
"This was a sweater story for a magazine. She came in with her hair braided like this. She was modeling sweaters. This was her hat, her chains, accessories. To be quite honest, I think she was freaked out by what she was actually wearing. But at the same time she was such a trooper. This was just total play and humor. She just let herself go with it. Few people could have pulled this off."
The Pied Piper
"One of the things that I adored about her at the time is she was the Pied Piper of the neighborhood. She would gather every day with the kids in the building. They would go up to the rooftop; they would sing and dance with her. In some ways I don't know if she did it intentionally: she was really giving something back to the neighborhood and these kids. This was just that moment where she was laughing because the boom box was playing and there were kids in front of her breakdancing. And she was having the best time."
"This is what she did. I just became a voyeur. This is not set up. It just kind of evolved. I think she was inspired by them, them by her. She adored them. Unfortunately all of these kids except one have died. I was told they died at an early age due to god knows what. Someone who was hanging a show of me said 'Richard, I grew up in that neighborhood. I knew all those kids. I said 'Where are they?' They said 'Well four of them are dead and there's only one that's still alive.' Crazy."
Her Own Makeup
"There she is doing her own makeup. Again, intimate and a lot of fun."
That Wood Cross
"She was in the makeup room and she was doing her makeup before she went outside. The earring, that wood cross, became her symbol: her metaphor for everything Madonna as about for awhile. That profile. Just that mouth. Those eyes. The makeup. I just thought it was glorious. And we just added this tint of pink that feels right."
A Break in the Action
"They thought she was cool. She was beautiful. She was talented. She was fun. God knows what their home lives were like. A bunch of them lived in the building. This was kind of a break in the action of probably a rough day for them. Who knows what was going on? Clearly there was sheer absolute joy and respect between them and her."
"This was literally walking onto the set of her first movie, Vision Quest. And she stopped, paused and just looked up. And we just added a treatment to it to give it a little something else that I thought was fun. A lot of this book is inspired by pop art, [Andy] Warhol, Keith Haring, [Jean-Michel] Basquiat. It has a playful, colorful sensibility that really had everything to do with what was going on then and still today."
"There were no fences up to prevent us from going into this rubble. And there was just this school chair sitting there. She just went and sat on it. Again, that look: that haughty confident and fierce sexuality is just kind of rampant in all the photographs. It's always there. It always has everything to do with her eyes and her body language."
The Perfect Juxtaposition
"We walked up to her rooftop and then we just started walking the streets. It was just Madonna and I. Now if we walked the streets there would be 40 people around us. The Lower East Side at that time was a ghetto. It was really in shambles. It was decayed. It was a perfect juxtaposition for her; this beauty. We found crevices, we found light."