Ya know sometimes when living life, one expects life to yield impossible results. We expect to move through tons of shit and still come up smelling like a rose. In photography legend Chris Cuffaro’s case he has seen lots of shit and still has a smile or two to share. Growing up in the Bay area in the early 70’s alongside class acts like Santana, Larry Graham and Graham Central Station, Sly Stone and Confunkshun and then getting the opportunity to watch them perform live and then meet them face to face was a dream come true for Chris. When he was a kid Santana and Larry Graham were Gods and Chris had his first hit of music addiction.
His older brother had the keys to the streets. He had the right amount of coolness, and he had access to the music. It was an easy transition for a kid who fell in love with cameras at age 10 and started shooting girls because it was fun, and because they liked having their picture taken. At age 16 he shot his first music concert, the performer was the illustrious bass player, Stanley Clarke. For Chris the key word was FUN. When it came to fun, and that fun involved taking pictures, he and his bestie the camera were inseparable. After he saw that he could have fun, kill some time, and get some great images of people and places he thought, I can do this for a lifetime and that he would simply take up fashion photography and so he did for a while. With a good eye and a strong sense of timing, he had no idea the kind of path that he and his camera would find and what direction it would take them. From the go, Chris was a fit with the brothers, I mean after all they all lived in the same hood, grew up in the same streets, and so in that regard, they were all brothers. I mean he hit it big with all of the brothers, which included Latin brothers and the brothers who were brothas. He was moved internally by their talent. Their personalities and fields of expertise. Their down-to-earth sometimes bursting style of charisma and the way their bodies spoke unintentionally, loud, and unscripted with brands that were known and unknown.
It was his brother who took him to his very first concert of which he proudly, to date, holds the ticket stubs. It was Chick Corea’s band, “Return to Forever”. Their album “Romantic Warrior” was the best of fusion then and now, as he recalls. For those of you who groove to jazz fusion, and may not know who Chick Corea is, he was a jazz pianist and composer: keyboardist, and bandleader who was versatile enough to play percussion every once in a while.
After Chris’s first concert, his addiction to music and photography had grown. The use of sight, his eyes, the sound of the bands, the artist, the night, and the days all became one big frequency, and that frequency would continue until this day. When he talks about his encounters with legendary rappers, Method Man, and Ice Cube, it was as if the encounter happened only a moment ago. With a boyish, mischievous yet charming grin, he busted up lol and mimicked Method Man who looked at him and said, “Yeah, yeah, man so you gon take a picture, right”? Then throws his arm up and over Chris’ shoulders. Yeah, I am. After that, he got the Yo, he’s a cool mo’fo from all the boys, and boom, just like that, he was in the circle. The trick Chris said was to make all of them comfortable. Talking to them with respect and holding them in high regard. Their presence in studios and various locations was flawless in its meaning and with a real down-to-earth introduction, mo’fo to mo’fo, he was home.
Jazz R&B producer, singer, writer, performer, and founder of Earth Wind, and Fire, Maurice White was a favorite of his. The two met and eventually, gaining his trust, was invited to his home. They soon became good friends. To Chris, it’s the memories and stories that the photos tell that are worth gold. Not to be mistaken or mixed up with the casual encounters of the new Hollywood and its newest sleigh of AI. The real ones and the perpetrators. These copies are like batches of chemicals used by farmers and big greedy businesses. All the same all carbon copies of the other. No depth in character. The people that Chris photographs are the real deal. Each is one of a kind, and he likes it that way.
Does Chris have a favorite artist that he has photographed? Hmm, it all depends on what day, time, and location it is. As he likes to put it, “I’ve never met an easy-to-deal-with artist. They are all difficult in one way or the other. Usually, I tell them to sit down shut up and take the picture the way that I asked them to”. One favorite, he had fun with was Iggy Pop. He said Iggy was very animated, Easy to work with, and loved what he was doing with a camera.
For new faces and places in the future, he wants to photograph Dr. Dre. Chuck D, and Lady Gaga. He said that he tells his over 50 students that he mentors when you think of your talent think of it like Dr. Dre does, think big and think of it as a business not just an art. He says, “If you really want to know the truth. When anybody looks at my shot of Ice T, they would know whether they knew him or not that Ice T is a real OG. You can tell by looking at the image”. It is these never to be-captured again moments like these that should be deemed national treasures. Breathtaking events from around the world held forever in visual form are what shape and mold our culture. Chris is all the better for these experiences and treasures every single part of it.
Perhaps the magic of images and our infatuation with them is older than time itself but when you’re in the zone and you’re ready to hit that all-important power black shiny button on the top of a camera all is one and none are separate until the eye leaves the lens. Forever reinventing shaping, shifting, and molding he has taken all of his momentous occasions and packaged them under an App he calls, The Greatest Hits. The Greatest Hits App is available at the Apple app store and Google Play Store. The app allows any user to engage with their favorite band or artist visually and interactively using the artist’s image.
It supports the various Greatest Hits project which chronicles his famous photographs that have appeared on the covers of Rolling Stones, Musicians Magazine, Spin, and more. He has a catalog of over 300+ iconic photographs. I think one could say that he’s the Wiz of Iconic Photos. Partnering with New Zealand design techsters, ISparx his dream came true giving him the first rights of apping (made up word) for musicians. The Greatest Hits app supports the Greatest Hits Project he started back in 2010. Fans can really feel good after looking at photos of their favorite stars like Janes’ Addiction, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Iggy Pop, George Michaels, No Doubt Scott Weiland, and Soundgarden. As far as I understand this kind of APP has never been developed before. Click the photo and the story, music, and history of that moment in time will come up. Very on-point nostalgia for those who really get the healing power of music and photography. As an additional bonus, there are proof sheets from the shoot itself giving the fan a way to interact perhaps seeing what image they would have selected to showcase their favorite artists.
Finally, I asked Chris if he thought that Apple and Smartphones like Samsung would ever catch up to cameras, sadly, he said, “I think so. If I had an Apple phone in the ’80s. The places I’ve been and the things that I’ve seen would have been documented in an entirely different way. When I was a kid with the capability of modern technology, my life would have been even more interesting than it is now”. So, are we going to see more music photographers, he said, “Music photography is more popular than ever before. I tell my students to get in there and go take pictures of as many musicians and performances as they can. Now anybody can take a picture and do what I do. I’m no longer needed or necessary. Phones are creating real stories and making them into real-time movies and commercials. And with the strong presence of AI, unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time”.
Chris is always magically bending space and time to come up with many more ways to challenge his creative selves and is always active in filming and projecting his ideas onto whatever open canvas he can find. That canvas could and has included actors Johnny Depp, sports figures Kobe Bryant, TV shows American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, and a host of other cool shit that he thought of to do and for us to look at on Saturday nights.
Do I think that there could ever be an AI to do what Chris has done and is doing? Who knows but I do believe that if AI does take over any parts of photography and Chris Cuffaro has anything to do with it, he’ll be yelling at the Ai to shut up, sit down and take the damn shot like he asked it to.
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For more information on Chris Cuffaro and The Greatest Hits app and podcast see the information below: