Monday, April 11, 2016

Bootsy Collins

Bootsy Collins, Toronto, May 1991

NEXT TO GEORGE CLINTON, BOOTSY COLLINS MIGHT BE THE BIGGEST STAR in the P-Funk universe. He hasn't played regularly with Clinton or any iteration of the P-Funk All-Stars in over three decades, but his place in the group's musical cosmology was cemented in place with his central role on the Mothership albums in the '70s, both as a musician and as a cast of characters from Casper the Funky Ghost to Bootzilla. You can argue about the importance of other musicians like Garry Shider, Eddie Hazel or Bernie Worrell to the development of P-Funk's sound, but Bootsy's persona is one of its visual trademarks, and I've always been in awe of the man.

Bootsy Collins was passing through town on tour with Dee-Lite, and was asked to pose for the "What I Wear" page of NOW magazine, talking about where he got his clothes and how he'd describe his style. I think I would have felt supremely ripped off if I hadn't been asked to shoot him, and I don't remember if I lobbied Irene and Dierdre Hanna, the paper's fashion editor, for the gig, but I wouldn't be surprised if I did.

Bootsy Collins, Toronto, May 1991

We showed up for soundcheck at the Concert Hall, a much-missed music venue here in Toronto that was originally the city's main Masonic Temple. This was the first time I'd been upstairs in the masonic chambers of the building, which still seemed to be in use in spring of 1991. I knew that P-Funk founder George Clinton was an aficionado of conspiracy theories and wondered whether Bootsy shared his interest in the subject, but it never came up.

I couldn't shoot in the ceremonial rooms nearby, but the checkerboard floor in the hallway was an irresistible backdrop, so I set up my flash in an umbrella and found a chair to stand on. Bootsy is well over six feet tall, so there was no way I'd get and angle that captured him and the floor without giving myself a bit of height.

Bootsy Collins, Toronto, May 1991

Bootsy was consistently in character, a little bit spacey and perpetually bemused by whatever was happening, and he never took off his star-shaped mirror sunglasses. The brief of the job was a full-length portrait, which I shot with a slow shutter speed after the flash to capture a little bit of ghostly blur that seemed appropriate to an otherworldy subject.

Do I wish I'd taken a bit more of Bootsy's time to shoot a simple portrait? Of course I do, but frankly I was so happy to be shooting him at all that I didn't want to push things. Today, of course, I'd have been a bit more aggressive about getting the sort of portrait I really wanted, but twenty-five years ago I think I was really just worried about saving a couple of frames at the end of the roll for what my daughters call a "selfie."

Me and Bootsy Collins, Toronto, May 1991

I rarely do this, but I couldn't resist asking Dierdre to get a photo of me with Bootsy. You have no idea how thrilled I am here. What amazes me is that I don't have a framed print of this by the front door of our house.


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