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22 October 2013

Wherever U Go, Whatever U Do (Part 2): Steve Parke Talks 2 Beautiful Nights


  Steve Parke is a true renaissance man.
  He is best known to Prince fans as the creator of the Grafitti Bridge album cover, designer of the "Glam Slam" music video set and  photographer behind many pictures of Prince and associated artists throughout the 1990s. In addition to photography, Parke has also done acting, graphic design, drawing, painting, has past journalism experience and created graphic novels.
  A chance meeting with Levi Seacer in the late 1980s set Parke on a course of events that culminated with him being hired as art director at Prince's Paisley Park studio complex in Chanhassen, Minn. That opportunity led to various work with artists like Chaka Khan, fDeluxe, Wendy and Lisa and David Bowie, among others.
  More recently, Parke did the photo illustrations for "Psych's Guide to Crime Fighting for the Totally Unqualified," a companion book to the USA Network TV show "Psych," released earlier this year. "Medusa's Daughter," a graphic novel he created with Jonathon Scott Fuqua, is set for wide release in December, and is currently available at He also does freelance photography for corporations and individuals.
  He is currently working with the band fDeluxe (formerly The Family) on artwork for their new covers album which is tentatively set for release at the end of 2013 and a children's book that will come out sometime next year.
  K Nicola Dyes conducted an in-depth interview with Parke last month for "Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s," where the Baltimore resident discussed his original career path, his childhood in the Washington D.C. area and the chain of events that led to him working for Prince:

Part II

On photography...

  When I capture a moment in time, I'm very aware that moment will never repeat again. I've had a hard time sometimes between being in the moment and capturing the moment. People say "Oh, you didn't bring your camera?" No. I actually just wanted to enjoy myself. 
  I enjoy taking pictures at events, but, honestly, my iPhone camera is the best thing ever. It's quick and it's easy. It allows you to be in the moment, capture the moment and then move on. There's no being in the moment when you've got a couple of cameras, lenses and lights.
  You're waiting for the opportunity to capture something, so, you're really not in the moment at all. I think the big thing is that I realized I'm here now, enjoy it now, because, it's going to change into something else. It will be a different just a moment.

  I'm terrible at networking, I'm trying to get better at it. I know all these people and I never think to myself "Hey, I wonder if they can use what I do?" I just don't think like that. I think, if they need what I do, they'll call me. But, sometimes, it's just about keeping connections.
  I think things are interconnected. They all lead into each other in ways. They may be small ways, but, they always click together. It's like whatever path you go down, it could lead back to you. I've been not the best at not taking advantage of those things. When I worked at Paisley Park, I met a lot of people and I never thought "I should give them my card." 
I was at a job I enjoyed at that point. Why ask for more work when I could barely do the work I had to do? 
  I didn't take advantage of those opportunities (like) I probably should have. I'm not complaining, because, I continue to get new opportunities. I just have to keep my eyes open and I'm going make sure to take advantage of those opportunities.

  When I take pictures of everyday people, I try to make them look like superstars. I like to give everybody the opportunity to look like a rock star, but, I understand that's not the goal of every photo.
 I find the mindset in photography is that you're "taking pictures." If you're shooting doctors, you're just shooting doctors. You make them look like doctors. I want them to look like "rock-star doctors." I'm not talking about instruments. I want the person to look the best they can and I want them to feel happy with the photo when they get it.
  One thing about shooting people who are not in the media, or don't their picture taken all the time, is that most people hate the way they look. I think a lot of this perception comes from (their) families. Somebody, somewhere, told this woman I'm taking a picture of—who's stunning—that she has a bad smile. I'm like "Really? Let me have you smile for minute and take a quick picture."
   I don't get it. But, people get damaged along the way by little things-- probably just a brother who said "Oh, you shouldn't smile that big, your teeth are gross," or something like that. They might have been five years old and they take it to heart.   
   When I shoot someone, I want to bring out the best in them. I don't like taking "ugly" pictures of people. What I mean by that is that with some photographers, their goal is take a style of photography; the style is more important than the person. 
The photography is great unto itself, (but), to me, the person and having them feel good about themselves in the shot are the important things. 
  I do retouch people (in Photoshop), but, I tell people I retouch them to look like they're having the best day of their lives. I don't alter people, so, it doesn't look like them. I hate that, too. I don't understand how some photography has gotten to the point where people get airbrushed and sliced up to a point where they don't look like human beings anymore. What's the point, unless that is truly your goal-- "I'm going for making people into aliens." Okay, that's cool, I get that. 
  I started off drawing when I was a kid. I drew the actors and musicians that I really liked. I always put them in a positive light. I like to make people look good, but, still look like themselves. Unless you're going for something dramatic, and even then you can fix things up a little bit.
  Stanley Clarke told me, he said, "Man, you make middle-aged people look good." I said "Well, because, at this point I am a middle-aged person." But, I've always had that goal in mind, I don't want someone looking like crap. I see portrait photography, where certain photographers go for a very grungy look. Again, I don't mind doing (that) occasionally if it calls for it, but, as a style, I'm never trying to make people look bad. 
  I had a woman tell me when I was showing her some of my work "You know what I love about your work? Everything is beautiful, what you're shooting, it's all pretty. Even some of the darker stuff, it's got some beauty to it... A lot of people don't think like that anymore." 
  She had previously been an actress and was then married to Art Modell, former owner of the (Baltimore) Ravens, for a long time. Most people don't necessarily share what they think when we're together. I'm not asking them to, but, she did. 
  I hadn't really thought about it until then. I realized that's true. I think it influenced my photography and drawing. I believe that what I listened to, musically, growing up, determined a lot how I think about things in other areas; like (my) personal philosophy and the way I do my work.
 I grew up in a era when the music was very positive, especially R&B. Even when rap initially kicked in, it was positive, because, it was social commentary.  Or rappers talked about how many women they had, how much money they had or how many cars they had. It wasn't just saying how bad things were.

  When I take photographs of women, I'm always amazed at the things they'll say about their looks. I'm sitting with these absolutely beautiful women and they will definitely be picky about how they look. It's so funny to me. But, I think that's society talking a little bit.
 I always say guys could come in there and say "I look great. I look good." They could be just the slobbiest, nastiest guy in the world. The most beautiful woman in the world will look in the mirror and see a small pimple that nobody else will see and say "I cannot go out today." It's an exaggeration, of course, but, it's kind of like that.
  You can't tell someone that their opinion isn't valid. They see themselves as they see themselves. That gets into talking to someone and saying "What do you like and what don't you like about the photo?" and try to look at that when you're shooting. If someone says "I don't like that angle," you don't shoot at that angle. Give them what they think makes them look good. 

   When I'm doing the graphic novels, I end up being a one-man art department: I story board them, I costume them and I work with my writer who helps me cast them. Then when I'm photographing, it's a lot like directing, because, I have to direct people (to) what I'm looking for emotionally. 
  Once I photograph it, I put it all onto your background, then design it on top of that. I end up wearing a lot of hats. I'd like to take that into maybe making small films. I think I could do it. I'm capable as a director. I've worked with people who had no acting skills. They're not actors and I've managed to make them work in the realm of graphic novels. I had to pull a lot of emotion out of them for the stories that I was doing.

On working with musicians...

  I've gotten to meet a lot of people. I shot at a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute in Washington D.C. that Stevie Wonder hosted. Man, I'm telling you: The Pointer Sisters, of course Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Jeffrey Osbourne, Patti LaBelle, I got to meet all those people, it was real cool.

   (I) actually shot Rhonda Smith and Kat Dyson at the same time, in one of their apartments, I don't remember whose. We just set it up, shot (photos) and it was really fun. 
  That's the kind of thing I love sometimes. It's not like you have a whole studio or anything: you set up in somebody's place, you're just shooting and you have no specific use for (the photos). You're just trying to choose any cool shots that you can. That's pretty much what we did.
   They had both been in the music industry for a while, but, were fairly new working with Prince. I don't know if they knew what direction he wanted the photos to go. So, we just tried a lot of stuff.

  I shot David Bowie live (in concert). I (also) did T-shirt artwork for him. (After) doing a T-shirt for Prince, I got the opportunity to do T-shirts for The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Jon Bon Jovi and Bowie's T-shirt for the 
 "Sound and Vision" Tour . It was crazy.
   I (also) shot the show, which was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I sent (the photos) up to the company that (made) the T-shirts and never saw them again. (It) happens that way sometimes. 
  I did a photo shoot (where) I have shots of someone wearing them (the T-shirts). There's some hangers with the shirts hanging on them and I turned the photo black and white, except for the T-shirts, to make them pop a little bit. I think I might have posted it on Facebook, but, it was a while back. I have copy of every shirt I've ever done. 
   (Bowie) signed an album for me, but, I didn't get a chance to meet him. 

  I was going to do a tour shirt for (Paul McCartney). His ideas were very much like (like the work of) the guy who did all The Grateful Dead album covers. In the long run, Paul McCartney figured he could just hire the guy that did The Grateful Dead album covers and that's what he did. 
 One of the nice things for me was I could look at a style and replicate things in that style if I wanted to. It was cool from that perspective. I had the opportunity to show him the drawings. He liked my ideas. It was just "Wait, (I) want it to look a Grateful Dead album cover, I could just hire that guy." 
  Yes he could. He's Paul McCartney.
  Sheila E. and I have still never done a formal photo session.  We want to and what keeps happening is that sometimes I call her and say "Hey, I'm in L.A." and she says "Hey, I'm in Washington D.C." I'm like "What? How does that happen?" 
  We did do a short, fun little shoot when she was performing with the Dave Koz & Friends Christmas show down at the Strathmore (a venue in North Bethesda, Maryland), which is 45 minutes away from me. My son and I went down and shot photos of her in between sets. We actually got some good stuff out of that.
   I still really want to do a straight-up photo session with her. We were thinking of it on this new album she's got coming out. It ended up not working out. She said "Tell me what I should be doing." So, I actually drew it and out, (including the) lighting set up and she actually got someone to take the pictures. That's art direction right there. You say "Here's what I need" and have somebody else do it. 
  I really want to do a shoot with her, she's so much fun as a person. It's funny, she does a lot of serious work, but, she has such a great smile. I really want to work her smile. 
  She knows I want to do pictures with her and she wants to do pictures with me. I think it's just a matter of time.

 When the fDeluxe (Gaslight album) came around Paul Peterson (the group's co-lead singer) said "Do you want to do this?" I said "If I don't get to do this, I will feel very bad about it." 
  I was one of those people where The Family album was just a great record for me. When I first heard they doing it, I really wanted to be involved. Yet, I was a little hesitant in a way, too. How were they going to make that work? As a fan of the first record I can easily say they made a record as good and in some ways better. I could simply say nothing it this wasn't true.
   I'm taking it from a purely musical standpoint. It's hard to beat the things you grew up with. When you go back and listen to the music you grew up with, you say "Well, maybe on some levels, it wasn't as good as I thought it was. But, it's still what I grew up with. I have a sentimental attachment to it." I definitely had that for that record, so, I was very worried. 
  Those guys are all great. It's hard enough if you've just done a record, then a year later you're trying to do a second record. But, that many years later sometimes can be more difficult.  They really managed to capture it. I'm sure not everybody agrees with that, but, that's how I feel. I felt they did a really great job. I feel like they listened to what they did and grew. 
   Getting an opportunity to do the (album) artwork was great. I really wanted to do something that complimented the last record, but, not try to do black and white specifically, because, I thought that would have been a little cheesy. I liked that, but, I just really felt like if you're trying to involve your (fans) and also pick up new audiences, you're going to have to move your look into something contemporary. You can't just bite off something that's (more than) 25 years old.
  I definitely liked the drama of the initial record, I was trying to capture some of that and do it in color. I wanted to have a "What's going on? What's the story behind this?" picture. One of the things about Susannah (Melvoin, co-lead singer of fDeluxe) being on the cover, is that you can read that facial expression many different ways. I liked the fact that someone who didn't know the band, wouldn't necessarily  know she was the lead singer. 
  I explained it once and it's true: If you put a woman as art men can appreciate it and women can appreciate it.  It's one of the reasons, artistically why female figures have been very popular throughout the ages, because, they appeal more broadly. That's a time-honored thing. I felt like I wanted somebody up there, (so) instead of just trying to promote the band as a band, it was promoting something (where) you didn't know quite what it was.
  You're going have the people who will pick up the record no matter what. But, I wanted people who are maybe on the fence to take a listen to it. That's sort of what I was going for with that particular image. 
  The next album, the covers record, may be completely different, it might not have any people on the cover. We haven't set that in stone, but, I took a lot of photos of different stuff. It might be a little more--I don't know if abstract is the right word. We'll see how that goes, we don't know yet.

  I shot Wendy and Lisa for the Heroes Soundtrack and it was just a fun day of shooting. I had a great time with them. I love both of them.
  I had a really had a good time photographing them. They are really great people and extremely beautiful women inside and out.  It was a nice collaborative thing where I could talk to them about what I wanted to get or what I was looking for. Then they could give me ideas about what they wanted and go for all of those things. It's fun when you get to collaborate with the artist and bounce ideas off each other. You're probably noticing that I like to collaborate and it's funny because, I don't get much opportunity to do it in what I do. But, I really like it. 


  I grew up loving Chaka Khan's music and her voice. (It was) another opportunity to shoot somebody I never thought I would get to shoot-- just like Larry Graham, whom I ended up shooting around the same time. (He was) another one I grew up listening to. It was great. Those were cool gifts for me by way of working for Prince.
  Chaka was funny, because, she had her stylist and all that stuff. She came out, we shot and I showed her the stuff. She said "Yeah, I like it." I said "Do we need to shoot anymore?" She said "I don't know, do we need to shoot anymore?" I said "I'm happy with what I got." She said "Okay. Wow. It took less time to shoot than it took me to get ready."
   I do photograph quickly. I try to move people through their photo shoots quickly, because, I know most people, even if they need to get photos, don't want to spend a bunch of time taking pictures. They want to be done, they have other things to do and some people simply hate the process. 
  I've worked with musicians who really hate that part of it. But, (they) also know an essential part of what they do is to have that "image." That was a case where I made it quick. 

  Getting to shoot (Prince) was really fun. As a kid, I would draw pictures from photographs that other people had taken of him. It's cool, because, I see people drawing pictures of Prince from photos that I've taken of him. He was someone that really moved and he knew how to look at the camera.
  I like the shots I took of him at the Chanhassen Arboretum. They were outdoors and they were a little outside of what you saw out of Prince. Looking back, there are a lot of photos I wish we had done: some rawer photos; more casual; more juxtaposed and things that you would not expect at all: like having him all dressed with his guitar and everything in a cornfield; or standing with his feet in the ocean; or even in a lake out in Minneapolis, just to do something different and take you by surprise
  That's probably the only thing I wish I was more vocal about. But, a lot of times we would shoot very late, at two or three in the morning. You're always thinking in your head: "You know what would be great? Oh, it's dark outside, never mind."

 Victor Wooten actually let me sing on his last record, which was kind of fun. When I was in theater, I did musicals and I actually sing. Once I stopped doing that, I didn't sing for 20 years, except to my kid when he was a little baby. That was kind of fun and a nice experience, too.
 (Wooten) said "You want to sing on this?" I said "Sure, why not." If it sucked, worst case scenario, he could just not use it. I said "If this is terrible, I will not be offended if you don't use it." He (later) said "It came out great and I put it on the record."     
  Opportunity was a huge part of (working with) Prince; Victor Wooten was in that way, too. The big difference between Vic and Prince is that Vic allowed me to express what I wanted a little more. 
 Vic definitely took input, which was cool. If I thought something was cool, he would ask me why I thought so. I won't say he could be talked into it, but, he would see my point of view and be okay with it. It was not all about his perspective. It's a different thing. 
  Prince definitely worked image with his career. Victor really hadn't done that to my knowledge. I remember telling him, how come you don't have posters at your concerts?" He said "Posters of what?" I said "Posters of you." He said "Man, nobody's gonna buy my picture." I said "Let's do a poster and find out." We made 1,000 posters, they sold out in two or three months on tour. He had to get more done. He was surprised. You know, I didn't get that, but, he never worried about the image part. 

On Life...

  Being self employed is difficult. When I was (initially) self employed, it was just me and my wife and that was one thing. When you bring a child into the world, you want to provide for them and make sure you give them the best things that you can. Suddenly, you worry a lot more about the consistency of the money you're making. It kind of puts a fire under your ass, frankly, about making sure you bring in money.
  But, there are definite benefits: I can go pick my son up from school, if he's sick. I had a shoot the other day and (then) didn't have anything until later in the day, so, I went and saw a movie. If I was in an office situation, I wouldn't be doing that. But, I will admit that's pretty rare.
  Self-employed means that if you're not working on a specific project, you're working to know where the next project is coming from. It's like skydiving without a net and sometimes without a parachute. It feels like that. But, I also wouldn't trade it. 
  I'd like to pick up some teaching gigs or something for a little more income and stability. But, in my heart, I would not trade it for a corporate job. If I had a corporate job where I could make a lot of money in a few years-- I call it "dancing the corporate pole"-- I'd do that for a few years, put money away, then I'd go back out on my own.
   The problem with that is, if you take yourself off the market for a while and people can't get you to work for them, all those contacts dry up. That's a tough thing, too.
  In a way, I had that working for Prince, because, I was on salary. I was out of the pool for a while and I did not have time to take on a lot of other work. When I got back in the world of other things, I had to reestablish myself and that's a lot of work. It's almost like coming up with your second career. But, I was fortunate. I lucked into a whole lot of good things after that.

  I listened to music as kid, I was in theater (and) all these things that happened in my life. I was able to walk into a situation like Paisley Park and do a whole bunch of different things. I know I did some things better  than others, but, that's just the way it is. I would not have had the capacity to deal with that stuff had I not had all those other experiences.
  I think sometimes people focus on one thing and say "If I focus on one thing, that's a good thing." Well, if you're a musician, you've got to practice, but, does that mean you should sit around, talk music to somebody all day and that's all you do?
   If you don't sort of spread yourself out a little bit, so. that you can understand other experiences, you can't communicate.  When I'm talking to musicians, I have to put something to them in a way that makes sense to their brain about music. I always get this: "Well, I don't know how much effort I want to put into my CD package." I say, "Well, do you want people to be attracted to your product? Let's look at it like this: you put all this effort into your album, (and) you've made it really great. Now all people are going to do is put it on terrible 1960s car speakers. Suddenly, all that effort you put into it will just go away, because, they didn't listen to it the way it should have been (listened to)."
  This is what it comes down to, especially when you're trying to do something creative or artistic. You have to put it into their area of expertise, so they can equate (it) to something they already know instead of trying to learn a whole new language.

  The worst trap you can fall into is negative thinking. My son's behind me saying "No, it's not." He said the worst trap you can fall into involves fire ants, slugs and crocodiles. That's a pretty bad trap. That, however, is a one-time trap.

   The best advice is to live life as hard as you can. Just invest in it. (When) I say live hard, I mean do the things you want to; don't hold back. 
 I think people second guess themselves—I certainly know I have. But, I've also found that through sheer persistence of will, I've gotten to do what I wanted to do, even if it all comes around kind of oddly, (and) maybe it's not a straight shot.
 I think some people say "If I think positively, I'll have a straight shot, because, that's what my goals are."  But, sometimes your goals aren't the right goals. Sometimes what happens to you shows you where you should be-- as far as positive things. I don't want to say somebody should be in a gutter, somewhere, if they end up like that. They should not be in a gutter. What I'm saying is, I think if you live like there's no tomorrow and pursue things as hard as you can-- really put your best foot forward-- it's going work out for you. Like I said, it may not be the way you expected.
  When I was in college, I truly expected (to be) doing Broadway shows, be on television or whatever. That's what my goals were at the time. But, life revealed to me, that's not really where (I was) supposed to be and I still ended up doing really, really good things. 
  Something in the universe said "No, no, not that. Come over here." I believe that you can learn from failure. Failure is relative. (When) people say they failed at something, did they fail? Or did they come in at 20 percent of what they wanted? It's not a failure if you learn things. That's a win, because, you learned something now that you can apply later on. I think people forget that. 
  The second part of living life hard... is staying connected with people, staying connected with family and friends. Don't lose that connection. I see a lot people who find themselves being very lonely, (for) no reason at all, except for the fact they got very myopic on whatever they were doing. 
  You want to live life hard, but, include every part of it. Don't just do the job hard. You (also) have to do the family connection, friend connection (and) love connection. One day you'll say "What happened to the last twenty years of my life?" It's true.

On life now and in the future...
  (I live) in Baltimore, now, which I enjoy. I never thought I'd live in a more city type of environment. When I first got into Baltimore, it was like when you see apocalyptic movies: you saw the Waterfront and I was just waiting for the radioactive creatures to come out. That was probably what Baltimore was like when I moved here.
  It's a blue collar town and there (was) a lot of industry that (was) very polluting. I don't think anybody knew that at the time. When you start to see people in white Hazmat suits and full headgear cleaning the water of all the green stuff floating around in it, you know there were some problems. We actually had that, it was actually like some weird science fiction movie. I will say (that) Baltimore has moved past that. It's a different city.


  Medusa's Daughter... my friend Johnathon Scott Fuqua and I came up with (the concept) in 2008. We wanted to do a book that was available in multiple formats, because, kids read in different ways.
  (The books) all have the same basic story, which is about a girl who finds herself in a side show in the 1970s, who can manipulate her hair and make it move. She has been in the sideshow since she was a kid, but, she becomes a teenager and finds out she other powers. She's trying to figure out who she is, where she came from and what her real background is. The guy who owns the sideshow has basically told her lies from birth.
   Teenagers go through this: Who am I? What do I do? Things are changing for them and they don't know how to handle it. (The story) is sort of a corollary between adolescence, but, in a superhuman, or unusual, format. It's something that's slightly outside the norm and more interesting. But, it really deals with issues that teenagers go through. We felt very strongly about a strong female lead character. We wanted to create a strong female character that has bizarre abilities, which would attract boys.
  We designed a prose novel, which is just like a straight novel with no pictures. Then, there's a graphic novel, which, of course, has lots of photos and is treated in a somewhat comic book style-- but, I'm doing photography instead of drawing. Then we have a book that looks more like it's painted. It's for kids with dyslexia and reading issues, so, there are individual pages of painting and less words.  
  We felt (that) what happens to a lot of kids at that age is that they slip through the cracks, because, they have to read down several grades. What happens is the subject matter of the book is not interesting to them at all. But, they are given those books, because, it's at their reading level. It's kind of screwed up. 
     You're in 8th grade or 9th Grade and you're reading something for a 5th grader. You're not going to want to read.  No matter what level you read at, you can read this book. Then, you can discuss it with your friends. It levels the playing field a little bit.
  If a librarian has these books, he or she can target the kids: "Oh, I know this kid likes to read Harry Potter, so, I can give him this prose book, no problem" or "This kid I know, he reads Batman, Superman or Spiderman (comic books). So, he or she might like this."
  If a kid who has reading issues, reads through the first book, a librarian can say to them "The other two books are basically the same idea, but, there's different information about each of the characters in each of the formats." You can tell more of the story or different parts of the story, just by virtue of the type of book it is. 
  We're hoping a kid who has reading issues might challenge themselves by then going to the graphic novel. It has a lot of photos and images in it. It's an easier read. If they get through that, then they can try and read the novel. We made the novel small on purpose, so, it doesn't look so daunting. The trick is that the type is small, so, there's actually a lot of words in there. We want kids to go through it and feel a sense of accomplishment in their reading. 
  On top of that, we simply wanted to make a story that people read and enjoy. It tries to serve some educational purposes without being an educational book.

   In the future, I hope to do more book projects. I hope to see some of the book projects and graphic novels, take off into movies, games or whatever. Multimedia all derives from stories and that's what I'm doing. I'm coming up with all these stories. It's just a matter of finding the time to get them done. I don't have to hold on to them myself. I'll be happy to find someone who wants to run with a story idea and actually make it happen, rather than just do it myself.
   I'd love to keep working with music. The hard part is, what does art for music look like in an era where more things are going digital? You still have to have a cover, but, you don't necessarily need the rest of it. I do think that stuff is going to survive, especially, because, kids are getting into vinyl and things like that. So, there will still be some of that kind of work. I'd like to keep a hand in that, too.

Stay beautiful, Kristi
Check out Steve Parke's official Web site here.
All photos courtesy of Steve Parke Photography Facebook Page. Check it out here.

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21 October 2013

Wherever U Go, Whatever U Do (Part I): Steve Parke Talks 2 Beautiful Nights

  Steve Parke is a true renaissance man.
  He is best known to Prince fans as the creator of the Grafitti Bridge album cover, designer of the "Glam Slam" music video set and  photographer behind many pictures of Prince and associated artists throughout the 1990s. In addition to photography, Parke has also done acting, graphic design, drawing, painting, has past journalism experience and created graphic novels.
  A chance meeting with Levi Seacer in the late 1980s set Parke on a course of events that culminated with him being hired as art director at Prince's Paisley Park studio complex in Chanhassen, Minn. That opportunity led to various work with artists like Chaka Khan, fDeluxe, Wendy and Lisa and David Bowie, among others.
  More recently, Parke did the photo illustrations for "Psych's Guide to Crime Fighting for the Totally Unqualified," a companion book to the USA Network TV show "Psych," released earlier this year. "Medusa's Daughter," a graphic novel he created with Jonathon Scott Fuqua, is set for wide release in December, and is currently available at He also does freelance photography for corporations and individuals.
  He is currently working with the band fDeluxe (formerly The Family) on artwork for their new covers album which is tentatively set for release at the end of 2013 and a children's book that will come out sometime next year.
  K Nicola Dyes conducted an in-depth interview with Parke last month for "Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s," where the Baltimore resident discussed his original career path, his childhood in the Washington D.C. area and the chain of events that led to him working for Prince:

Part I

On growing up...

 My childhood in Virginia was really good. I lived in an area where everybody knew each other. I started out going to a separate school from the other kids in my area, because, I got into a gifted and talented program. It's good that I was in it, but, I hated not being in the same school as (the) other kids. That was a little rough in the beginning. Once I got into junior high school, I was put in with everybody else. (I) got to know people had a great experience and great teachers. It was a really nice place to live at that time.
  I had access to the Washington D.C. area for going out. I worked in a record shop down in Georgetown. 
  The population base (in the town), worked in D.C. My dad was in the military-- he actually worked for the Pentagon at that point. It was interesting being in a political town and I never really thought about that. Your backyard news was politics, versus, for example, when I would travel. If I was in the Midwest--like Ohio where my grandparents were-- their backyard news (might be) the farm report and that was always weird to me. You had all kinds of bizarre rumors. It was the 1980s. That was an interesting, political time, to say the least.
  It's so overly populated and traffic heavy now (that) I don't think I'd want to be there again. At the time, it was a pretty ideal place to live.
  My mother and father always told me I could do whatever I wanted. They really supported me, but, they were also, conscious of the fact that if you go down certain paths, there are realities.
   I was a theater major in college and decided I wanted to be an actor. I thought I was pretty good at it. My dad sat me down one day and said to me "A lot of actors don't work. That's the reality. Or you work (in the theater) at night, (but), you wait tables, you do things like that. It's a hard road.” 
  I appreciated him telling me that, even though I’m sure, at the time, I said "Yeah, I'm going to be the one who makes it."  My father had a military background. He literally got out of high school and into the military. He had a career of it. He and I thought a little differently.
  Later, I said "Man, I don't really want to be doing this (theater) now." If you're in school, (you can play) an 80 year old in a school production. In the real world, there would be 30 80-year-old (people) fighting you for that part. You wouldn't even be considered for that part.
 Ideally, I thought I would go to art school and my dad said "If that's what you want to do, we'll make it happen." (I talked to) the guy you would go in and show your portfolio to. He looked at my portfolio and said "I don't know why you want to go here."
 I said "What do you mean?" He said "You already have a strong portfolio and a strong direction. I honestly believe that if you came here, all you would be doing is arguing with the professors."
  I'm so grateful for that, because, I'm sure someone's job like that is to pretty much steer you in the direction of coming to the college.  I'm sure that 90 percent of the time, (he said) "Sure, apply and spend your money."  That's what they do. He was nice enough to say Look, you've already got stuff going on, why would you want to spend-- back then, certainly the price of a house-- to go to college? 
  The fact is that my parents were willing to say, "If you want to do (this), we'll find a way to make it happen." I think the way to make that happen would have been to get a student loan. I'd still be paying that off.
   My mom and dad have been incredibly supportive. I owe my parents a lot and I literally owe my parents some money (laughs). As a parent myself, I know that you do everything you can for your kid, within reason. You have to let them do their thing sometimes, too. You can't hold their hand. They have to fail or succeed on their own.
  (My parents) really supported (me), so, I could succeed on my own. President Obama said that you don't succeed on your own. You succeed with your own drive, but, you have to have support from somebody, whether it be from parents, teachers or whomever. It's impossible to fight the odds with no support, especially (from your) parents. I think people forget that sometimes.

  My mom was into music. She grew up in Ohio (and) it's interesting to hear about music back in the day. She said "We used to tune the 'race' channel." I said "What are the 'race' channels?" She said "The Black channel... That's what it was called back then. You know, Elvis was actually played on those stations." They assumed Elvis was Black. They had never seen him before. It's kind of cool. These days, there's no questions, there's no ability to have any secrecy in the music industry; no surprises.
   She grew up on a lot of R&B. She exposed me to James Brown, The Spinners, The Crusaders.  My dad was never a music listener and when he did listen to music it was like that weird "parent" music--you know that stuff you hear going up in the elevator, like "What is that?" He liked "Saturday Night Fever." I have to give him credit for that.  
  My grandfather was a guitar player and he was really into jazz. He exposed me to George Benson and a lot of great guitar players back in the day. George Benson is still a great guitar player. He's just done a lot more vocal stuff.

  Friday Night Videos...that was a blast. It was another opportunity to go and meet all these people. I would shoot the local concerts to post them at the end of each month, like here's who had been in town.
  This was before MTV took off. A local (TV) station did Friday Night Videos and they wanted to tie in the local things that were going on. That gave me the opportunity to go and photograph, oh...Luther Vandross. I got to photograph so many people. It was so much fun.
  The guys that ran Friday Night Videos also did a show called "Kid's World" when I was a teenager. I hosted a local segment of that TV show. I got to interview Harry Wayne Casey from KC and the Sunshine Band and Muhammad Ali.
 (Ali) was a really fun guy. He was on a tour for the American Dental Association and they had him out fighting tooth decay. You would think it was kind of goofy, but, kids loved it. The kids knew who he was, because, of their parents. They all came and it was a fun event. I've still got his autograph, somewhere, but, I've got to dig it out.
   Meeting those people earlier on set me up for the opportunity to do photo shoots later. You wouldn't necessarily tie those two things together: "If I do this, it's going to open up and opportunity for me to use later." But, it did.

  As a college newspaper reporter...I wasn't so much a reporter ... Let's just say this: I used the idea of being a college reporter to shoot shows I really wanted to see. I would also write about the shows.
   I found a way to do the thing I loved, which was go see shows, for free. I got to see a ton of shows and I would go see shows (even if) I didn't care about the artist one way or the other.
   My college now has its own stadium and I think it opened up my senior year. I remember photographing (British Musician) Howard Jones. I went to photograph Fishbone and ended up doing an in-depth article with them. I did an interview with The Thompson Twins.
 (I shot) U2, Judas Priest--they were hilarious, by the way. I saw them after I saw "Spinal Tap." I shot Cyndi Lauper at a smaller venue in D.C. and I shot The Firm, which (was) Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers, the lead singer from Bad Company. That was a weird show. They were totally wasted on stage. I (later) found a bunch of negatives, when I was moving, from shows I had forgotten that I had shot. 
   My college experience was great fun. Somebody said "You want to do this?" and I said "Sure, why not?" I try to do that with everything. I say "Why not try this?" Don't say no to stuff you haven't tried, unless you're going to be put in danger. I think I worked for them for two years.

  Another thing about being in the (Washington D.C.) area: BET had just started up. I had met Donnie Simpson a few years earlier and I got to hang out at BET a lot, meet people there and, through (the network) I got to see a lot of shows in the area.
   I was at a show that (featured) New Edition and one of the promoters said "Hey, I'd like you to airbrush T-shirts for the New Edition guys—just their face on a T-shirt." So, I did all of them. 
  (Later), I was in the elevator. Bobby Brown got on the elevator and he had his shirt in his hand. He said  "Hey, how's it going?" I said "Hey. I just wanted to let you know I did that shirt." He said "Man, you did this shirt? I'm gonna do the solo thing and it's going to be big. I'll stay in touch with you. Let's do some stuff..." 
   I gave him my information and I'm sitting there like "Yeah, right, you're going to do some big stuff." It was interesting to see a kid that age and he had a goal. They were kids at that point in time. I wasn't that much older, but, they were definitely younger than me. It's a shame he overshot his goal-- kind of going in the opposite direction-- but, it was interesting to see a kid that young that driven to succeed. 

On  Life Changing Events...

Levi Seacer, Jr. (l) former guitar and bass player with Prince

  Meeting Levi Seacer was really cool. I met him when I photographing a Lionel Richie and Sheila E. (concert). I met Levi backstage. 
  We just got along, started talking and I drew a picture of him on a napkin (laughs). He said "Hey, that's pretty good."
   He kept saying "Hey, keep sending me some of your work and I'll show Prince" and he did. He really did. A lot of people say that and they don't do it. They say "Send me your work and I'll give it Prince." What they really mean is "Send me your work and I'll put it on my wall."
   He was definitely instrumental in hooking me up with Prince. (He is) a really great guy and a really good guitar and bass player. We stay in touch here and there. I would love to do some photos with him. But, it's difficult with him being on one coast (and) me being on the other.

Original drawing for Glam Slam Music Video Set. Courtesy of Steve Parke
  The set for the Glam Slam video...I got a call from Alan Leeds. "You want to come out and paint this set?" I thought jokingly "Nah, nah, not me, I'm not the guy for that." I said "Of course." 
  I got out there (to Paisley Park) and I saw that they had already started it. Levi explained to me someone had started (painting) the set and they were doing it in layers. Prince came in, saw it in layers and I guess he was like "This isn't working for me." I learned from that quick interaction that Prince wants to see stuff finished. I guess that, visually, he doesn't want to see "process." If he's walking in and it's partially finished, he's not going to dig that.
   I just tooled around Paisley Park, looked around and saw what was going on. I (looked in) the wardrobe department and all around the building. I did a drawing (for the set).  Prince approved it and then he went away for three days. In that three days, I said "What third of the stage can I get done?" I had two people from Minneapolis Children's Theater help me out. I stayed up three days straight. I'm not joking. These guys helped me out (and) they thought I was crazy. It was insane. I was 25, so, I was okay with doing that.
   I wanted to make sure I had the job when he came back. And I did. He came back and I don't think I heard anything. I said "I didn't hear anything." Somebody told me, I don't know if it was Levi, "Oh, you didn't hear anything? It's good. If it wasn't good, you would hear something." I said "Ah, it works like that, does it?"
   I was on the set if something needed to be fixed, painted or repaired. I did that over the first three days and then I just painted over the course of the rehearsals. What we would do is paint all night and then seal it with a finish. It was a heavy-duty urethane like they use on bowling lanes. I'd have to seal that by four or five in the morning and let it dry in time for Prince to come rehearse. Prince rehearsed everyday at 1 p.m. and they rehearsed for eight hours, pretty much every day for that Lovesexy Tour.
   I would finish up (painting the set) in the morning, go back to my hotel (to sleep), then get up and go back for rehearsal. Every single day. I was crazy. 
  Watching the process during the rehearsal was amazing. He was doing it on this giant circular stage, which was basically the template for the final Lovesexy stage. They had a big scaffold built on the side, so, you could see it from above. He was able to see that set like somebody in an arena. 
  He would choreograph it all and they would rehearse with all the dance moves. I remember when the was car (which was a prop in the show)  was finally delivered and built. He would try different things, like surfing on top of it. It was on a track that wasn't the smoothest thing in the world and it would catch. He would hit the top of the car really fast. He'd like get down, like "Uh, oh, I don't want to fall off."
   I remember once when they were working with the heart in the middle and the riser would come up during "Anna Stesia." It kept going higher and higher. Prince was ducking down, even though it never would've hit the ceiling there-- it was huge-- but, it was really funny. He was kind of shrinking himself further and further down to the ground. It finally stopped.
Final Stage for Glam Slam Music Video Set. Courtesy of Steve Parke
 I stayed all the way through to the video shoot and then I came back to do the final Lovesexy stage. I just did the eye next to the little basketball court thing. When they (toured) Europe, they had a very different stage, because, it wasn't in the round. I got flown out to England to paint Prince's "eyes" on some clouds (on the stage). How cool is that? My friend said "You're actually the guys who paints Prince's eyes. They fly you around the world to paint Prince's eyes. I had not thought about it that way. 
  (Later), I met J.D. Considine, a reviewer for Rolling Stone, (who) also wrote for the Baltimore Sun at one point in time. I told him that I worked for Prince and about the work I did for Lovesexy Tour. He said "Yeah, I Iiked that show. But, I really didn't like how many samples they used. I said "What are you talking about?" 
 He said "Well, obviously, they were just samples running in the background." I said "No, man, they triggered all those samples....They were samples, but, they were triggered by the drummer or the keyboard player in appropriate places. It wasn't just a track running behind the whole song." He said "Are you sure?" I said "Yeah, man, I was there." He said "There's no way they could do that." I said "You want to know how they did that? They rehearsed it. Eight hours a day."

 The original painting that was later used for the Graffiti Bridge Soundtrack. Courtesy of Steve Parke

  The Graffiti Bridge album cover actually arose out of my figuring, "I've got to get a job." I'd connected with Prince on the Lovesexy Tour and I was getting bit and pieces of work here and there. But, I hadn't solidified anything. I said well, that was cool, that was a nice ride, time to move on to the next thing. 
  One of the things I was trying to do with that painting-- before it got associated with Graffiti Bridge-- (was that) I had a connection with Prince, so, I might as well put Prince in it. I thought if Prince is going to see this, I thought what hasn't he done? What hasn't been a theme in what he's done?
 I just thought of a lot of cool elements that I thought would go well into it. The weird part was (later) seeing all these elements in the movie. I had no idea. Nobody gave me a script. I was kind of on the same page with him at that time. It was weird.
  I sent it off to my friend Levi, who had been showing Prince my work for a while. I sent a transparency, I didn't send the actual painting. The actual painting is double the size, like an big-fold album cover. I just randomly chose that size.
   Levi said "You know, Prince has got that transparency sitting at his desk... He kind of looks at it every day." I said "Huh? Okay, well that's good." He said "I think he might want to use it or something." That's what ended up happening. 
  Prince called me up at one point and told me how much he liked it, which was really cool. The biggest thing was I had to add some things in (the painting): I had to add Morris Day and I had to add Ingrid Chavez. It was just at the edge of digital, so, I literally had to take sandpaper to the painting surface and sandpaper out some of the stuff I had already put in. It wasn't a big deal, it was just background.
 I had to get Day and Chavez back into it. I had to make the black and white girl look a little bit more like Jill Jones, but, it wasn't originally set up to be Jill Jones. It was interesting. Prince changed his jacket from red to black on the cover. 
  The process for that was as weird as it could be. It was not somebody calling me up and saying "Hey, I want you to do this." I did it and it ended up being used.  I was beside myself, to say the least. What a strange way for that to work out, but, I'm certainly not ungrateful.
  I always think you can work real hard towards a goal and there are certain of things going on to make it work for you.  I feel like all the stars aligned properly for that to happen. Whatever stars those were, I'm happy they aligned. I know I heard back from Levi pretty quickly that Prince kept looking at it (the painting). Maybe I was not aware, but, (the film "Graffiti Bridge") may have been in production at that time. Eventually, I did become aware of it, because, obviously (they said) we'd like this for the movie soundtrack. I don't know where it quite fell into line, but, it must have been in pre-production, because, they knew who was in the cast.
 It (the album cover) wasn't real until I saw it. It seemed sort of surreal. Growing up, I was the kid who looked at all the liner notes (on albums). (I) looked who played on everything and I could name session percussionists, producers and who did the artwork.  
  The exciting part was that (the album was released) right at the end of vinyl. It actually came out on vinyl, which was even cooler. Ironically now, I'm working on vinyl again. I worked a long time on that piece, even though it wasn't specifically for anything. It was for me, I wanted it to be right, so, I spent a lot of hours on it. 
  I look back at it now and the cover has a 1970s vibe to me. That's the kind of album art I grew up with. I wasn't thinking that at the time. When I was done people said "Wow, how did you collage all those photos?" To me, it's photo realistic, but, it doesn't look like photos. 
  I absolutely went to the record store. That was the coolest thing."Look, it's my record. Yay!" It wasn't my record, of course, but, the cover was mine. (When) you're proud of your work, you want to see it. It's natural.  I understand actors not wanting to see themselves in a movie, that's a little weird. But, I think something you worked on is different type of thing.
  I honestly had no thoughts of that becoming anything other than a good portfolio piece (that) showed I could handle a lot of different material.


  I painted instruments for (Prince). I painted that one-eyed bass for him. That's a funny story, because, he wouldn't stop playing it. I painted it and he'd play it without getting it clear coated. He would rehearse and wreck the paint job. Then I'd have to paint it again. His guitar tech finally just took it to get lacquered. 

don't know if that made Prince happy, but, in the long run, that painting stood up for a while. His technique on the bass would definitely wear the paint job off. Slapping your bass will wear off paint.
  I just tried to see how well I could fit in to what (Prince's) needs were. I eventually got a computer and learned to use it. I sent some of the things I'd done and they said "Oh, this is really cool."
 He presumed that I totally knew how to use a computer, which wasn't true. The truth is I sort of knew how to use the computer and then I winged it as I went.  I think that was the turning point. I felt like, in my mind, I could meet whatever challenges he needed in art.  
  When Prince's in-house art director quit (working at Paisley Park), they said "Do you want to do this?" I said "I'll give it a shot." It kind of went from there. It was a lot of flying by the seat of my pants.
 I was lucky enough to get a partner out there, Michael Van HuffelHe's one of those guys who could sit down,read a manual to a program and get it. My eyeballs would falling out of my head. He was great. He worked with Prince for many years. I think that's the only reason I survived.

On Working at Paisley Park...

   When I was the art director at Paisley Park, I worked a lot. I handled a lot of things, learned a lot and wore a lot of hats. Being (the) art director, I made sure things got out on time, I hired the talent, I kind of managed things. But, I hired myself most of the time to do things. (Laughs). 
  I thought of myself more as a one-man art department, because, I was my only resource a lot of time. I didn't necessarily want to be that. I would loved to have brought people in to do projects, but, (I) never had time. Nothing was planned.
   I think (Prince) just does music. I don't think he plans it. I think he just comes in like "I'm going to make some music" and he makes it. Then, he decides if it's something he wants to make a record project with. We all know that stuff doesn't all come out. He's constantly making music. Somewhere along the line it must click, for him, "This would be good on a record." Which then meant "Hey Steve, we need a cover for this." I would say "Okay. I also have five things due out to magazines."  He would say "Well, I need to get this, too."
  It was as much like fine art as opposed to commercial art that you can be in a business. It was all so "take it as it comes." There was planning sometimes; on some releases, we definitely had plans. The record labels needed certain things by certain dates. But, a lot of the time, it was "What's going to happen this week? I have no idea."
  There were a few different Prince groups or forums back when I worked there that friends of mine turned me on to. (They) would tell me "I read this or that." I would say "How do you know that?" They would say, "I read it in this Prince forum." I started going to them (and), I swear to God, I don't know how people knew these things, but, I would then have a better idea of what I was doing that week. 
 (The forums would say) "Oh, this is happening at Paisley Park this week." Sure enough, what they were talking about impacted what I was going to do (that) week: "Prince is going to be having a party on Friday. I'll probably help him do something for that." It was really kind of bizarre that I could do that.

Courtesy of Steve Parke

  Working with Prince was always interesting. (Laughs). He was trying to something different, outside the mainstream and always having you think on your feet. 
  There were no simple solutions to anything, because, he wanted to push the boundaries all the time. You had to learn how to not say no. You had to learn how to say "Yes, we can do that and here's what it takes." Once you told him what it will take, he would make the decision whether you went forward or not. There was never a time I said "Well, this is boring." No. (Laughs). Frustrating, yes. It was frustrating sometimes.
  But, quite frankly he gave me opportunities. Prince would see that you could do something and he would give you opportunities. He asked me at one point "Do you do photography?" I said "Yeah, I used to shoot back in college." He said "Let's try and do something." 
  Now, all of a sudden I was shooting under very different conditions, because, I had to learn studio lighting. I'd never used it. I didn't know how to use that stuff at all. So, my first shoot with him was not great: it was in focus and it had a light on it. (Laughs).  It had those two things going for it. But, he gave me that opportunity and I learned as I went.
  The technology changed and let me tell you, early digital cameras sucked so bad. They were good for like table food photography, (but), they really were not great for what I was using them for. I had to fix stuff a lot back then (during the photo editing process). It was just an unfortunate reality of the time. 
  Prince liked (that) digital photography meant you could look, see you had and shoot some more if you wanted. None of that getting negatives developed and all that. The digital camera was its own Polaroid camera in a way, because, you could look at it right away, as opposed to having to check your light and then go shoot. 
  He gave me pretty much every opportunity. I went into the studio a couple times to record some things-- in the background, just some talking stuff on some of the songs-- which was fun.

Courtesy of Steve Parke

  What was interesting with Prince is that we would sometimes shoot these photos and he was all into them. Then, all of a sudden, he would decide that wasn't the image he wanted and we went and shot something else. I didn't think the (newer) photos were as good, from my perspective, but, it was up to him. It was his product. But, you would think "Oh man, those other shots were so cool." 
  I liked the packaging that we did for The Truth as a full CD. Unfortunately, it never came out, so, that's too bad. There's a cassette floating around that kind of has the cover on it. It's kind of smashed up with Prince sitting on a stool playing guitar. But, in the interior, I took a cue from Purple Rain and actually did typography that was all different for the different songs. We had all these random black and white (images). I liked it because it didn't show Prince's face. I like the interior little poster thing. I thought that was a lot of fun.     
  New Power Soul was going to be printed on black flocked paper material to make it look like a black light poster. If you think of that cover as a black light poster, it's kind of cool. But, when you take it away from black light poster, it's not quite the same. I was kind of disappointed, because, that was a cool plan, then it didn't happen. 
   Ultimately, I was in a job where I was there to make my client happy. You push for your professional opinion or your professional best, but, if they disagree with you, ultimately they're the boss. What are you going to do? That's the way it goes.

  We did a party-- I think it was The Gold Experience party-- and I pretty much art directed how the whole studio was transformed. That was great fun. I was able to bring people in and work with them. I loved doing that, because, I could say "Okay, here's what I need. This room's supposed to be like this," then, those people would give me input, "Well, how about we do this?" and I would say "Oh, that's really cool, but, how about we add this?"
  It was a sharing of ideas. I loved that process, instead of just sort of having to pull it all out of your own head and have no feedback. The time you get feedback is when the (project) comes out, then, you don't have a chance to change anything. 
  Somebody would later write "Oh, it would've been better if he had done this." Then you're like "Oh, he's right, it would have been better." I just didn't have any feedback. That's the other thing: I couldn't really show stuff I was doing for Prince to people. I couldn't show it around to my friends and say "Hey, what do you think? Give me your feedback." That was not the way that worked. I did it and Prince said yes or no. That's it. It was a very different process.

  I decided to leave Paisley Park when my son was born. I was out (at the complex) about two times after my son was born and I just couldn't imagine being away that much. I wanted to be there for him. 
  I will say that creatively I had done all I could do at Paisley Park. It's not that I wouldn't have stayed, but, I started to feel like it was the same routine over and over again. I think that my son's birth and wanting to be present for his life definitely gave me a kick in the pants.
  There were a couple of times where I had done some photos (for Prince). The problem was, I was right in the middle of another job and felt, if I left, I would hurt my opportunities outside of Prince.
 If you ever hear "He only wants you to come for a day" from that camp, it's almost never true. There's almost never a point where you go for a day. A day means a week. (Laughs). I knew that. Anybody else, I would have said "A day? Okay, fine."
 I knew it wasn't going to be a day and I couldn't afford it. If it was a day, I would've gone and done it. The first big opportunity I had (after leaving Paisley Park) was working with DC Comics and I did not want to lose my forward motion and have them say  "Oh, you're behind." 
  I was trying to reestablish myself. I was already rebuilding my career, (so) people knew who I was and I was available to work. 

To be continued...

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