Tupac Shakur poses for a portrait at his home in Atlanta on May 5, 1993. (Photos by Chi Modu).
Chi Modu: ”I first photographed Tupac Shakur in Atlanta, back in 1994. He turned up half an hour early, but my equipment malfunctioned and I had to send him away. I was so embarrassed, I offered to fly to whatever city he was headed to, to do the shoot there. But he didn’t mind sticking around and turned up early the next day. He did 20 press-ups and said: “Let’s go, brother!”
There were no barriers between us. He was prepared to let his guard down, so I could show the human behind the headlines. This shot was actually an outtake. After taking some pictures of him raising his middle fingers, I just started snapping away as he played with his bandana. His gaze is sensitive: he looks a little like a deer caught up in the headlights. But then we all do at the age of 23, right?
After I’d finished, Pac invited me back to his house in Stone Mountain, Georgia. We had a drink, smoked some weed, and he showed me his entire gun collection. I ended up staying there for about six hours, taking some photographs in his backyard. Pac gave me complete creative control. I wouldn’t say he was planning for his death, but he was dealing with the reality that he might live a very short life. He was aware that so many young African-Americans die young.
Muhammad Ali and Pac both worked a lot with certain photographers. They didn’t restrict the copyright and gave them complete freedom. They understood the importance of flooding the universe with images of powerful young black men. It’s also the reason they both feel so alive today. I’m bored with modern hip-hop photography – it’s rappers just rocking the same Supreme or Nike shit. That gets corny. It’s pretty at the expense of substance, and pretty doesn’t last.