New look at Whitney Houston’s life
By Karu F. Daniels
Special to CNN
(CNN) — It’s been nine months since pop music superstar Whitney Houston passed away, but her legacy continues to live on via television musical tributes, a recently released Greatest Hits compilation, the DVD release of her final film work, “Sparkle,” and a critically panned reality show starring her family members.
“These projects are just some of the things that are a continuation of her legacy,” said her sister-in-law/manager, Pat Houston. “They’re showing Whitney in a very beautiful light. For the past 10 years or more, it has been very turbulent with the media and her personal life.”
In the time leading up to her death, negative media attention plagued Houston, who was one of the best-selling artists of all time. A new book of photographs aims to shine a more positive light on her legacy. Released last week, it’s called, “Whitney: A Tribute to An Icon.”
Curated by acclaimed photographer Randee St. Nicolas, the oversized book features over 130 images of Houston captured by 22 world-class shutterbugs: Patrick Demarchelier, David LaChapelle, Sante D’Orazio, Bill Jones, Dana Lixenberg and Steven Meisel are just a few who shot her over the past 30 years.
With a 30-plus year career in the music business, the Los Angeles based photographer — who first met the pop superstar at the Bel Air Hotel while she was filming “The Bodyguard” — was entrusted by Houston’s estate to handle the daunting task.
“To know her is to love her through and through and when I was looking through the thousands of photographs that was sent for the book, they were all amazing,” St. Nicholas told CNN.com.
With just six weeks to complete “Tribute to An Icon” — the book publisher wanted to make sure it was in stores during the holiday season — St. Nicholas and her team combed through archives from various sources to obtain the perfect images for the project.
The book showcases the “Saving All My Love For You” chanteuse in work mode: at photo shoots, in concert, at video shoots, movie stills, etc. And according to St. Nicholas, that was the intention. “In this book, I did not think we should have any pictures of anyone but Whitney. It’s a tribute to her and it’s of her professional side, her career, her 30 years of being an iconic artist.”
But two of the pics do involve other people. One features an unseen Clive Davis, Houston’s longtime mentor and one features child Bobbi Kristina — the last page of the book.
“That day I remember really well,” Nicholas recalled. “It was shot at the Four Seasons Hotel and I was shooting all of them. I shot amazing pictures of Whitney and (Bobby Brown) too. It was a very good time in their relationship. And they were both in great spirits. But it was the way that Whitney looked at her in that picture and the way the way Bobbi Kristina was focused on her, I feel that it captured the connection, obviously some kind of karmic connection of not between just a mother and a child but between two souls. And I thought it was s such a poignant moment and it was so full of joy and they seem so content and so complete and I thought it was a nice way to end the book. That was her heart right there.”
According to Pat Houston, who also oversees Houston’s estate, Nicholas was one of Whitney Houston’s most beloved photographers, one she called on regularly. And after seeing her work on the Prince coffee-table book, “21 Nights,” she knew she was the right person for the job. “It was a no-brainer,” Houston said. “She did a phenomenal job.”
St. Nicholas, who has worked with countless music stars and directs music videos, was reluctant to do another musician book. “When you’ve done a book with Prince you’ve already done it,” she said.
“But because I love Whitney so much, I thought why don’t I do something with a broader scope. It shouldn’t just be about my 20-something year relationship with Whitney, it should be about Whitney over the last 30 years of her career and it’s much broader than me because she worked with many photographers. Even though she and I had a total love-fest, there are other opportunities for other people who’ve shot her.”
According to Pat Houston, all of the photographers — who contributed the work at no cost — graciously worked closely with St. Nicholas in the tight time frame.
Aside from writing the poignant Foreword to the book, Davis, who reigned supreme as the Chief Executive Hit-maker at Arista Records for 30 years, even had some input. Nicholas called on the legendary music executive for advice and to make sure “she got it right” once it was in the finishing stages.
“It was a really an emotional journey for him,” she said. “He said it was like looking at his life, ‘This is my whole life right here.’ He said to me, ‘I really want to make sure that we capture those really important, poignant moments in her life.’ The one thing he added was pictures from ‘The Bodyguard.’ Other than that, we’d gotten it all.”
Pat Houston couldn’t be more proud of “Tribute to An Icon.”
“We’ve been talking abut a book for quite some time and this is a continuation of one of the projects that we wanted to do and it’s for the fans, an enclosure,” she said.
“She was such a beautiful, beautiful person physically and had such a gift, a God given gift. We wanted the pages, the photography to remind them of who she really was.”
“I hope they can really enjoy it for years and pass it on for generation after generation.”