Jim Britt had just signed as Motown's art director and photographer in 1972 when started shooting photos of Michael Jackson and his brothers. "I had a real nice rapport with Michael from the beginning," he says. "He was a good kid. So many people have tried to glean from me that maybe he was having an unhappy childhood, and there's no way in the world I ever saw that." Britt took tons of photos of Jackson throughout the 1970s. As we approach the five-year anniverary of the King of Pop's death, we asked him to reflect on some of his most memorable images.
"This is Michael in his family's music room," says Britt. "It was in one of the sheds around their estate in Los Angeles. There were drums, guitar and keyboards. He wasn't playing any specific song, but he was actually playing the keyboard when I took that. The clothes he's wearing are what he put on. We didn't put him in anything."
"This was at the Jackson's house in Encino, California. They had a gazebo there. I shot a series of photos with the guys behind this screen window. The photos were used on the cover of the 1972 Jackson 5 album Lookin' Through the Windows. Michael picked up the flower on his own. Again, he just seemed like a normal kid. I remember him shooting a lot of basketball with his brothers."
"I occasionally used a lens back then that gave photos a real glow-y look. This is just Michael and his dog. It's pretty simply stuff. We didn't have much of a concept. People used to say to me, 'Well, what's your concept behind this?' I'd just crack up. I was just photographing someone to get their glint. Each person has their own glint and that's what I was looking for in Michael."
"This was taken at a park in Beverly Hills around 1973. Michael was doing a karate move. I was way down the lane with a tripod and a 180mm lens so I could blow the background out. It's all open shading and pretty light. This photograph didn't wind up getting used for anything."
"This was taken on the roof of my studio. We had to climb a little ladder to get up there. It was adventurous. I knew what the light was like up there and I wanted this open sky. You can see a tree back there, but it's way out of focus. This was in 1975. We were shooting for his album Forever, Michael."
"This is Pink's. It's a very famous hot dog stand in Los Angeles and it's just one block up from my studio on La Brea. I took him there after we were on the roof of my studio because I just wanted to shoot him doing ordinary kid stuff. I had him in a photo boot holding a Coke like he's talking to his girlfriend. We made a day of doing things an ordinary kid would do."
"We shot this in Beverly Hills Park. It was also for the Forever, Michael sessions in 1975. I picked the spot only because I thought there would be decent light and lots of open shade. I was using a star filter on the camera, so it softened it up and gave it a glow. I didn't have any assistant in those days. It was always just me, Michael and the family driver. It was just all very simple."
"This is just a candid shot at the family's house in Encino. It actually ended up being used on the back of the Ben album. Their house wasn't ostentatious at all. It was pretty much just a family home for people who were making quite a lot of money. It was nothing that would blow you away."
"This is his drawing room at the family's house. It was filled with his paintings and drawings. We had a nice conversation and he'd show me his stuff. The drawing there is of Charlie Chaplin. He was a big fan and he even dressed up like him at one time."
"I was putting a wide-angle lens on my camera right before I took this photo. It made the camera look huge and Michael came over and asked, 'What's that lens you've got on there?' I explained that it was a wide-angle lens. I was down on my knees to change the lens, so we were about the same height, and I nabbed this picture. You can see his brothers in the background."
"We're at a park in Beverly Hills here and this pond was cut into four sections. There was a little wall dividing two sections of the pond and Michael walked out on that. He started to dance and it was really one of the first precursors of the moonwalk."
"My photo sessions with Michael often began with all his brothers, and then I'd shoot with Michael and Jermaine separately because they made solo albums. I'd usually shoot the album covers in color and then the publicity shots in black and white. I don't know why they're all looking up in this photo. I probably just said to look up because the light was better that way."
"I was at the house and I saw Michael riding his bike. I said, 'Hey, let's do some pictures with that.' This was for the Ben sessions as well. I never saw Michael after 1975. I was really surprised by how his look changed over the years. When Off the Wall came out he looked like a grown-up Michael that I knew. But how he started to look after that was just astounding to me, quite a surprise."