Photographer Allen Beaulieu reveals the real story behind Prince’s Graffiti Bridge
Prince, Ronnie Wood, Gazelle Twin, The Attack, Hen Ogledd
On a bright afternoon in autumn 1981, drivers passing through a one-lane railway bridge on the outskirts of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, were surprised to see a familiar figure adding his name to the graffiti. The release of Dirty Mind the previous year had made Prince a local celebrity, and he was conspicuously clad in the same trenchcoat he was wearing on that album’s eye-catching sleeve – albeit with a little more on underneath.
“I kept telling Prince we had to shoot at ‘Graffiti Bridge’,” says photographer Allen Beaulieu, who also shot the Dirty Mind cover after hooking up with Prince in late 1979. “One day he finally caved in, so we drove there in my van and he quickly got up on a couple of my camera cases to write his name. People driving by kept recognising him, so I only shot a roll and a half before he hopped back in the van and said, ‘Take me outta here!’ The photos have never been seen before now.”
Prince Before The Rain is a new photobook compiling the many pictures Beaulieu took of Prince from 1979 to ’84, during which time he was the budding superstar’s near-constant companion. As well as the striking cover images for Dirty Mind, Controversy and (some editions of) 1999, they include promo campaigns, magazine features, live shots and revealing backstage photos, one of which was used as the cover for this year’s archival release, Piano & A Microphone 1983.
“We became very good friends,” says Beaulieu. “On tour one time in Cleveland, he called me up and said, ‘Hey Al, do you wanna go and play videogames?’ So we went out to the arcade and played Centipede until four in the morning. He put on a hoodie and nobody recognised him. We were like kindred spirits.” Beaulieu was eased out of the picture just before Purple Rain – hence the book’s title – but was touched several years later when Prince named his 1990 film Graffiti Bridge. “Something must have stuck with him, although I think he liked the name more than he liked the actual location!”
A sign of the times: Prince, inDirty Mind mac, at ‘graffiti Bridge’, minnesota, 1981