Nancy Bundt on photographing Prince on tour: 'His energy would be going out to 10,000 people'

Nancy Bundt

Nancy Bundt

Photographer Nancy Bundt was 36 years old and living in Minneapolis when she got a call out of the blue. “It was from this person in New York,” she recalls. “They said, ‘We’ll get you into this party at First Avenue.'” She was to send them the photos in black and white and color.

Prince From Minneapolis

Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum

The event was Prince’s 25th birthday party. Bundt knew who Prince was, but hadn’t listened to much of his music. She said yes.

“It was fantastic,” she recalls. “It was incredible music, of course.” She sent her footage to the contact in New York and forgot all about it.

Then, less than a year later, she got another call. Music promoter Howard Bloom wanted to know if Bundt could do a gig. “We are looking for a photographer for a Prince tour,” says Bundt.

As a kind of try-out, Bundt was asked to show up to Prince’s house for a shoot. There, she met members of the Revolution and took photographs of Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, and Prince while they rehearsed. “I shot Polaroids so he could see what I was doing,” Bundt remembers.

As the rehearsal progressed, Prince would give her notes about stuff he liked, and how he wanted it different. “Those pictures ended up being the video cover for Purple Rain,” Bundt says. It also led to Bundt’s next assignment: photographer for Prince’s Purple Rain tour.

Nancy Bundt

Nancy Bundt

At first she hesitated. Her career was going great at that point. She told Prince’s people “no.”

But they called her back the next day, asking her again. “Prince wants you,” she remembers them saying. She decided to go. “I knew it was an honor,” she says.

While on tour, rather than being with the group with the crew members, Bundt got to travel with the musicians and the art director, flying from city to city and staying in really nice hotels. After the concerts, everybody would hang out together.

“It was an extremely professional group,” Bundt says. “Everyone worked really hard. It was a smooth-running operation.” As for Prince, “He knew what he wanted and told everyone what he wanted and that’s what we did.”

Bundt got to know the way Prince performed, and while he’d change some things, she’d often know where he was going to be on stage at certain parts of the concert. “I knew what the lighting was going to be,” she says. “Every time I shot it, I got a better idea.” She was also the only one allowed to take photographs. On some nights, Prince would look right into her lens. “But his energy would be going out to 10,000 people. I would almost get blown over by that,” she recalls.

Bundt never got personally close to Prince during her time working for him. “He didn’t open up to me,” she says. “Except in the creative process.” Bundt saw that Prince used his energy to do what was important to him, which was his art. “Prince was very shy actually,” she says.

After shooting the Purple Rain tour, Bundt did the cover for another Prince album, and over the years worked with Prince here and there. Looking back, Bundt feels he asked her to be part of what he was doing for a reason. “He wanted to give the opportunity to work with him to lots of people, to help us,” she says. “He did us a favor, and he spread it around.”

Today, Bundt says she still has a relationship with the Purple Rain music. “If you photograph for all those months and hear the same music, you get to love it,” she says. “It stays in my head still.”

Bundt still does music photography occasionally. Last year she photographed D’Angelo. She mostly does destination photography, shooting food production and chefs in countries all around the world. She’s based in Norway.

On the day Prince died, Bundt was on an island 400 kilometers east of Bali. She was staying at a fancy resort with an infinity pool. It was raining. She snapped some shots of the pool with her phone, and when she looked at one of them, she realized that the image was purple. “I didn’t even change the colors,” she says. “It was a picture of Purple Rain,” she says. “I don’t believe in that stuff, but it happened.”

This week, Bundt’s photographs will be shown along with photographers Allen Beaulieu, Terry Gydesen, and Robert Whitman, who all photographed Prince during his early years in Minneapolis.

The show, which also includes artistic works inspired by Prince, will be on view for six months, and will be part of a University of Minnesota symposium in the spring also called “Prince from Minneapolis.”


"Prince from Minneapolis"
Dec. 9-June 17
There’s a ticketed exhibition preview party on Friday, Dec. 8, from 7-10 p.m.
$25; $10 UMN students
Weisman Art Museum