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My Best Shot

Bruce W. Talamon reveals the story behind his iconic photo of Maurice White at the pyramids

Bruce Talamon’s picture of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White walking towards the Egyptian pyramids is one of the most famous images from his decade photographing funk, soul, and R&B royalty. On the release of his TASCHEN monograph, he shares the story behind the defining shot.

As a photographer, you come to understand that you can’t always direct the shot; you have to just pay attention. If you’re too intent on capturing one thing, you can miss the thing that’s most important.

I love all my photographs but probably the one I love most is Maurice White walking towards the pyramids — and it was a total accident! It was 1979 and I was on tour with Earth, Wind & Fire, who were always very involved with Egyptology. Maurice had a real interest in it. I had this idea to get the group in front of the pyramids at sunrise. Maurice loved the idea until I said we had to be there at four thirty in the morning! He suggested we do it around noon instead. Of course that blew my idea of the sunrise, but we got there, did some nice shots, and then after we finished, Maurice was walking back to the van and grabbed my white strobe umbrella. He was walking along, carrying it like an umbrella — don’t forget it was hot as hell out there — and that’s when I saw it. And I did something you don’t do to Maurice White; I yelled at him! I said, “Maurice, don’t say anything, just turn around and walk back towards the pyramids.”

He walked back, and that was the shot. I lined it up, used a long lens to compact the scene so that the pyramids — which are, in reality, a mile or more from one another — look grouped together in the picture. Then I waited, waited, waited until Maurice filled the frame perfectly and clicked off a roll. It became Maurice’s favorite moment, as well as mine. And after his death, the shot went all over social media. In a sense, it kind of said he was going home.

When I look at that picture, I’m glad that I was a photographer — that I didn’t go to law school and that I became a steward of our history, of black folks’ culture and music.