“How do these people with the red hair do it?” He didn’t seem to be a big fan of this style at first. “That’s why you get these short short people,” he said before going to work.
At 15, he attended the American Art Institute in New York, a little more than 100 miles from where he’d grown up. He majored in painting but also studied sculpture. In 1968, he moved back to Harlem. The color of the city was very different then; today, it is vibrant and he loves to stay out in the streets. “The colors here are so vibrant, they’re almost glowing, like light bulbs, so that’s what I love about it,” he said. He has been photographing Harlem natives since he worked on the book with artist Eric Heisserer in 2005.
He was the only artist on his first album cover for Puff Daddy Records in 1969. “We were just so young,” he said. “I got a couple of shots in the magazine and it made me even more determined to learn about things that went on. Growing up, that was just the way of the world.”
The album cover was an instant success, selling 500,000 copies. Three years later, the album took home five Grammys, including the best R&B/Hip-Hop Album of the Year (for the single “The Beat”). By 1971, Puff Daddy and Darryl Dawkins were recording for Columbia Records.
“We did a lot with that record and they just did a lot with that record,” Puff Daddy says today.
Puff Daddy was born Thomas R. Puff (as his parents thought the name was spelled before they married), but he had an African-American father and Swedish mother, who spoke English with a slightly more European accent than the rest of the family.
They had a “hippie house” where they could study and record music. “We lived like royalty,” he says. “We had a lot of cool friends. My dad bought this beautiful white farmhouse on the outskirts of Harlem — it still stands in the neighborhood.”
He was born Dec. 6, 1939, in Manhattan while his father was stationed in the Navy. His mother died of syphilis at 23. His father raised his three brothers and sister after dropping out of school at the early age of 16, working in factories.
“In the late ’40s, we were living in Brooklyn, then