Searching for images that “showed who Whitney really was,” St. Nicholas explained to theGrio that she spent six weeks pouring over thousands of photographs of the late star to give birth to her vision.
“I wanted to not only capture the essence of Whitney, but to take the viewer back in time, to the hair and make up and styling that defined these moments that we all lived through,” the photographer elaborated, stressing that she “wanted people to walk away remembering Whitney at her very best.”
Whitney: Tribute to an Icon underscores the fact that photography as an art form is a key cog in the multifaceted star-making machine. “In many instances, it’s the photographic image of a rising star that you see first, even sometimes before you hear their music,” St. Nicholas explained about the potency of the image in a pop star’s career. Houston’s power before the lens is memorialized in the book.
Further proof of the singer’s long-established love affair with the camera is that fact that Whitney was an in-demand teen fashion model before she was ever a star. She was the first black model to grace the cover of Seventeen magazine before becoming known for her astounding vocals. It is also revealing that this tribute, the only one authorized by the Houston estate, takes the shape of a photo essay alone, speaking to the significance of visual content and image to Houston’s career — making this forms the perfect way to remember her.
St. Nicholas went on to recount how the early 20th century photographer Edwards S. Curtis faced difficulties in persuading many of his Native American subjects to sit for photos. Many were afraid that photographs literally captured the soul. St. Nicholas agreed that photographs, when done right, do just that: offer a glimpse into the subject’s essence.
It was her goal as curator to capture and reveal through the storytelling power of photography Whitney’s true essence. Houston was “completely effervescent and alive,” St. Nicholas mused about the legend. “There was no way of being in her presence without being completely intoxicated by her. She had a lightness about her, an ethereal quality, yet she was absolutely grounded.”
It was Whitney’s effervescent aspect that inspired St. Nicholas to refer to the singer as a “woman-child” in her text that leads Whitney: Tribute to an Icon. Whitney never lost her wide-eyed wonder and awe for the world around her.
Beautiful and well-crafted, Whitney feels as precious and personal as a family photo album. Fit for a place on the coffee table of any household, this homage to a complex woman and remarkable artist reminds us how Whitney Houston and artists like her forever remain in our memories and lives through their powerful images in addition to their music.
St. Nicholas hopes to empower readers seeking to remember Houston fondly with these photos. “I loved the experience of curating the book. It was really cathartic,” she said. “It’s been sad thinking of her not being here. I wanted people to feel like the book was from Whitney to them. I felt like I was collaborating with Whitney, delving into all of these moments in her life.”
Chase Quinn is a freelance writer, art critic, and budding novelist, who has worked with several leading human rights organizations in the U.S. and the U.K., promoting social and economic justice. Follow Chase on Twitter at @chasebquinn.