Local Current Blog

Prince in fall leaves: The story behind the iconic Herb Ritts and Steve Parke photos

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, where Prince had two photo shoots. (Priya Saihgal/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The air is crisp, the weather calls for sweaters, and pumpkin spice abounds. It is undeniably fall in Minnesota. As the leaves turn and warm hues are everywhere, you may stumble upon two very particular photoshoots of Prince, ranging from regal to cozy.

Both of the shoots are from the 1990s, and were conducted in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, sometimes credited as the Chanhassen Arboretum. Prince wrote a soothing piano piece called “Arboretum” (featuring the cooing of his doves) for his 2002 album One Nite Alone… and though he didn’t make an explicit connection between the song and the place, it feels appropriate. The fall colors in the Arboretum are a sight to behold, and Prince and the photographers he worked with new how to take full advantage of them. In 2017, in honor of what would have been Prince’s 59th birthday, a Purple Prince crabapple tree was planted at the corner of the Arboretum’s Sensory Garden lot, not far from the sight of these photos.

The first of these photoshoots was taken by fashion photographer and director Herb Ritts in 1991. Ritts shot iconic images of many stars, from Madonna to Denzel Washington. In this shoot, Prince is decked out in a black jumpsuit with a deep neck curlicue designs along the arms, a necklace carrying his symbol, and a black cane he used to full effect throughout the shoot. He gazes fiercely down the lens, and uses the foliage around him as set dressing. Ritts passed away in 2002 at the age of 50. He was committed to HIV/AIDS related causes and was a charter member of the Board of Directors for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The second photoshoot shows a side of Prince that may be more unfamiliar to the general public, and that is scruffier Prince Steve Parke caught in this photoshoot from 1999.  Steve Parke worked as Prince’s art director for 13 years, from the mid-90s to 2009. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Parke said, “I’ll remember him as someone who have me a chance. …Anything I wanted to do that felt I could do, he would give me that opportunity and that trust.” Parke published more shots of a both spontaneous and casual Prince in his 2017 book Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait.

This particular shoot features Prince in an incredible comfy chic ensemble comprised of black heeled boots, black velour pants, the coziest black turtleneck sweater in existence, wirerimmed glasses, voluminous, disheveled hair, and once again his signature necklace. The shots cover a wider range of locations, some in front of a burgundy car, some seated on brick steps, some in front of a green house and some on a playground rope swing. He serves the camera sultry looks the whole time. If you get a chance to take your own fall photos this season, consider channeling Prince.

If you’re interested in visiting the sites of any of these photos, check out the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s website for more information.