King of Pop shows new face in unseen photos

Four photo portraits of Michael Jackson, taken in Paris in 1999 as part of a planned image makeover for the legend, went on show for the first time Friday ahead of their sale at auction later this year.

Each photo built around a theme - the blue eye, the silver hand, the red curtain and the golden cape - was taken by a French photographer, Arno Bani, on a request from Jackson who had seen his work in a British newspaper.

Jackson intended one shot - showing him wrapped only in a metallic gold cape - to illustrate his 2001 album "Invincible" and planned to use the others as part of an image makeover.

But the record was finally released with a simple black and white picture of Jackson's face, and Bani's pictures were shelved for a decade.

Now the four portraits are to go under the hammer in Paris on December 13 along with 55 selected pictures from the photo shoot, and 31 contact sheets - none of which has been seen in public before.

They were unveiled to the press ahead of their worldwide publication next Friday, in plain catalogue format and as part of a luxury box set.

Bani took the shots in a giant studio set up for the occasion in a warehouse near Paris, complete with helipad and access for Jackson's bullet-proof car.

"He gave me complete carte blanche," Bani recalled of the marathon two-day shoot. "I even asked him to cut his hair, and he agreed."

"Unlike other stars, Michael Jackson always created his own look."

One of the pictures shows Jackson with a glittering blue make-up circle around one eye, wearing a shiny Yves Saint-Laurent dinner suit covered in disc-shaped silver studs.

A second shows him in a speckled black polo neck, pulled up to below dark shaded eyes, against a backdrop of multicoloured dots.

Portrait number three has Jackson standing in front of a red opera curtain, and the fourth features the gold cape.

From the two days the photographer spent with Jackson, he says he recalls a figure both sad and playful.

"During the make-up sessions he would spend long minutes staring at his reflection in the mirror," he recalled. "Then someone would come and fetch him and, suddenly, in the light he would become Michael Jackson again."

But at other times, he remembers having "fun playing around with glitter make-up. I showed him embroidery by the French master Francois Lesage - he was fascinated by the technique, by the whole world of haute couture."

After the shoot, Bani says he received a message from Jackson saying he "loved" the result - and admits he was deeply disappointed when the album came out without his pictures.

Following Jackson's death of cardiac arrest on July 25, 2009, he was approached about the photos, to which he had recently recovered the rights after a 10-year lapse.

"We took these photos for them to be seen. They weren't stolen images. Each one was approved by Jackson. But I didn't want to just give them away to anyone, as a one-shot in the press."

So came the idea of the auction coupled with a print release of the pictures to ensure, he says, that Jackson's fans could have access to the images too.

Auction bids are to start at 1,000 euros (1,400 dollars) for the four portraits, and 500 euros for the other items - asking prices set deliberately low, Bani says, to avoid charges of "elitism".

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