By 1987 I had shifted my photographic interests from Rock & Roll to the Conjunto and Tejano bands of my own culture, and was working on photo assignments for several of the regional Tejano record labels.
Selena Quintanilla grew up in Corpus Christi. Her father, Abraham Quintanilla, played with, and managed Los Dinos, which included Selena’s brother and sister. Selena had been headlining the band since she was eight years old. Abraham’s life was all about music, and his children were learning the business as well as becoming accomplished performers. Selena recorded with the Freddie, Cara and GP record labels before signing with Capitol –they had signed her thinking she would be the next Gloria Estefan. She would prove to be so much more.
In 1988, as I was covering the Tejano Music Awards, I happened to catch Selena’s band as they performed outside the Awards hall. I had photographed some of the most dynamic acts in the world, but I had never seen anything like this young seventeen-year-old girl. She was an amazing performer and had a special bond with her audience.
I had already been working for Capitol EMI Latin and had been pushing to photograph Selena’s album covers, but the Quintanilla’s had chosen a different San Antonio photographer to work on her first two EMI albums. In 1992, the industry was excited about “Entre A Mi Mundo”, Selena’s third album, written and engineered to be her commercial breakthrough. The album was due to come out soon when I got a call from EMI. The album photography they had wasn’t acceptable to Abraham or the record company and they needed a quick reshoot. Accustomed to working with shoe-string budgets, I was really pleased that the label’s generous budget would cover studio rental, a professional makeup artist, and all the film I could shoot. I rented a friend’s studio, borrowed a parachute backdrop, set up my lights, and awaited Selena’s arrival.
The session was scheduled for early evening. The band was traveling from Corpus Christi, heading out on tour. When they arrived, Abraham was first off the bus. We made our introductions and I showed Mr. Quintanilla the studio. He was professional but carried himself with a dismissive attitude. “We won’t be using your make-up person,” he informed me. “Selena and Suzette will take care of it themselves.” With that, the girls came off the bus, carrying Selena’s wardrobe into the dressing room. Working professionally for more than a decade, Selena was designing and making her own costumes.
The girls were a bright contrast to their dad. Selena was quiet, but open and welcoming. When she came out of the dressing room, I was gobsmacked. This wasn’t the teen I first saw outside the Tejano Awards. She was now a fully developed woman, wearing a bustiere with a see-through midriff, bold striped top, black spandex pants and sizzling heels. Selena had crafted and constructed her unique artistic presence with her own hands and dreams.
Selena’s sexiness was a bit too much for Abraham. He went back to the bus, leaving Selena’s mother to supervise the photo shoot.
As the photo shoot went on, John McBurney, who is still my go-to makeup artist, hovered in the background. Occasionally, Selena would come out and choose a lipstick, borrow a brush, or ask for John’s opinion. Selena didn’t need a lot of direction, but it seemed that she took my suggestions as inspiration. Everything she did for the camera was the expression of a star in bloom. This cover shot is known to fans around the world.