A curated, controlled Kanye West is a rare thing. The volatile hip-hop star is more likely to flip out at MTV’s Video Music Awards, or later cry on The Jay Leno Show in repentance, than he is to present a crafted vision to the public.
And his year of highs and lows has been carefully scrutinized: He has continued to mourn his mother, Donda, who died in 2007; he has launched a sold-out international tour; won four Grammys; and, of course, suffered that now-infamous lapse of reason on stage at the VMAs.
But whatever you might think of West, what is clear is that inside this human tinderbox is a vulnerable man, which is what comes across in his latest offering—the very restrained, very sleek coffee table book from Rizzoli called Glow in the Dark. The book, co-authored with photographer and director Nabil Elderkin, documents the visual journey of West’s 2008 tour of the same name. It follows West from the dark dressing rooms of the U.K. to playful moments backstage with Rihanna, to performing for a sold-out Madison Square Garden. It also features an interview between West and director Spike Jonze, the text of which is interspersed with the photography.
View Our Gallery of Images From Glow In The Dark
Elderkin met West in Chicago in 2002. And through years of photographing him on tour and directing his music videos, the two have developed a close friendship. “I feel we have a really good trust,” he said of West in an interview last week. “I have years of photos of him no one has seen.”
Elderkin keeps these images of West on neatly organized hard-drive files in the closet of his home in downtown Los Angeles. It is a formerly abandoned warehouse that doubles as his studio, with a floor-to-ceiling green-screen in front of which he has shot music videos for artists from P. Diddy to John Legend. On the walls are taxidermy and old Hollywood mirrors lined with bare bulbs.
But Elderkin isn’t always at home, as he has traveled with West to several tour venues, including to Australia, where he shadowed the artist just after his mother’s death. Elderkin skateboarded behind West as he ran through the streets of Sydney, and photographed him on the steps of the iconic Opera House. “This had to be a few days after the Grammys, being that I still had my head shaved.” West told Jonze in the book’s interview. “It says ‘MAMA’ in the back.”
And from the private moments to the ones that are deliberate and pure spectacle, Elderkin has shown the depth of his subject. In other frame, West is on stage, performing “Hey Mama,” a song dedicated to his mother. “Some nights, it would be very emotional and I would be crying while I performed it,” West told Jonze.
What has emerged from these diverse images is a portrait of an artist working, occasionally at play, and always in the company of his own mind.
“I really wanted to show Kanye as a human,” Elderkin said. “He eats, he sleeps, he plays basketball.”
Isabel Wilkinson is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast.