published Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Jackson photographer grew up here

by Adam Crisp
Audio clip

Bill Nation

A man who documented two years of Michael Jackson’s professional life in photos has Hamilton County roots.

Bill Nation says the time he spent with the singer ranks among the most thrilling experiences of his life. Mr. Nation, who grew up on Signal Mountain and has relatives in the area, said he photographed Mr. Jackson from the end of 1995 until the spring of 1997 as the pop icon recorded videos and prepared for the “HIStory” world tour.

“It was one of the highlights of my life to be there with the King of Pop,” said Mr. Nation, who now lives in California. “It was a fantastic vision of the world. He wanted me right there next to him, documenting everything.”

News of Mr. Jackson’s death June 25 came as a blow to Mr. Nation, but it was not surprising.

“He had a pretty stressful life. There were so many people tearing at him,” Mr. Nation said. “The good die young, I suppose.”


As far as photo subjects go, Mr. Jackson was a photographer’s dream, Mr. Nation said.

“The Beatles told Michael that they regretted not having more of their performances and rehearsals documented, so Michael was very interested in having everything recorded,” Mr. Nation said. “Because of that, I had incredible access.”

That included a round-the-world, 10-day humanitarian trip with performances for the Sultan of Brunei and a drop-in visit to Nelson Mandela’s home in South Africa.

“I knocked on the door at Mr. Mandela’s house and said ‘Mr. Mandela, this is Mr. Jackson,’” Mr. Nation said.

Mr. Nation still has plenty of Chattanooga ties. His brothers Jeff and Mike live here. So does his 86-year-old mother, Mary Louise Nation.

He graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1973 and was a photographer for the University of Tennessee student newspaper before working for the Knoxville Journal.

In 1980, he moved to California to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, which led to a career in show business photography. In addition to shooting Mr. Jackson, Mr. Nation’s portfolio includes images of Michelle Pfeiffer, Arnold Schwarzenegger and shots from the O.J. Simpson trial.

  • photo
    Michael Jackson performs during his "30th Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years" concert at New York's Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 7, 2001. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, Pool)

But after photographing Mr. Jackson, Mr. Nation left professional photography to manage a growing Ducati motorcycle dealership.


Michael Jackson’s body was expected to arrive Thursday at his Neverland Ranch, located about 125 up the California coast from Los Angeles, for a public viewing on Friday, according to various national news sources.

A private funeral was planned for Sunday. It wasn’t clear where he was going to be buried, but officials in his hometown of Gary, Ind., are lobbying for the pop legend to be buried there. Gary will hold a public memorial service on July 10, according to city officials.

Here in Chattanooga, fans still mourn the singer’s death, but there was some hope that his name wouldn’t be sullied by a host of negative news stories.

“It’s all over the news, so you really can’t escape all the details,” said Chris Penn, 21, of Soddy-Daisy. “I really enjoyed his music, and you can’t deny his talent. It’s a loss, but hopefully after all the details come out, everyone can just remember him for his great talent.”

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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Abe said...

Nice story, though it's odd to think of the possibility that we don't have enough photos of the Beatles.

By the way, Mike didn't "graduate Chattanooga High School." Chattanooga High School graduated him. He was graduated from Chattanooga High School.

July 1, 2009 at 1:10 a.m.
harrystatel said...

News of Mr. Jackson’s death June 25 came as a blow to Mr. Nation, but it was not surprising.

“He had a pretty stressful life. There were so many people tearing at him,” Mr. Nation said. “The good die young, I suppose.”

Not young enough for MJ. A pedophile, if he had been anyone else, would have served prison time. But Michael Jackson was a pedophile, sorry "a celebrity pedophile" which certainly makes it OK. At least I glad he died before molesting "his own kids" and no telling how many others.

July 1, 2009 at 1:36 a.m.
cyp08 said...

Everyone is entitled to have opinions, but it seems to me that if Michael Jackson had molested a child the parents would have and should have pushed it to the fullest extent of the law. Questionable parents, huh. Did they accept money? I think they did. At least that is what the media says. So who is the worse of the two? If in fact the bad deed happened. Rest in Peace Michael.

July 1, 2009 at 5:03 a.m.
alprova said...

Really Abe..."He WAS graduated from Chattanooga High School?" Thanks for the laugh.

I am angered that so many people have decided to condemn the man before he has even been buried. Anyone who opines the belief that Michael Jackson was guilty of child molestation, does so in ignorance of facts and evidence that effectively refute the allegations.

Most all of the people who have made up their mind that the man was guilty are never interested in performing research to discover that every one of the accusations were made by parents of children with the ultimate goal of being paid lots of money.

Jackson was ill advised in my opinion, to settle the 1993 case. Do a little research into that case and the motivations behind the claim are crystal clear.

Court documents outline the undisputed fact that the father was behind the charge from day one, that the child's accusation was clearly coerced, and that no criminal charge of molestation was ever filed with authorities until AFTER Mr. Jackson and his attorney spurned a demand to fork over $20 million. The father, in a recorded telephone conversation, outlined his entire strategy to bring Michael Jackson down if he was not paid off.

When it was seen that the most dubious of all claims was settled, people came out from under their rocks. Is it that hard for some to believe that there are people who would do anything it takes to extort small fortunes from a celebrity?

All it takes to destroy someone these days is to accuse someone of the act. It is a charge that is all but impossible to disprove, yet so easy to believe in the court of unreasonable opinion.

Does anyone remember the McMartin trial from the 80's? $15 million was spent to attempt to bring an entire family down, and not one claim was proven in court. The spark that started the fire in that case began with a child, who as it turned out was being molested by his own father.

In the year 2009, men are afraid to be alone with a child under the age of 18 for more than a minute. Teachers are reluctant to fail students. Fathers are afraid to discipline their own kids. Vindictive spouses use the claim as a tool to obtain custody of children.

Michael Jackson was eccentric. But that does not make him evil. Before you condemn the man, try living in a glass house for 45 years and try enduring half of the crap that he did throughout his life.

Michael Jackson was deprived of his childhood. So the man attempted to reclaim it as an adult in a purely innocent manner. It's a shame that some people are narrow minded. Michael Jackson's only crime was to be too trusting of people he allowed within his inner circle, and he was burned many times in appreciation.

May he rest absolutely in peace now that he has passed. He had so little peace while alive.

July 1, 2009 at 9:54 a.m.
streetsmart said...

Well said alprova. For those who refuse to accept the findings of our judicial system fair. Should they ever be accused of such an act, maybe we could let them be the judge and jury for each other. Would that be fair to them?

July 1, 2009 at 10:40 a.m.
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