PHOTOGRAPHER NORMAN SEEFF ALREADY KNEW HE was dealing with a unique artist when Frank Zappa arrived at his L.A. studio for this 1976 session. “Frank was very different from other people I photographed,” recalls Seeff. “Many artists are imaginative, but they aren’t conceptual. Frank was both.” Seeff remembers that Zappa seemed at first to be improvising, but soon made clear he had a direction in mind. “Without my telling him anything, he started picking up objects in the studio and striking these mock-serious poses,” Seeff says. “He did some with a mop and some with the fan. He was acting out roles and ideas with an off-color sense of humor.” Seeff caught the reflection of his lights in Zappa’s sunglasses for a shot that eventually graced the cover of the compilation Strictly Commercial. “When I saw him doing that ‘crazed-scientist’ look, I told my assistant to angle the strobe so that it caught the umbrella,” he explains. “It captures some of the mad-genius aspect of him.” Seeff went on to do three more sessions with Zappa before the artist’s death in 1993. “I responded to his experimentation and his imagination,” Seeff says. “We always came away with amazing images.”

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