John Mellencamp was relatively unknown when photographer Norman Seeff shot this 1979 session. “He was very young, kind of baby-faced,” recalls Seeff. “But I was blown away by his vitality.” Seeff was also impressed by Mellencamp’s authenticity, a trait reflected in his casual attire. “It was as if he was saying, ‘This is who I am. I come with nothing but a denim shirt and a cigarette,’” Seeff says. “There was nothing pre-conceptual about the shoot.” Mellencamp threw himself into the session with intensity. “He was doing a live performance as we were shooting,” recalls Seeff. “He was totally in the moment in a way that perhaps even went beyond what he would do onstage.” Seeff wasn’t surprised when Mellencamp’s career took off over the next several years. “It was one of those things where you knew this person was going places,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to photograph artists before their careers took flight. When that happens, it’s always a thrill.” Images from the session were used for the cover of Mellencamp’s 2004 greatest hits album Words & Music.

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