Where are you from? Can you tell us a bit about what it is like there? Is there much of a Hip Hop scene?
Based in Brighton town baby. The hip-hop scene here is very strong, with loadsa club nights, and decent homegrown MC's supported by a strong input from out-of-town crews. It has established links with all elements of Hip-Hop culture, and thru RareKind Shop and Gallery I have been able to meet up with many heds.
Are you actually a Hip Hop music fan and if so, when did you first get in to it? Who was it that got you into Hip Hop? If not what sort of music do you mostly feel?
I am into Hip-Hop but don’t limit myself in the music I am listening to. Some days only Immortal Technique will get me thru the Grey winter and other days I can sit and listen to the Brian Wilson or Johnny Cash, or the Clash I guess I like music with some integrity and I have very diverse influences. The thing that most got me into Hip-Hop as a culture as opposed to a form of music, was the support and sense of community I received from people already involved in some aspect. I have an outsider mentality and strangely that can actually help, I see Hip-Hop as about pursuing independence and personal goals and a DIY ethic but not forgetting the community you exist in.
So the main reason why we are talking to you is to find out about your photography and documentation of Graffiti. Can you let the readers know what it is about the visual arts that excites you?
Many things excite me about Graff and not just the aesthetic, the most important being that it is a reaction against the control that exists in all aspects of our society, Graff shows people that they can still have a voice and exert themselves. I became aware of Graff when I first went to NYC in the early 80’s, but it was only when I was studying Architecture Degree that I began more to think about the implications of the Art form itself. Our city spaces are programmed in every aspect to push us to conform and reject independent actions, to limit choice, I use to go and take photos of cities and see a roof top piece and think, “how did they get up? How do they see the city compared to how I see it, just walking around on foot- following paths laid out for me?
It made me realise that the city can be a canvas in many ways not just for those with the money to pay for billboards etc but also for those that could get up there and paint over them. The more I looked at Graff the more I got into handstyles, and noticing who had places locked, who was all-city, who was lining who, and wondering who each writer was, at the same time I was reading a lot of books on anarchy and Situationist Architecture, that proposed destroying the program of the Architect/Urban Planner.
Right then, how did you pursue this interest? Would you have gone to college to further your knowledge of the subject, or did you just jump in feet first and just try to blag photo jobs?
So the architecture course just led me to see the harm that many architects inflict on culture. I was having a ‘discussion’ about my attitude to the course with my tutor one day who (I swear this is true) took me to the window and pointed at the people outside and said words to the affect that “they don’t know anything. Don’t know what they want or where they are going and we are here to solve those problems for them? The less they have to think the better?” Architects are on the whole about ego and control, so I quit and focussed on my own images and ideas. I have never been taught photography but took some of my NYC and SanFrancisco prints to show Sore (a writer who was living in Brighton at the time)- he put them in his shop and a couple sold.
A few months later in the same shop I met Dave Samuel of RareKind who had big plans to open a Graff shop and who was also into my photos, he was the first writer that I ever took photos of, and we kinda used each other skills, I had a subject and he had someone that could get him dope shots of his productions when the business was just starting out, I ended up becoming RareKinds unofficial photographer! . Right place, right time. Eventually I met probably 80% of Brighton’s writers thru his basement shop, including Aroe whose style was amazing but also who understood the anarchic aspect of what he did. But documenting this and being involved has never been a ‘job’.
In your opinion, which direction is the best way in? Do qualifications really help?
Qualifications may help, but its more about finding a subject and style that you can make your own, and just getting out there. You cant consider yourself a writer if your not Getting Up, and your not a photographer unless your out there getting shots- it seems obvious to say it, but then again a lot of people just sit at home talking a game…
Right, can you break down your CV, or tell us about the projects you have been involved in so far? Has much of your work been paid, or is the graf thing ?
Project wise I have worked with IndelibeTv for several years, after a chance meeting with Ady and Porge1, they needed a photographer for Raekwon gig at the Concorde2- I had never really shot any music stuff before but told them I could do it- got lucky with a shot that is still one of my favourites, when we interviewed Raekwon backstage. With them I worked on Skinnyman video which was amazing- hes an inspiring character and worked proper hard, and have gone on to shoot dream projects for them such as UN/Ecko gig (GZA, Jazzy Jeff, Dead Prez….) Sony Playstation B-Boy championships 2 years running.
I also hooked up with Teilo thru RK and shot videos for Novar, Skrein and Task Force, (which I think are on the site) but although it all sounds dope- its definitely done for the love not the money. I shoot images for the Brighton Hip Hop Festival, Graphotism and the last issue of Undercover. The majority of my paid work comes thru commissions for RareKind and also for Brighton collective Nothing-To-See-Here, doing band portraits and videos (next up Dr.Syntax video).
Right, so what would you say your main style is? Would you say that portraits of the artists is your main thing, or the art its self?
In the beginning my style was straight up documentary, but I have taught myself lighting and have a range of techniques now, with live stuff I like to get movement and power into my shots but I also love simple portraiture like my current Bboy project. With the Writers project I wanted to convey something of their character as a person but also as a writer- so the Rat picture reflects his everyday life and the hardcore nature of how he paints- but each person had to bring their own style to the image before it was customised so the Rat picture is crisp/sharp with a hot colour too, but the Odisy portrait is dark and fucking nasty- it’s a real heart in his hand and real blood, shot underneath the shiny happy Brighton Palace pier. Then each writer put their own style directly onto the print, with little interference from me, so it’s definitely a collabo.
How did you come to be involved with Marth Cooper then? Has she been quite influential in your career?
Martha is dope; people that don’t know her images are either dead or sleeping.
Can you tell us about your forthcoming exhibition? What is the concept and rationale behind doing this retrospective now?
I am doing it because I was asked and it’s an honour for me to be involved.
What were the main things that you learned from your career so far?
Never expect to get paid unless the money is in your hand, photographers get ripped off just as much as MC’s by promoters. So do this for yourself and if you don’t have anything to say then shut up.
What is the thing that really annoys you when you look at your finished photographs, but that nobody else would even notice?
I can’t tell that otherwise everyone will see… But I have a bout 5 pictures that I am 100% happy with… but have shot thousands.
Which do you prefer, traditional Film or Digital photography and what are the reasons for this?
Digital because you can learn as you shoot, make mistakes and try new styles at no cost. But I hate digital cos everyone thinks they can take a photo, twist it all up in Photoshop and call themselves an expert. Film has more feeling tho- and I spent years learning different emulsions etc but rarely use that knowledge now.
What have been your favourite shoots and why?
10th Sony Playstation Bboy Championships- because there is a picture every place you look.
KRS1 studio recording. Any ones where I get paid more than beer money.
What are your opinions on the coverage that Graffiti receives in the press? What is obviously quite a skilful artform is frequently demonised.
For the reasons I have mentioned above, Graff is ‘demonised’ because those in power know that its shows real control is in the hands of the people and they fear that more than anything else. The media perpetuate the myth of Broken Windows theory and that people are fearful of graffiti but ask the man on the street why and they often have no real answer of their own. Also though because some Graff is shit.
Where is the market for your photographs? Do you produce prints for sale?
I sell prints but wish I could sell more, but my Graff photos are more to illustrate something that is important to me, and to break down some people stereotypes rather than make cash, though if someone offered me a book deal and it was appropriate to the subject then I would do it.
Do you have any other projects or production company you want to plug?
My Bboy/Girl project if you consider yourself a Bboy with style get in touch, I want to take your portrait. Then big shouts to RareKind, Indelible TV, Nothing-To-See-Here, Sleeping Giants. Go to the websites and look if you don’t know.
What advice would you give to budding young photographers?
Give up, its all been done… (just shoot every day and if you look thru the camera and you see the picture somewhere before don’t take it).
What visual work have you seen recently that you have admired or thought that you would have liked to have been involved with?
Diane Arbus at the V+A, was inspiring and at the same time made me want to stop taking photographs.
Who or what are your other influences?
Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, Martha, Glenn e Freidman, David Lynch, Jack Kerouac, Das everything around me…
How do you view the Internet? Do you think it is a useful promotional tool and a good way of getting out there and loosening the grip that the major media companies an their TV schedulers have on what is broadcast, or are there too many idiots too willing to spout a load of rubbish with no control over them?
The Internet is a powerful tool and mirror that people will abuse in every way they can- its human nature.
Do you have any plans to get your own online presence?
Are you affiliated with any other crews or visual artists? Is there anyone else you would like to work with?
I really want to do portraits of Zombie and Oker.
I ask everyone about politics, because I think it is important that we have knowledge of what is going on, but most current Hip Hop heads decline to answer. I guess they don’t want to upset anyone. Do you have anything to say on that? Any issues you think people need to open their eyes to?
We live in a semi Police State, headed by a politician who invades countries on pseudo religious grounds when people fought many battles to get a Church and state seperation; and most of our rights have been taken away by legislature that most people have not considered the full implications of.
What is going to be keeping you busy over the next few months?
Trying to get paid, and just taking more and more portraits of anyone that interests me I guess.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Sorry if I ranted.
Is there anyone else you would like to mention?
Yeah to all the writers out there, keep getting up, to The RareKind Fam one love, and thanks to everyone that has helped me on the way, or posed for me, big ups to my family for constant support.
Thank you for your time.