Tracy Chapman

I found this photo I shot of singer Tracy Chapman in 1988. The record company had been searching for the right photographer to shoot her press pictures. They had already done three photo shoots with some big name photographers but Tracy didn’t like the images and the record company knew she was going to be important. They needed someone who she would get along with and that turned out to be me. She arrived at my studio unaccompanied and we decided to take a stroll through the East Village – stopping at various spots to grab a couple of shots, talking about politics, music, racism in America – I was shooting Tri X film so there was no way to look at what we were getting but I think she felt at ease.We stopped for a coffee in the local diner before going back to the studio to shoot a few photos with her guitar one of which ended up on the 12″ sleeve ‘Talkin’ bout a Revolution’. Tracy grew up  poor in Cleveland, her lyrics on that first album touch on lazy, cops, race riots, wife beating and escaping poverty : “poor people gonna rise up and take what’s theirs” In spite of telling uncomfortable truths about the America she saw, her debut album beat out the likes of Def Leppard and Guns and Roses and rose to #1 in the charts that summer.

Absolut X Jose James

I’ve been working with jazz singer and musician Jose James for the past year.He’s been busy: playing with a 100 piece classical orchestra in Amsterdam, producing the trumpet player Takuya’s album, and writing and recording his new album – all while touring the world with his band.

We filmed a piece for Absolut Vodka last year – the theme was ‘Everyone expresses creativity differently but what happens when you apply your creativity to something completely new’ – Jose decided to apply his creativity to taking a photograph – I was to give him a nuts to bolts lesson on how to take a photo using black and white film, and make a print in the darkroom –  become, as he said, his ‘sensei’ for the day, José was an excellent student  Here it is:  Absolut X

Takuya Kuroda

Takuya Kuroda’s new album “Rising Son’ came out this week on Blue Note. Brought up in Kobe Japan and now a native of Brooklyn, Takuya played trumpet in Jose James’ band on last year’s ‘No Beginning No End’ tour. Jose produced ‘Rising Son’ and sings on the Roy Ayers classic track “Everybody Loves the Sunshine’. “No one sounds like Takuya,” says James. “.His writing is soulful, modern, and effortlessly bridges the gap between jazz and soul, and between history and tomorrow.” I was at the sold out Rockwood release party  - Takuya blew the roof off – buy the album.

Keith Haring

In 1985 I was working for the New York Daily News magazine when they asked me to shoot Keith Haring for a cover  story – I was already a big fan, I knew Keith’s work from the subway and my friend Kim (Paper mag) who’s home phone was decorated by Keith. So one afternoon I went to his studio on LaGuardia place. It was  was packed with paintings, and things Keith had covered in his signature style. There were tags from friends all over the walls, art from the likes of Warhol, paint pots, a Mickey Mouse phone, his bike, a decorated boom box, stuff everywhere.  He was a lovely man, he posed for me and we chatted all afternoon. He gave me a massive ‘Free South Africa’ signed poster which I treasure, it hangs over my desk today. Recently a new friend Ken Caruso came by to interview me for his antisociety blog he is a big KH fan and owns several of his pieces – he now owns the first of a new editioned print of mine (above) .

Today Keith’s work sells for huge amounts – a group of nine collectors of artwork by Keith Haring are suing the foundation that bears his name and its directors on Friday, accusing the defendants of “wrongfully destroying” the value of their paintings by publicly labeling them as fakes and refusing to consider information that would establish their provenance. I don’t think Keith would approve.

Ultimate B-Boy Championship 2014

One night in January at a gym in midtown Manhattan five chosen ‘Grand Masters’ battled for the title of Ultimate B-Boy and the bragging rights of being #1 in the world. The Ultimate B-Boy Championship was organized by the one and only Mr Freeze, veteran b-boy from back in the day. The inventor of scratching,DJ Grand Wizard Theodore, played while the five Grand Masters showed off their moves in front of the judges and a critical b-boy audience who jumped in during breaks to show off their own styles . The judges eventually awarded the title and $5,000 cash prize to Gravity who hails from NY.

Graffiti Artists

I first became aware of graffiti in London in 1982 – taking photos of the first hip hop tour to come to Europe for Melody Maker I met Futura and Dondi White who tagged the dumpster outside the hotel for my photo (see above), or maybe just because that was what they did. Earlier that month I had photographed American rapper J Walter Negro painting a mural of New York trains for the Christmas cover of the magazine. I loved this new art

Moving to New York later that year the art was everywhere. Commissioned by style magazine ‘The Face’ to photograph the Rock Steady Crew I went to Harlem to shoot them break dancing on a piece of cardboard in front of a huge mural of a tiger’s head. I photographed BDP aka Boogie Down Productions in the Bronx in front of a graffiti covered wall, Salt & Pepa on the Lower East Side, Bambaata and members of the Zulu Nation in the Bronx,Eric B and Rakim in NYC with graffiti behind them, Stetsasonic in Brooklyn posing with the Stetson sign covered in tags and stickers.I wondered who these unknown artists were that painted the backdrops for so many of my photographs.

In 1983 I was in Los Angeles documenting the East LA gang El Hoyo Maravilla – their turf was centered around the Hoyo Maravilla park and clearly marked by the local artists. East LA was covered in paintings too I shot punk band The Undertakers (below) at their rehearsal space in the barrio.

And today I am still thanking amazing artists like Cope2 for giving so much ‘Flava; to my photographs, and providing a time line for these images in the future.

GoHardBoyz The Bronx 2013

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Angel Haze

Angel Haze is the real thing. The twenty two year old stand out rapper’s music has been described as ‘brutal’ and ‘beautiful. She says “I focus on being as honest as I can possibly be because I feel like music, to an extent, is philanthropic. In all my ventures, I set out to reach people who are just like me.”  I photographed her for the latest issue of Out Magazine, she is a big Tracy Chapman fan, we made friends on the photo shoot after she discovered I shot the cover for Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution’. Growing up in Detroit in a Pentecostal sect she rejected that life and moved to New York. Legend has it she turned down an opportunity to tour with Beyonce, in December she leaked her latest album after the record company wanted to delay the release, she walks to her own beat.

Stevie Wonder

Daft Punk and Pharrell had two of my all time favorite artists onstage at the Grammies: Nile Rogers and Stevie Wonder. Stevie was one of the first Motown artist I became aware of in the 60′s while working my first summer holiday job with Motown playing all day long on British radio. In the early 80′s I went to LA to shoot some artists for Melody Maker with my friend the writer Paolo Hewitt , Both avid soul fans we got to meet Stevie Wonder (see above and below with Berry Gordy), Patrice Rushen, Junior Giscombe and the Johnson Brothers. Stevie is as fresh as ever today, ‘Living for the City’ is one of the all time great songs telling the story of America, racism and poverty.

Smutty Smith Tattoo

While working on a story for Rebel Ink Magazine in December I went with Smutty Smith (the Rockats) to  shoot him getting a tattoo by Baz at New York Hard Core. Baz, a rockabilly at heart, is fond of traditional and Japanese style tattoos. He spent 4 hours tattooing a lovely stand up base and roses on Smutty’s ribcage.

Smutty had tattoos when I first met him in 1981 – below is my photo backstage at the Whiskey in Los Angeles of ‘Rosemarie’ and a young friend admiring the art work.

John Ahearn

I went to John Ahearn’s studio in the Bronx to take a portrait of him for ‘Jocks & Nerds. I have been following his work since I first came to New York back in 1980′s. The studio was full of sculptures and the art tools he uses, buckets, the plaster casting materials for the moulds etc – I chose to photograph him in front of these double dutch girls. It reminded me of my first hip hop show in London back in 1982.

John ( who is the twin brother of my friend Charlie Ahearn ‘Wild Style’) came to NYC back in 1974. Working at the artist run Bronx gallery Fashion Moda, he publicly face-cast local people making plaster portraits – there he met the 18 year old artist Rigoberto Torres. Rigoberto had worked with plaster in his uncle’s statue factory in the Bronx. In 1981 they collaborated on a series of permanent neighborhood sculptures casting people like the double dutch girls (above). They are still working together today.
There is a great exhibition of  the sculptures “Works from Dawson Street and Walton Avenue’ on now at the Alexander and Bonin gallery in Chelsea – don’t miss it – the double dutch girls are the ‘stars’ of the show.