Youth Culture

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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The Go Hard Boyz

In 1999 Shea Evans and Don Villnueva, both Harlem dirt bike ‘warriors’, decided to form the movement they called the Go Hard Boyz (GHB). The GHB quickly grew and now has members all over the world – dirt bike and ATV riders and extreme sports specialists  - living a lifestyle in urban communities and rural suburbs Their unique riding style and attitude has spread far and wide The logo a mask with a backward baseball cap represents ‘their mantra “Do It With Style’ which is how they ride. Dirt bike riding is illegal in NYC and riders often get harassed and chased by the NYPD,

One summer afternoon I met Shea in Harlem – he introduced me to some of the GHB posse – they seemed like a family (above GHB on the stoop in Harlem).  Shea took me me to the Bronx to take photos of the GHB, we rode in the flat bed  of his cousin’s F150 pick up truck on the Bruckner expressway shooting the Go Hard Boyz doing wheelies, showing their skills through Harlem and the Bronx on a hot summers day. Shea tells me “It’s Bigger than Bikes”.

GHB riding on the Bruckner Expressway, the Bronx

Bike Life

Riding in the Bronx

Youngster riding in the Bronx in front of Cope mural

GHB posse on 158th Street Harlem

Brooklyn Girls Fight Club

One night I went to photograph the illegal girl fight scene in Brownsville.Legendary fighters from Mike Tyson to Riddick Bowe all grew up in the Brownsville public housing projects like Marcus Garvey and Tilden.

The girl fights are organized by the local ‘boys from the hood’ and publicized by word of mouth, the location is kept secret up to the day of the fight. Held in a huge windowless garage on a dark industrial street, pit bulls chained up in the back room, a boxing ring assembled in the middle of the space, security guards searching everyone as they come in.  The place is jam packed, people of all ages, folks with babies, local youth, and the girls who are going to fight, some as young as 14 years old. There is no admission charge and the fighters are paid with proceeds from gambling on the fights.

The brawlers are recruited from the street, they fight at the club to further establish their rep in the neighborhood and to get a shot at the prize money.The girls have to fight hard or no one gets paid, the winner gets $1000. The rules are “No grabbing. No kicking. No scratching. No hair pulling. No biting. Three rounds. Ninety seconds a round.”.

‘Boys from the hood’ take bets on the fight

Girls fight and the crowd goes crazy

Punk Hip Hop Free Speech

In 1988 rock critic Greil Marcus said : ”Punk to me was a form of free speech. It was a moment when suddenly all kinds of strange voices that no reasonable person could ever have expected to hear in public were being heard all over the place.” His quote applies equally to Hip Hop “Yes yes y’all and you don’t stop”.

Kangol

In 2012 I was in Manchester shooting bands for  the 2012 Kangol catalog. This summer I shot another campaign for Kangol at the Governor’s Ball Music Festival on Governor’s Island. The weather had been unusually rainy, we  had to carry the models across a sea of mud to shoot in front of the bands (above). Kangol had graffiti artists Ian’Alone’ and Ellis ‘Net’  decorating hats (below) and a British double decker bus parked on site. After the shoot we caught the headliner Kanye’s show. Back in the day many of the hip hop artists I shot wore  Kangol everyone from LL Cool J to the Fearless Four. Musicians have rocked those hats for years . They are still stylin’

Shirt King Phade

Ed, aka Shirt King Phade came round to give me his book today. He had some jackets he had painted for a friend’s daughter in his bag. Ed started as a graffiti artist and because of his ‘love of the aerosol’ learned how to use an airbrush and put his art onto clothing.

“I had a shop in Jamiaca Queens that was just dedicated to airbrush art.  All the rappers would come around, each day you never knew who would pop up –  like one day LL Cool J would be there, or Big Daddy Kane, EPMD came all the way from Long Island. They tended to look at me and my team as ‘outfitters’ we weren’t tailors but we were able to put their dreams on their clothes”

Sweet T and Jazzy Joyce wearing a Shirt King sweater NYC 1987

5 Pointz

5 Pointz is old school New York – a living changing graffiti museum in Long Island City. Every spare spaces, walls, street lights, doors, dumpsters is covered by art made by legends of the graff world.

On the side streets guys are cleaning the donut carts that serve Wall st types downtown in the morning – oblivious to their sourroundings as they fill trash bags with the last of the unsold donuts  and cofee grounds, and crush the kosher donut company carboard boxes - french and spanish rap music is blaring,  the trains are rattling overhead.

5 Pointz is a hub for graffiti artists from around the world, constantly changing and  also honoring the legends passed like Dondi White.

Scheduled to be demolished to make way for condominiums – please sign a petition to preserve this icon of NYC

Update November 24th 2013 : Early Tuesday, under the cover of night, painters quietly blanketed much of the walls of 5Pointz with whitewash, erasing the work of hundreds and seemingly putting the final nail in the long battle between the building’s owners, who plan to erect luxury apartments, and the artists who fought to save it.

“This is the biggest rag and disrespect in the history of graffiti,” said a teary-eyed Marie Cecile Flaguel, a spokeswoman for the group behind 5Pointz, which sprang like a rainbow from the gray sidewalks near Jackson Avenue in Long Island City. “He’s painted over the work of at least 1,500 artists.”

Doin’ it in the Park

Walking home this afternoon, camera in hand looking for locations for next week’s photo shoot,  New York City is sizzling 90F – stop to watch a street ball pick up game happening on Bowery and Houston -guys asked me if I wanted to take a photo – yes!  I just saw ‘Doin it in the Park‘ a great movie which explains the history of street basketball. The first time I came to NYC back in early 1980′s I got off the subway at West 4th Street, the smell of popcorn and piss in the air, stood fascinated watching the game on the 4th Street court aka ‘The Cage’ on a hot summer day. Welcome to New York.

A day with Niko and crew

Last thursday Niko’s video crew (below) followed me taking photographs on the streets of New York. We met a bunch of stylin’ teens on Houston St (above) and a guy with the biggest boom box on 125th st, we went to the peaceful Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn, a seedy alley where I had shot Brandon Boyd, RZA etc, and a bunch of other locations. New York’s city streets are constantly changing and always a surprise.