Self Portrait Jamel Shabazz

Poor righteous documents: legendary photographer and educator, Jamel Shabazz, pt. 1

7 mins read

Iconic photographer and pioneer of street style photography, Jamel Shabazz, builds with Ark Republic on his purpose and the power of photography as a medium.

Black ice and dirty snow rest everywhere in New York City on this Friday night, but I still navigate the dangerous streaks and mounds — the telling signs an urban winter — to follow up on an invitation to a photography studio.

When I enter the photographer’s atelier, on the walls and indexed throughout a number of his albums, I see flicks of the legendary, DJ Grandmaster Flash, little boys from West Afrika, and a Rastafarian chillin’ on his hammock in Jamaica.

Jamel Shabazz photography, young mother with baby showing off street style.

Many of us have seen his photos floating around the Internet: the sister with door knocker earrings sporting a cascading leather bomber while holding her child. The brothers standing on the corner rocking the sheepskin coats, sheepskin hats, and rocking the latest gear by Adidas. The young gods posing, and holding up pictures of the founder of the 5 Percent Nation, Clarence 13 X Smith aka “the father.” The woman, fresh in her womanhood who is pregnant…and showing her affiliation and allegiance to the Bloods gang.

The man behind the lens, taking many of these iconic photographs is Jamel Shabazz, a Brooklyn native and former NYC Corrections Officer who has been documenting slices of Black life since the mid-1970s.

In 2001, Shabazz’s work came into international acclaim with his debut book, Back in The Days. The book, which captured the style of young, Black and Latino men and women between 1980 and 1989, was a smash, best-seller. It reflected hip-hop’s beginnings; the environments, the philosophies and the people, many of whom are unsung and unknown, but nonetheless, these faces formed the indelible foundational core of the street culture that has gone global while creating a couple of millionaires in the process.

In the midst of preparing a tour for his forthcoming book, Pieces Of A Man The Photography of Jamel Shabazz: 1980-2015, Shabazz takes some time out to build with Ark Republic, in a two-part interview, on the role photography has had on his past, present and future.

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