Self Portrait Jamel Shabazz

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

Self-Portrait, Jamel Shabazz

AR: When did you start delving into photography? How old were you when you started?

JS: Fifteen

AR: Same time you got knowledge of self?

JS: I did photography first. I was searching at that point, and then I was introduced to knowledge around the same time. And my introduction to photography was crazy because I had actually gotten into photography early on. I was like really nine-years old, getting into the real science of photography. Looking at my father’s books is when the appreciation came. I saw the beauty and majesty of photography. At the age of 15, I physically picked up a camera. And that idea came when I was invited to the home of the leader of the badass Stompers at Linden Plaza with my partner Winston. The leader was Winston’s cousin, and he said, “I got someone I want you to meet.” That’s when the Jolly Stompers was big. The badass Stompers was a division of the Jolly Stompers. And there was two leaders: Sundance and Butch that lived in Linden Plaza. I’ll never forget, and I went to his apartment duplex. I’m looking at this brother and he was the warlord. The warlord is the one in charge of you know, making war. But what was unique about him, was that he was a very pleasant, righteous brother. I remember that I looked at his [photo] albums, I could not believe these pictures. To this day, they’re some of the best pictures I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Some of the baddest pictures I’ve ever seen of the gang and I’m talking about group shots with brothers with beavers on, mock necks, sharkskins, and two piece suits. Brothers was clean and they were serious! And they were all erect brothers. Some had gold teeth and they came in all hues. Some brothers were Panamanian, some were Jamaican. Some were from down South, there was Pappy Mason [an affiliate of the notorious drug dealing crew from Jamaica, Queens – the Supreme Team] and he was original from back in the days. So in seeing those photographers, looking at those brothers, I said I want to take pictures. And that’s when I left this house, with that idea now, that seed was planted, this is what I want to do. That’s when I went and snatched up my mother’s camera, and I started snapping away of my little crew, and that’s when it started. So at 15, 16, I started doing it. And then shortly afterwards, I got knowledge. So now I’m a 5 Percenter with a camera.

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