• The Stories + Visuals + Contact Sheets Behind Hip Hop's Most Iconic Photographs

  • Contact High spotlights the photographers who have played critical roles in bringing hip hop imagery onto the global stage. Photographers will share their era-defining stories of a single iconic image -- what legendary street photographer Henri Cartier Bresson called ‘The Decisive Moment’ -- A rare glimpse into the creative process and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the imagery that shaped hip hop.


    Getting access to the original and unedited contact sheets from high-profile photo shoots, we see the ‘big picture’ being created; contact sheets let you look directly through the photographer's lens and observe all of the other shots taken during these legendary moments. Photographers typically don’t show their contact sheets. It’s their visual diary. Not every shot worked, in fact most didn’t. Back when every photo was methodically shot on analog film, the negatives on a roll of film would be contact printed on photographic paper allowing you to see the full range of images that would eventually develop into the ‘money shot.’


    Hip hop has always been about self-definition especially when it comes to visual culture and style. For hip hop artists, that one iconic pose or press shot or album cover would play a major role in shaping them into icons by any means necessary -- skills, style, swagger, bravado and visuals. Today, the way we digest and create cultural imagery has radically changed. Where once editors and publicists used to edit down what the public saw ...today's visual landscape is haphazardly shaped from every direction.


    Let’s get all analogue for a minute. Contrary to the iphone’s dominance, film is not dead. In fact, there's a whole movement of analogue film photographers hashtag bragging #FilmIsNotDead #35mm #ishootfilm #analogphotography #analogvibes... the list goes on. In reaction to Instagram’s pervasiveness and the ubiquity of Photoshop and retouching, we tend to gravitate to the finished product of an image. In this digital age, it's easy to hide your imperfections. Meanwhile analog reveals beauty and individuality by exposing imperfection and process. Individualism and eccentricity in every shot…kind of like the dust and grooves of vinyl records.


    From Janet Beckman's shots of Slick Rick to Lisa Leone’s documentation of the Nas Illmatic album recording, these contact sheets reveal how photographers’ dynamic visions shaped their subjects’ legacies. With the contact sheet becoming a thing of the past amid the shift to digital photography, this series of archival imagery presents a deeper, nuanced journey into hip hop imagery and the birth of a visual cultural phenomenon. Enjoy!




    A rare glimpse into the creative process that went into the making of each photo.

  • In 1989, Janette Beckman was hired for a Def Jam press shoot to document musician Slick Rick aka Rick The Ruler. When he stepped in front of the white backdrop at her lower Manhattan studio, something magic and simple happened -- the photos that emerged captured the bravado, fun and ‘no fucks given’ attitude that is true golden era. Here, Beckman recalls that day..

  • Take a look and enjoy!

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