CONTACT HIGH : A VISUAL HISTORY OF HIP HOP
International Center of Photography | New York
Until May the 18th, 2020
Following in the footsteps of the song “9 Elements” by Krs-One, Drago has always sustained that the Hip Hop revolution has had repercussions all around the world both on esthetics and on lifestyle. The genre’s credibility and innovation have been key to its global expansion, transforming it into what the publisher Paulo von Vacano define as “mainstreaming of minorities”. An examples of this dynamic can be found in the exhibition “Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop” by Vikki Tobak at the International Center of Photography in New York (on until May 18th 2020). This exhibition is the story of Hip Hop told through the contact sheets of famous Hip Hop photographers. It was an absolute pleasure to see so many enlightened photographers like Ricky Flores, Janette Beckmann, Glen E. Friedman, Ricky Powell, Jayson Keeling, Delphine E. Fawundu, Eric Johnson, Joe Conzo Jr, Martha Cooper, Angela Boatwright, Estevan Oriol, Jamel Shabazz and last but not least Lawrence Watson with his picture of the amazing -Have A Nice Day Asshole- (“Roxanne Shanté”). This exhibition showcases the crème de la crème of photos and extraordinary documentaries.
Photographers from both exhibitions are showcased in the Drago anthology “The Street is Watching: Where Street Knowledge Meets Photography”. A compilation created a few years ago where I tried to expand this Hip Hop vision into a global photo aesthetic.
The International Center of Photography is the world’s leading institution dedicated to photog-raphy and visual culture. Cornell Capa founded ICP in 1974 to champion “concerned photography”—socially and politically minded images that can educate and change the world. Through our exhibitions, education programs, community outreach, and public programs, ICP offers an open forum for dialogue about the power of the image. Visit icp.org to learn more.
CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop explores four decades of photography, from the late 1970s to today, documenting a revolution not just in music, but in politics, race relations, fashion, and culture. The images—many of them displayed alongside contact sheets from the session—give us a rare glimpse into the creative process behind some of hip-hop’s most iconic photos.
While the music was establishing itself as a cultural force, photographers were on the scene, documenting the urban spaces where hip-hop came alive. The music reflected everyday experience; the images captured and memorialized it, providing a necessary perspective—sometimes empowering, sometimes controversial.A single image can define a decisive moment, creating an instant icon. And that’s exactly the point. Photography has helped shape hip-hop, which has always been about self-definition. Press photos and album covers announce the arrival of the style, swagger, bravado, singularity, and artistry that help the performer become an icon. For this genre that speaks truth to power, reclaims and concretizes identity, idealizes self-representation, and visualizes political rhetoric, the images are inseparable from the music.