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Futur Noir, Erykah Badu- Bourdeau (1)
Erykah BaduPhotography Remy Bourdeau

This exhibition spotlights two of hip hop photography’s great visionaries

Photographers Eddie Otchere and Remy Bourdeau speak on their incredible legacies, which include lensing everyone from Jay Z to Erykah Badu, Aaliyah, and Madlib

“We hold these souls up, and in turn they hold us down.” Photographer Eddie Otchere is speaking about the music legends he’s spent the last few decades photographing, including some of hip hop’s biggest and brightest stars. From Jay Z to Aaliyah, WuTang Clan, and many more, Otchere’s lens has helped shape the legacy of some of the world’s biggest artists, as well as the visual history of hip hop. In a new exhibition, Otchere is collaborating with friend and fellow photographer, French-born Remy Bourdeau – whose work spans portraits of Erykah Badu, Sampha, Dizzee Rascal, and many more.

Titled Futur NOIR, the exhibition – curated by Otchere, Bourdeau, and Ludovica Bulciolu – will be hosted by south London’s San Mei Gallery, and will see Otchere and Bourdeau’s ouevres collide as they place their incredible archives of imagery into dialogue with one another. Ahead of the opening this Wednesday 19 August, we speak with Otchere and Bourdeau about what to expect.

Can you tell us about what we can expect from the exhibition, both in terms of what’s on show but how it will be hung?

Eddie Otchere: I feel as B-Boys we wanted to be pure to the culture and that felt like it was a philosophical stance. So we felt we had to square that belief inside photography. We built the concept up in a series of conversations, rappin in smoke-filled rooms, we’d explore how our influences traversed music, graf, and photography. We compiled a lore in our heads where Jamel Shabazz symbolised a prophet and in the light of his photography we built out the show from there.

We wanted to praise our favourite icons in only a way photography can – with big prints. We paid close attention to the soultress and the MC, but we have chosen to celebrate the moment when the MC gets the crowd, and the crowd is as fly as the MC. We know as the watchers we too need to represent the beautiful futur noir. From Erykah Badu, to Jorja Smith, to Lord Apex to Jean Grey to Rejjie Snow, we had to create a gallery of new G.O.A.T.S and old.

Why did you want to do this collaboratively? And how do you both know each other?

Remy Bourdeau: Eddie and I met before I lived in London, when I used to come every so often. A friend told me we should meet and so we did. I was blown away by his work. I’m a bit younger and he has shot artists that I grew up listening to. Then we started to realise we shared a lot of interests, it just made sense for us to collaborate as we communicate and understand each other well.

Can you tell us more about the dialogue that will occur between your works?

Remy Bourdeau: When I discovered Eddie’s work I had already been shooting for a few years and was gradually finding my identity in my work. So I kind of recognised myself a little in his work. It was really talking to me and I felt the confirmation that it was the way I wanted to go. From that point, Eddie definitely became an influence for me. Maybe it is something that people will be able to feel, in relation to a mentor or a transmission. We both like to explore, and there is a balance between our work. It’s like our photography crosses at a point in time.

What do you admire about each other’s work?

Eddie Otchere: Remy is versed in what happened in the 20th century in terms of hip hop, hip hop iconography, and photography. To see how this manifests itself 20 years deep into the 21st century is an absolute joy. To see where his camera goes and what he stays up all night capturing is blessed and I had to see it printed. It’s pure visual poetry coupled with subjects, dope cameras and golden ratios. I tended to gravitate to his images after dark, where it always looks lit. Those moments when history is made and our level of understanding has just gone up. I’m not there, Remy is and those moments become the history of a culture as it grows.

Remy Bourdeau: I love Eddie’s approach. He’s got a lot of knowledge and love of the technicalities, but he doesn’t let it effect his instincts. He’s kept that raw vision that talks to me cause it’s street, but he’s got an amazing set of skills.

Can you tell us about some of your favourite stories behind one of the images you’re showing?

Remy Bourdeau: I like the story of how I met Jamel Shabazz. The first photography book I ever bought was one of his. This book means so much to me! In Paris, I was working with Classiqhall TV taking pictures for our interviews and Jamel was in town for an event so we arranged an interview. When we showed up, Jamel was taking portraits of people in the queue, then saw us and asked to take portraits. We started to talk and ended up rescheduling the interview for the day after. The next day, we went to his hotel for the interview and then for a walk all day taking pictures and talking , I remember him pushing me to go to people and ask if I could take portraits of them , telling me to direct my subjects more and really trying to teach me . I will never forget this day and it was with a lot of good people . 

Eddie you sent over some contact sheets that you’ll be showing and said you have a commitment to ‘exploring the history of hip hop through the contact sheet’. What do the contact sheets bring to the work, the exhibition, and the stories you’re telling?

Eddie Otchere: As part of the exhibition’s public programmes, we are producing a limited edition zine that features the contact sheets of the leading prints in our show. As is now the way in a Covid-19 compliant gallery space, we felt visitors being isolated would comfortably engage with an additional memento of our visual testaments. I chose contact sheets that reminded me of Remy’s zeal. The contact sheet provides the prequel and sequel of the photograph. Here a truth is revealed about the photograph and photographer, that it’s an essential part of what should be collected by the heads.

The time frames of your work differ, as well as the locations from London to Paris and more, but what are the common threads between your work?

Eddie Otchere: I believe it’s the passion and the music. The life and the style. The cameras and the film. The selection when you sound clash mono e mono in the darkroom. It was forged in the practice of photographer. Putting negs into new bags, naming, contextualising, and looking for balance and continuum.

What do you want to show and what do you want people to see or feel through these works and this exhibition?

Eddie Otchere: I want you to enjoy seeing good people on a wall. The young and the old, but when they were young. We want you to enjoy the many forms of photography. The method and the manner. We have created icons to whom we want you to bear witness to – and believe me, they slap. Both future and present. We hold these souls up, and in turn they hold us down.

Futur Noir runs at San Mei Gallery from 19 August – 5 September. Click here for information