Shot ten years ago, photographer Boogie is rereleasing his book It’s All Good as a stark reminder that nothing has changed in America’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods
Boogie doesn’t do detached observation: his approach is, and always has been, incredibly direct. Renowned for his unflinching images, the Serbian-based photographer is a dedicated documentarian of street culture, offering rare access into some of the world’s most radicalised underworlds that, together, seem to be bound by the same nexus of violence, poverty and crime. It is an underrated skill to win the trust of America’s homeless youth, its addicts, gangsters and pimps, but a skill that Boogie has honed over the last decade.
Throughout his still-relatively nascent career, Boogie has published six monographs: Boogie (powerHouse Books, 2007), Sao Paulo (Upper Playground, 2008), Istanbul (Upper Playground, 2008), Belgrade Belongs to Me (powerHouse Books, 2009) and A Wah Do Dem (DRAGO, 2016). This year will mark the tenth anniversary of his first photobook, It’s All Good, which was published in 2006 and is set for reissue in December
A native of Belgrade, Boogie shot It’s All Good in some of New York’s most notorious neighbourhoods – Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Queensbridge – capturing rare, intimate moments of heightened human emotion set against a backdrop of gritty, urban living. We see a woman shooting up crack in her bathroom, a gangster pointing a loaded gun at the camera lens and addicts sprawled on the streets. All the while a chronic racial tension can also be felt. In an unsettling time, where most of our conversations revolve around a few stark topics; uncertainty, fear, survival and personal activism, it is easy to see how the resurgence of a photobook like this kicks up a timely message.
Tapping into over a decade of clicking the shutter, we find out from Boogie how to capture honest images, how to get close to your subjects – however distanced from your life they may be – and how a relevant message can be gleaned from his debut monograph ten years on.
How has your childhood in Belgrade informed your photography?
Boogie: I can say that I had the perfect childhood. Belgrade was really safe. We used to play on the streets all day, there was no rich and poor, we were all pretty equal. Life was easy. But then in the 90s shit hit the fan, the civil war started, and it all flipped overnight. All moral values were lost, there was a constant flow of weapons from the front lines and crime went through the roof. We were hit by the worst economic crisis you can imagine, hyper-inflation spread like a plague, people were literally starving. That’s when I started doing photography, in the dark times, and I’m pretty sure that darkness stuck with me in some way. Later when I thought about it, I realised I probably started shooting to distance myself from reality, when you are behind the camera you are an observer, not a participant.
Can you tell us about It’s All Good in your own words?
Boogie: The whole thing happened by chance. I was bored in the neighbourhood I lived in, so I started walking deeper and deeper into Brooklyn’s rough areas. In an abandoned parking lot I saw a bunch of homeless people, I asked them if I could take their picture, and one of them, Christina, who was just out of jail, said yes. I started hanging out with her and a week later she told me, ‘Hey Boogie, my friend will stop by to smoke crack tonight, do you wanna take some pictures?’ Two weeks later, that friend asked me to take photos of her shooting up heroin in her bathroom. It just went deeper and deeper from that point on. I would meet drug addicts, hang out at their homes and play Xbox with their children.
“I am not trying to be shocking, I just shoot what I see” – Boogie
How did you get access to these neighbourhoods and gangs?
Boogie: After some time I got depressed looking at people shooting up and smoking crack all the time, so I decided to change something. I went to the nearby public housing projects with the hope of taking photos of some gangsters. I didn’t have to wait long, a white guy walking around with a camera – I mean, come on, I was an easy target to spot. The gangsters came to me, not the other way around, we talked and I quickly noticed that they liked me – perhaps it was my accent, you know. I don’t sound like anyone they would hate. We hung out for a couple of days and again one of them asked me: ‘Hey, Boogie, would you take some photos of us with guns?’ The next day we were running around the hallways, loaded guns pointed directly at me, it was all pretty crazy. That night I didn’t sleep, but the next day I visited the same guys again. That was the moment I realised I was addicted to gangsters and junkies.
It went deeper and deeper from there, to the point that these guys started discussing who they were gonna hit, who they gonna rob, in front of me. I realised then I was in too deep and decided to go back to shooting drug addicts.
I imagine that after It’s All Good it must have been pretty difficult to return to shooting anything that wasn’t provoking?
Boogie: Exactly. For a while, I wasn’t inspired by anything that wasn’t a gun or a needle. But eventually the inspiration came back and I realised that good shots are all around. There isn’t always a need for extremes.
How has your interest in street culture deepened since you shot It’s All Good?
Boogie: It didn’t. The streets are where I feel at home and I shoot them constantly. The inspiration is endless, it’s constantly evolving. I think if you evolve as a person, your point of view evolves with you, so you see things in a different way.
What do you think is so significant about creating uncomfortable images?
Boogie: I think it’s important to show the world as it is; some people have it rougher than others. I am not trying to be shocking, I just shoot what I see.
Why does now feel like the right time to return to your debut monograph?
Boogie: Even though tens years have passed, nothing has changed. In fact, things may even be getting worse. The rich are getting richer and life for the poor is not getting any better, and this is a stark reminder. These people, irrespective of their race, class or social status, are all trying to survive. They are still trying to survive and violence becomes part of their existence.
Will the tenth-anniversary edition of It’s All Good feature new content?
Boogie: Yes, lots of new images and a much better edit. Back in the day I didn’t use contact sheets, I didn’t even have a lightbox! The new It’s All Good is an evolved version of the work I did ten years ago.
Are you working on anything?
Boogie: I shoot constantly and never leave my house without at least one camera. I have two books lined up after It’s All Good comes out. I love my life and am grateful for it.