Shooting hip hop artists in New York, the photographer talks to us about the money, the honeys and smokes and tattoos
New York based photographer Mike Schrieber documents the hip hop world. Self-taught, he started off going to shows and worked his way through the ranks to document the genre’s elite. His new book ‘TRUE Hip-Hop’ of mostly black and white portraits features Mos Def, Flava Flav, Slick Rick, (a then unsigned) Eminem, along with some lesser known names (C Murder, Petey Pablo, Maino). Accompanying stories include anecdotes on the artists as well as shooting techniques (he only uses analogue) to show more than the façade of money, honeys, dogs, smokes, tattoos etc. Other projects include the Angola Prison Rodeo and The Dog Park. Here he muses with Dazed about the hustle of hip hop and making rappers look good.
Dazed Digital: How do you think not having 'formal training' has influenced your style of shooting and your approach to photography?
Mike Schreiber: I think I have benefitted by not having formal training because when I started I was a blank slate and it gave me a freedom to just be myself and develop my own style without being critiqued and tweaked by someone else. a lot of times with training, people pick up the style and technique of the person training them. I've been able to figure out what works for me by doing it in real life. Not having training has freed me up to be 100 per cent myself.
DD: What draws you to photography?
Mike Schreiber: I have always loved taking pictures. I love meeting new people, talking and making people laugh. All of that stuff is just as important to me as taking the photo. also, the idea that you can freeze a split second that will never, ever happen again is a pretty powerful thing.
DD: Many of the images of hip-hop artists and much of your personal works document rawness and a sense of reality yet the subject(s) remain very relaxed and composed: how do you create such an atmosphere?
A lot of people ask me that, I think my greatest asset as a photographer is my ability to make people feel comfortable. I also think that the fact that I rarely use lights and don't have big productions with lots of crew helps. It makes a very unnatural experience (getting your picture taken) much more intimate and natural. I also smile a lot! I think that helps.
DD: You studied anthropology; do you think this affects your style?
Mike Schreiber: Definitely. A lot of people associate anthropology with dinosaur bones, but that's not what it is. It's really just the study of culture and looking at the world in a critical way. hip-hop has been the most powerful influence on popular culture in the past 20 years and I feel very lucky to have been a part of it in my own little way. I am really a documentary photographer who happens to take portraits, and I think that my schooling in anthropology has had a direct influence on that.
DD: What interests you about hip-hop? How did you start taking pictures of the hip hop world?
Mike Schreiber: Well, I started shooting the hip-hop scene because those were the shows that i went to and also the ones where i was able to gain the most access. there is an ‘anything goes’ spirit in the hip-hop world that's very exciting. Hip-hop embodies the hustler's mentality. Like, hustle hard and you can do anything. It's very alluring, but it's not for everyone. You really have to grind, and you really have to do great work.
DD: Is it the way the artists like to portray it - glamour, excess, money etc.?
Mike Schreiber: Sometimes, sometimes not. It depends on the artist.
DD: What's your favourite story behind a photo you've taken?
Mike Schreiber: There are a few but you would have to pick up the book and read them there.
DD: Who would you say your biggest inspiration is photography-wise and what initially made you want to pursue it as a career?
Mike Schreiber: My biggest inspiration is Sebastiao Salgado. I wanna be like him when I grow up! I pursued photography as a career because I really enjoyed the hustle. It’s exciting, you have to be fast, but you also have to be patient. I genuinely take pleasure in meeting new people and experiencing new things, I love creating; it's fun.
DD: Any current/future projects/shows?
Mike Schreiber: I currently have a show up in Miami at AE District Gallery that runs through December, 2010. I have been working on a show for the photos that i shot last year in Ghana and I am in the process of planning a big exhibition in late March 2011 which will be my first show in London. It's going to be great! The curator, the lovely Zeyna Sy and I are organising a lot of exciting events for the two weeks that the show will run. My work has always received a lot of love in the UK and around Europe so I am really excited about showing my work out there.