“I watched as the crowd absorbed these kids and formed a safety net around them, and I knew they were perfectly safe,” Scheinbaum says. “In my day, if there had been an older guy in the back of the room, we would have assumed he was a narc or something, but kids were coming up to me and telling me how cool it was that I had driven my kid down from Santa Fe, and they were telling me about their dads, and it was just this wonderful, loving, caring and very positive experience.”
This event shifted Scheinbaum’s perception and piqued his curiosity, which led to the upcoming release of his new photography book, Hip-Hop: Portraits of an Urban Hymn. Over the years, Scheinbaum has photographed over 200 hip-hop groups and solo artists. The book represents his attempt to both capture the culture and music of the genre, and to subtly dispel public misconceptions.
“Music—good music—is so much more than just entertainment,” he says. “There will always be something behind it, a message that is more than the beat and rhythm or the way an artist is dressed…think of art as a form of communication and expression, and when it comes to certain aspects of hip-hop, you will be confronted with issues you’ve avoided or that you didn’t want to think about. But that doesn’t mean it’s all about violence and drugs…that stuff is still there, and there is room for audiences and artists to grow, but there is a much more positive element that I’m not sure people realize is there.”
For many of the photos, Scheinbaum was allowed onstage, which provides a glimpse into the artist’s perspective.
“If you shoot from the crowd, it becomes hard to avoid the notion of ‘celebrity,’” he says. “We like to say in photography that there’s a difference between taking pictures and making pictures, and the pictures I wanted to make were to create motion and sound in still form, and the only way to capture that was to literally be alongside the artist while they worked.”
With crisp black and white, Scheinbaum captures a performer’s stage personas and spontaneous moments. With sharp color, he highlights the intensity and passion of the artists. The photos strip away pretense in favor of portraying hip-hop artists as just what they are—human beings. One particular photo, a portrait of Mos Def taken outside a post-show party, encapsulates the overall energy and emphasis of the book. It is a fleeting moment, but gorgeous in its simplicity.
Others showcase the raw energy filtered through a roaring crowd and channeled onstage. A photo of Slug from Atmosphere crowd surfing borders on old punk-rock photography in composition and creates a feeling of almost familial community—a feeling that is woven throughout the many shots found within the book.
Punctuating the visual are essays from the likes of author Michael Eric Dyson (Holler if You Hear Me), Public Enemy’s Brian Hardgroove and activist Gaye Theresa Johnson. These essays are a brilliant addition, and they draw from hip-hop tradition and tropes to illustrate its place as a cultural phenomenon as well as the concepts behind the sounds and the power of the genre.
Also included is an interview with Scheinbaum that serves to explain the motivation behind the book. Hip-Hop: Portraits of an Urban Hymn is an astounding culmination of more than a decade’s worth of Scheinbaum’s expertise applied to an unexpected medium. It is, in a word, beautiful.
“The mere fact that someone like me, an outsider, would be welcomed so kindly and so generously by so many talented people,” he says, “that alone should say enough about hip-hop.”
2-4 pm Saturday, Sept. 28. Free.
VERVE Gallery of Photography,
219 E Marcy St., 982-5009