The early days of hip-hop come alive in all their beautiful, vivid detail at the newly opened “Hip-Hop Revolution: Photographs by Janette Beckman, Joe Conzo, and Martha Cooper.”
The exhibition presents captivating images from the early years of a now-global culture rooted in the streets of New York, through the work of three city-based photographers.
Joe Conzo grew up in South Bronx with a passion for photography. At 17, he was right in the thick of hip-hop’s grassroots, documenting scenes from gigs at high school gymnasiums and uptown clubs. The Cold Crush Brothers and Run DMC are among the groups featured in his photographs.
“It was an innocent time,” Conzo told amNewYork. “We were just kids, we didn’t know anything better than what we grew up in. It was rough, but it was OK.”
As a kid in the crowd, Conzo’s lens went unnoticed — his images of Afrika Bambaata and high school audiences are unadulterated by the awareness of a camera.
“Yes, the Bronx was bad. Drugs. Gangs. Abandoned buildings. Fires. But look at the good that came out of it. Hip-hop. Latin jazz, so many pioneering, key figures. ? It was a fun time.”
Photojournalist Martha Cooper joined the New York Post as a staff photographer in the late ’70s. With a particular interest in youth culture, Cooper shot street scenes all over the city. Her candid pictures capture the playfulness of the kids she encountered, carting sheets of cardboard to breakdance on the sidewalk, practicing routines and carrying boomboxes to hang out in the park. The experimentation and innocence Cooper documents is evidence of a generation’s determination to rise above a murky and corrupt time, and to create something of their own.
Janette Beckman came to NYC from London to visit a friend in 1982 but, enthralled by a culture so different from her own, she never left. Beckman, who had previously photographed The Clash and The Police for music magazines in the U.K., turned her focus to the world of hip-hop. She went on to produce iconic portraits of American artists including Salt-N-Pepa, the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.
The commercialization of the culture is especially evident in her late ’80s images, often used for publicity and magazines. Rolls-Royces, bear skins, gold chains and other flashy affectations in full-color photographs offer a fun and eye-popping dynamic to the exhibition, as does Beckman’s “Mash-Up” series of her ’80s photographs reworked in a collaboration with contemporary artists, who have overlaid her original images with acrylic graffiti art.
Curated by Sean Corcoran, more than 100 photographs taken between 1977 and 1990 are on display.
If you go: The exhibition runs though Sept. 13 at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave, 212-534-1672. Open daily 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., suggested donation adults $14, seniors & students $10, under 19 FREE.