Camaraderie and swagger made up the electricity of New York in the eighties.
Brooklyn native Jamel Shabazz picked up his first camera at 16 to document his peers. Inspired by photographers Leonard Freed, James Van Der Zee, and Gordon Parks, he set out to document the African American community. In 1980 he decided to capture various aspects of life in New York City, from youth culture to a wide range of social conditions. The vibrant streets and subway system became backdrops for many of his most celebrated photographs.
“During the era of conscious rap and hip-hop, artists like KRS-One or Queen Latifah, Public Enemy, it was about culture, so I saw a lot of racial pride, I saw people wearing traditional African garments, kente cloth—celebrating their history and culture,” Shabazz shared with Vogue. “I thought that was a very interesting time. It wasn’t about a lot of the bling that would take place later on in the 1990s.”
In the past 10 years Shabazz has had over two dozen solo exhibitions; “Men of Honor”, “A Time Before Crack”, “Pieces of a Man”, “Represent”, When Two Worlds Meet”, “Back in the Days,” and “Seconds of my Life,” which have been shown from Argentina to The Netherlands, England, Italy, Germany, France, Japan and throughout the United States.
An even longer list of group showings include Art Basel; Miami, the Brooklyn Museum, the Newark Museum, the Contact Photo Festival, the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Duke University, and the Adidas Photo Festival in Ethiopia.
Over the years Jamel has volunteered, working with a wide range of organizations centered on inspiring young people in the field of photography and social responsibility. In addition, he has been a teaching artist with the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation; the Bronx Museum’s Teen Council youth program, The International Center of Photography, Friends of the Island Academy; and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Expanding the Walls Project.
More of Shabazz’s work can be found in his books Back in the Days and A Time Before Crack. He was also the subject of Charlie Ahern’s 2013 documentary, Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer, which features interviews with Fab 5 Freddy and KRS-One.
Photo story by Jamel Shabazz