Jamel Shabazz is not only a globally recognized documentary photographer; he’s something of a legend and icon among early pioneers and fans of New York’s hip-hop culture. His vivid photographs captured the emergence of streetwear fashion trends and their associated lifestyles with a signature style that has stood the test of time.
With a slew of fine art exhibitions worldwide and several highly regarded books published, Shabazz has immortalized everyday street life in New York City, capturing specific eras and moments in time with unique respect and reverence for people. In many of his images, it is clear that he has warmly communicated with his subjects, establishing a sense of humanity, before celebrating the uniqueness of both individuals and specific cultures.
In one photograph, a group of five presumably Italian gentlemen is elegantly framed in what looks like a spontaneous portrait. Three are seated, with the eldest of the group at the center, and the remaining two standing behind him, protectively.
Several reflections on various windows in the frame bounce off each other in the image, revealing that the men are in a “Fine Italian Pastries” shop. At first glance, the serious and somewhat menacing facial expressions of the men are intimidating. However, the green, white, and yellow jackets and shirts they wear draw viewers in for a closer look. The sportswear features the logo for the New York Cosmos soccer team, making viewers smile at the fierce loyalty to the city that many New Yorkers feel.
An appreciation for the ability of his subjects to pose and represent themselves in whatever way they feel is evident in much of the work. One gets the sense that Shabazz wants to encourage a sense of feeling good and having fun. Another image features a crew of breakdancers, also dressed in matching green streetwear. In a death-defying feat of gravity, the dancers balance on one another, perfectly poised for the camera. Representing what they love and do best, Shabazz’s eye elevates their stature in the humble environs of a New York City subway station.
A few photographs of New York City police officers offer social commentary as well as documentation of police fashion. If you remember the cop show CHiPs from the 1980s, it might come to mind. Tight clothes and long hair with a spread leg – part disco, part cowboy – stance date the photograph in the context of style.
The exhibition, Sights in the City: Photos by Jamel Shabazz at United Photo Industries is a bit of a homecoming, with the gallery located in Shabazz’s hometown, Brooklyn. It is also, a warm-hearted trip down memory lane for anyone who has lived and loved the streets of New York City.
Sights in the City: Photos by Jamel Shabazz is on view through June 17, 2017.