Pieces of A Man
Essay in Jamel Shabazz Retrospective

Excerpt from Jamel Shabazz Photo Retrospective

The filmmaker and photographer Gordon Parks had captured Black life thru tumult, tragedy and in some cases, triumph. Jamel Shabazz came later, when that thing called hip-hop emerged, signaling not the beginning of something new or a belief in something old, but a warning about the End. Of. It. All. When cardboard becomes a dance floor, old records become new sounds and abandoned buildings are turned into a canvas, that doesn’t just speak to the resilience and genius of people, but it exposes something troubling about the society that makes that ingenuity necessary.

The comparison of Jamel to other photographers makes sense, from Gordon Parks to Henri Cartier-Bresson. But to me, Jamel’s photos were cinematic, his images not static but alive, capturing a sensibility reminiscent of filmmaker Charles Burnett of the L.A. Rebellion School that emerged out of UCLA in the 1970’s, or of filmmaker Kahlil Joseph who’s work today carries that same torch.

Hip-hop has definitely been the soundtrack to Jamel’s imagery, but the pulse and promise of his photography was Black life itself. Like Burnett and others before, Jamel captured everyday Black life in all its beauty and burden. The people and lives that his photos captured were the living stories that hip-hop sought to narrate in song form: B-girls and B-boys in a stance, hard rocks doing what they do, and working class people trying to survive with dignity.

Jamel Shabazz's back in the day old street photographs, boy with boombox.

Jamel Shabazz’s back in the day old street photographs, boy with boombox.