June 29, 2010 Slideshows » Music

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Music Issue 2010: Atlanta photographers shoot Atlanta musicians 

Being a music photographer is a tough gig. Between editors, publicists, art directors and the actual artists, it's rare that an image maker is able to realize his or her singular vision. For this project, we reached out to Atlanta photographers and asked for their favorite shots of local artists, along with the stories of their creation. We wanted to provide a forum for passionate images and the unfiltered voices behind them. In reading their statements, I'm reminded that photographers are very soulful people. They feel more than most.
Hawks, 2010 I had never seen or photographed Hawks, but had heard of their reputation for NSFW performances. Playing to a sold-out Drunken Unicorn crowd, lead singer Mike Keenan first draped himself with packs of firecrackers — which he ignited — and then unburdened himself of all his clothes for the last few songs of the set. This image pretty much defines what a Hawks show is all about. — Perry Julien
Mack Messiah at the Drunken Unicorn, 2008 Kenny Crucial is considered by many to be an icon in the Atlanta music scene. He can usually be found front row and center at most of the shows to be at. But he’s also a musician with several side projects, including the band Mack Messiah. His stage presence is somewhat like a young David Byrne in the early days of the Talking Heads. At first glance it would appear that the fan in this photograph was making a point about how he felt about the music, but it may have been just his unique way of showing his respect to Kenny. — Perry Julien
Killer Mike, 2007 This was taken right in front of Stankonia Studios sometime in 2007. Killer Mike — who now goes by Mike Bigga — is probably one of my favorite MCs in Atlanta because he is so gangster but his content has more substance than most rappers. I just like where he’s coming from. I've seen a lot of rapper default poses, but to have the classic trigger-finger [pose] with two hands, and to do it with a Playboy beanie covering your eyes, is priceless. — Diwang Valdez
Jimi Cravity, 2009 Jimi Cravity has a great song called "I Love Atlanta." We were shooting near a parking garage and saw this old classic car which matched his whole style and vibe. Jimi seems to me like an old soul type of kid. I really like how you can't tell what year it is in the photo. — Diwang Valdez
Young Jeezy, 2005 This was taken at Patchwerk studios before Jeezy's first solo album came out. It was at a time when there was a lot of excitement around Jeezy and everybody in Atlanta either had the Thug Motivation bootleg or was still listening to the first Trap or Die. I really just loved how he was getting a tattoo at the recording studio. I remember thinking, “I couldn't have set this up any better.” It's great because the guy giving the tattoo is Tuki Carter who is in the group Hollyweerd, which is on the complete other side of the spectrum of Atlanta hip-hop. — Diwang Valdez
T.I., 2006 This was taken during T.I.'s video for "I'm a King." It was shot out in a random neighborhood in Atlanta. The woman was the video girl, who is normally in the background just looking good. Normally I shoot digital, but on this shoot I shot with an all-manual camera on black and white film for fun. I developed the film a year after it was taken because I needed some T.I. photos and I didn't like the digital images I had. I remembered this roll of black and white film, developed it, and this image appeared. I like the texture, the borders, the scratches and the dust. It’s the opposite of a digital image. — Diwang Valdez
Clark Brown
The Restraints, 1981 Live on stage at the Agora Ballroom in Midtown. The singer Chris Wood would stick a hypodermic needle into his forehead. I shot a few shows of theirs at the Agora. I think this was the one that they opened for the Ramones. Chris was a diabetic so he had no shortage of needles. He also did a song called "Wacka Wacka" and he would get a girl from the audience on stage and he had a little paddle and he would put her across his knee and whack her. — Clark Brown
Clark Brown
Billy Asshole, 1981 The infamous Billy Asshole — the name says it all. Shot in the early ’80s at an art opening in the basement gallery of the Blue Rat . The gallery was divided into many rooms, this one was where we had a stage for live music and I think the Nightporters were playing. The building was later torn down to make way for the IBM tower, but they ended up building it three blocks south at West Peachtree and 14th street. — Clark Brown
Clark Brown
Chris Wood and David Dickens, 1981 Chris Wood of the Restraints and his friend David Dickens were at my apartment in Pershing Point in the old Russell building. I set up a mylar background and shot them with a Polaroid SX-70. They look to be the soul brothers of punk. — Clark Brown
Grip Plyaz, 2010 Grip and I have been cool since the Broke $ Boujee days when I was taking shots inside the Royal off of Trinity Ave. I wasn't shooting a lot of studio content then, but he was always on my short list of local talent that I knew I wanted to work with. My setup for this shoot was just a tripod, with daylight-balanced flourescents shot against a white cyclorama. What I like most about this image is the effortless coolness he exudes. Many artists try and it just comes off contrived — Grip just is. — Hannibal Matthews
Asher Roth, 2009 This photo was commissioned by Universal Records for usage as artwork for his debut. Asher expressed to me that he wanted the literal meaning of his album title, Asleep in the Bread Aisle, to be conveyed in the image, so I took him at his word. We found a bread shop on the West side of Atlanta, cleared a couple of rows of bread, and knocked out the shots. It's always great working with an artist who has total confidence in your vision as a photographer. It allows for a more spontaneous and organic shooting experience — which, in my opinion, tends to lend itself to more interesting or arresting imagery. This was definitely one of those experiences. — Hannibal Matthews
Divinity, 2007 I took this photograph around the time Divinity got the gig as Beyonce's bass player. Many of us also know her as MC Divinity/Divibaby — a brilliant musical talent and artist in her own right. What I remember most about this session is the energy and the trust. It was free-flowing. I let Divinity be Divinity. Which is what her music is about: Being herself. Not conforming. Not being put in a box. — Annette Brown
Soulja Boy This image of Soulja Boy came from a day-in-the-life shoot I worked on for XXL magazine. I had already photographed Soulja a number of times for his record label, but this shoot was so much better. I was given total creative freedom from my editor to shoot documentary images and Soulja gave me complete access, even allowing me to follow him into the bathroom to brush his teeth moments after I got there. We spent the rest of the day talking to his tattoo artist, laying down a new track at Atlanta's Doppler Studios, joking around with fast food window girls and, of course, playing video games live with his fans. Social networking helped him rise to the top, so it made him the perfect documentary subject because he understands the idea of sharing your daily life. — David Walter Banks
Janelle Monáe, 2007 Janelle Monáe was shot for an assignment for The Fader magazine. She was a dream to shoot because she just exudes style and class. From her one-of-a-kind hair to her tuxedoed dress and doll-like face, it's like photographing a living art installation. From the moment I arrived she put me at ease with her soft soothing voice and openness. This image was taken during a slow point in the shoot where she just walked over and sat in the windowsill and started belting out a beautiful a cappella tune. — David Walter Banks
Klever, 2008 Two years ago I shot the A3C Festival at Center Stage. The lineup was amazing and I was really excited to cover it. What I didn't realize was that my favorite photo from the whole event would be [DJ] Klever’s shoes. This was a happy accident and those are usually my favorite photos. — Zach Wolfe
Alfamega, 2009 We took this particular shot in front of the Hilliard Street Hotel, aka Pink City, for Alfamega’s album cover. Pink City wasn’t shut down yet, but at the time, it had to be one of the rawest areas in Atlanta. Drug dealing, pimps, you name it. Some of the people in the area threatened to shoot me and take my gear, but Alfamega calmed them down and I made it out alive. The lady next to Alfamega in this shot is actually his mother, who he rented an apartment for in the area, and it was a big deal for him to get her in a shot. I did two snaps and she was done, but this is definitely one of my favorite moments behind the camera. — Zach Wolfe
Money Burger, 2008 Atlantic Records hit me up with this concept to make a money cheeseburger for Big Kuntry King’s album shoot My Time to Eat. At first I thought they were joking till they sent me a few sketches of their idea. We hired a food stylist and did a few practice runs at my studio. The final burger had approximately $3,500 cash in it. — Zach Wolfe
Mayor of Ponce crowd surfing at a Black Lips show, 2009 Scott Laney and I came up with an idea to throw a show at my studio around December of last year. We thought it would be amazing to take them back to their roots and play a warehouse party with last minute planning. We posted a small flyer on Facebook less than 48 hours before the show. At the last minute, with 300 hipsters in my parking lot, we opened the doors. The party was off the charts. Black Lips and Barreracudas performed, and everyone including the Mayor had an amazing time. — Zach Wolfe
“Walk It Out,” 2007 I was shooting Mr. ColliPark for i-D magazine out of London for a bigger story on the Atlanta music scene and he told me about a video shoot in Bankhead that I should cover. It was for DJ Unk’s new song “Walk It Out.” The song was the new hot shit at the time, and about a month later Andre 3000 jumped on the remix. I have a bunch of shots I like from this video, but the kids walking it out in the street was my favorite. It was a spontaneous moment that lasted all of one to two minutes before the cops shut them down. These kids took over the whole street; no one could go anywhere. I felt lucky to be there, it felt like an authentic moment in Atlanta hip-hop history. — Zach Wolfe
Foundation, 2009 This image speaks volumes of how hard the boys in Foundation work and how intense their live shows are. I can honestly credit their drummer, Champ, with getting me off my couch and back into the hardcore scene. It’s photos like this that make the sweat and the constant dodging of stage divers all worth it. — Matt Miller
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, 2010 Beverly "Guitar" Watkins was playing in an ugly, dark atrium in the middle of what seemed to be a failing shopping center on Auburn Ave in early 2010. I was drawn to this particular man on the stage because I could tell that he was really feeling Beverly's blues. He sat there by himself for the entire show, eyes shut, with a steady tap in his foot. — Dustin Chambers
B.o.B, 2009 This was shot at a B.o.B. show at Smith’s Olde Bar last year. I feel like this moment was the culmination of the energy that had been swirling around in the room that night — like a modern-day communion. — Dustin Chambers
The Constellations, 2009 The Constellations were playing a sold-out show with the Judies at 529 — possibly the smallest live music venue in Atlanta.I t was packed. With people bouncing all over the place, I couldn’t get a good shot with my eye to the viewfinder. As frontman Elijah [Jones] sang the chorus to the song “Step Right Up,” he began to motion to the crowd. I hoisted my camera in the air toward his outstretched arm and was able to aim the camera toward his hand, autofocus on it and fire. It made Elijah’s hand the focus of the shot, with himself and the Clap Squad girls Alaina [Terry] and Shab [Bashiri] blurred out in the background. — Matthew Smith
Judi Chicago, 2009 This photo was taken in front of Druid Hills Baptist Church on Ponce de Leon Ave. for the ArtLantis Music Festival. Ben Coleman was writhing on the stairs while belting out hilarious, politically-inspired lyrics in typical Judi fashion. — Matthew Smith
James King, 2009 I caught this dapper young gentleman playing trumpet for the Soulphonics & Ruby Velle at the High Museum of Art. After Noot d’ Noot’s set, Ruby Velle and crew performed a knockout for the crowd on a beautiful Atlanta afternoon. The subject of the photo, James King, is now touring with PJ Morton. — Matthew Smith
Gringo Star, 2010 I've been a fan of the Gringo Star dudes for a long time. This shot was taken at their recent appearance at the Earl on April 16. I was excited because I'd recently started experimenting with the second shutter setting on my camera, which allows the photos to take on a more dreamlike effect if the lighting is right. This was actually the last shot I took of the night, during the last song of their encore. Their energy flew off the stage and into the room, and I was just trying to capture that moment with a hint of surrealism thrown in for good measure. Ultimately though what this picture says to me is that even after nearly ten years of making music together these guys are still as musically in tune with one another as they've ever been — which is no small feat. — Mike Koenig
Deerhunter, 2003 The first Deerhunter shows were always thrilling on some level because you knew to expect the unexpected. I took this shot in the summer of 2003 at the Alphabet House. Only a few people outside of the bands playing (Blame Game, Japanther, Deerhunter, the Alphabets) were on hand. On this night Deerhunter featured only Bradford [Cox] and the late Justin Bosworth — as well as a cameo from Jane of the Alphabets on saxophone. I remember them playing about 20 minutes, with Bradford abruptly ending the chaos by wielding some weird spoken word stream of conscious rant about high school into the microphone. It seemed to catch everyone a little off guard. — Michael Koenig
Sean Costello, 2008 Here’s one of the last photos I took of Sean before he passed in April, 2008. He was in a very playful mood that night. But it was always easy to take photos of Sean because he was so passionate about his music and it showed in the photos. I was very close in for this shot and as soon as I took it, I knew it was a good one. — Vincent Tseng
Eddie Tigner, 2008 It was Eddie's 82nd birthday celebration party at Northside Tavern. Eddie is always kind, generous and accommodating — a true elder statesman of the Atlanta blues scene. That's his portrait on the Northside wall of fame over his right shoulder. I usually try to juxtaposition that portrait with my shots of him. — Vincent Tseng
Big Boi, 1997 This photo was shoot for XXL magazine. Big Boi was sitting on Andre’s VW Bug. Inside the car, Erykah Badu was sitting with Dre and their newborn son, Seven. As always, Big Boi was very confident. In fact, I framed and sold this picture to Big Boi. — Shannon McCollum
Lil Jon We were in Miami headed to grab lunch. I chose this photo because I love the angle. It reminded me of something you would see in Rolling Stone magazine. Lil Jon was enjoying his day off from the hectic tour. I wanted to get something classic as I rode in the backseat with him. This photo reminds me of how far Atlanta artists have come. — Shannon McCollum
Cee-Lo, 2008 Cee-Lo [threw] a party for his record label [Radiculture Records]. I knew him from hanging out at [Organized Noize producer] Rico Wade’s house and we maintained a good friendship. After the party, I saw Cee-Lo get in his Rolls-Royce, and as it was pulling off I ran over because it felt magical. He was in the back seat looking like a movie star with these hot Asian babes, so I stopped in front of the car and he looked over and saw it was me and gave me an awesome smile. — Shannon McCollum
Ludacris, 1994 We were sitting in Poon Daddy’s backyard off of Stewart Avenue. This was before Luda was a rapper. He was an on-air DJ for Hot 107.9 [WHTA-FM, then Hot 97.5] — and was still known as Chris Luva Luva. Poon Daddy was his co-host. Luda heard about me through a girl that worked at the radio station. When he came to my house he was in awe of all the rappers I had worked with. After our shoot, he invited me over to Poon Daddy’s house. That’s where this shot came from. — Shannon McCollum
Benjamin was the center of gravity that held the Cabbagetown scene together.
From Benjamin's memorial parade
The Opal Foxx Quartet: Todd Butler (left to right), Cal Clements, Brian Halloran, Connie Haynes, Allen Page, Benjamin, and Jim Pribble
The Opal Foxx Quartet: Todd Butler (left to right), Cal Clements, Brian Halloran, Connie Haynes, Allen Page, Benjamin, and Jim Pribble
At the Jody Grind memorial parade: Athens underground legend William "Ort" Carlton (left), Kelly Hogan and Brian Halloran.
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Hawks, 2010 I had never seen or photographed Hawks, but had heard of their reputation for NSFW performances. Playing to a sold-out Drunken Unicorn crowd, lead singer Mike Keenan first draped himself with packs of firecrackers — which he ignited — and then unburdened himself of all his clothes for the last few songs of the set. This image pretty much defines what a Hawks show is all about. — Perry Julien

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