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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Behind Broke $ Boujee: Interview with photographer Hannibal Matthews


Tonight, Broke & Boujee presents Make Love Not War, with proceeds to benefit Gaza relief efforts via $4.99 before 10:30 p.m. $9.99 after 10:30 p.m. 10 p.m. Thurs., Jan. 29. The Five Spot, 1123 Euclid Ave. 404-223-1100.

Read this week's CL cover story: Fadia Kader brings Palestine to the party. And check out the interview with resident photographer Hannibal below.

If there’s one element that makes Broke & Boujee click, it’s Hannibal Matthews’ camera shutter. The pop life portraits the Atlanta native creates have come to define B$B as much as the name itself. Like the aspirational ethos behind Fadia Kader’s Come Up Kids, Matthews has carved his own path to DIY glory. The former college dropout and ex-Marine is a self-taught photographer who has parlayed his rep for hot shots into becoming the go-to-cameraman among Atlanta’s emerging hip-hop set.

Once a month, he still makes time to shoot Broke & Boujee — where spontaneous lap dances and random crotch shots are an occupational hazard Matthews is willing to manage.

What would you say it is that you’re attempting to capture when you shoot portraits at the parties?

I feel like I expose people for who they are in the moment — the moment being a really wacky, crazy party atmosphere. For some reason, I’m able to capture the energy of the party. Once people see the pictures – and I look at them myself sometimes – it’s like, ‘Wow, it looks like it was a lot of fun.’ Whereas a lot of event photography you see, it’s like, ‘Oh ok, I’m standing here in the center of the floor’ and if it’s a girl she has her heels on and she looks cute or whatever; but at Broke & Boujee you’ve got people jumping in the air on a trampoline throwing up peace signs. One guy might pick up his girlfriend and throw her on his shoulder or something. It’s just a fun party.

That energy transfers through film onto everybody’s MySpace pages. Broke & Boujee is basically the site where everybody gets their MySpace profile picture.

Sometimes it looks like more fun is being had in front of your lens than within the actual party. What is it about the shoots that make people open up so much and give you all that energy?

Everybody wants to be a star, no matter what. As simple or as small as a Broke & Boujee party may seem in the bigger scheme of the world, everybody wants to be a star and look like a star.

As a visual artist, our job is to interpret reality differently. And everybody’s perception is basically relative to what they’re going through. Everybody wants to be a star, everybody wants to be famous, everybody wants their 15 seconds of fame. If it can be done in front of a camera at Broke & Boujee, then there it is.

Any wild stories?

I’ve basically taken pictures of everything. People have asked me to delete pictures before. Those shots were basically [when] the girls’ crotch [was] shot by mistake and they say, ‘Oh my God, my crotch is showing. Delete that.’ Or some girls come in there with another guy, and she’s like, ‘I don’t want my boyfriend to see these pictures.’

It’s kind of no-holds-barred. Whatever goes goes, and I just take pictures of whatever’s happening. Basically I’m journaling the evening. And my job is to journal everything that’s going on.

Lap dances are going on; girls kissing other guys and guys kissing other girls when you know that they’re both with somebody else. But it’s like, who cares? It’s Broke & Boujee, anything goes.

How did you go from being a Marine to Broke & Boujee’s resident photographer?

I was in the Marine Corp for about four years, and I was an artist before that. I went to college and dropped out. I was kinda lost and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. So, I was really adventurous, and my dad was a Marine and my uncle was a Marine. So one summer, I just ended up in the Marine Corp. I don’t even know how I got there, dog, it was a blur.

I kinda saw life through a different lens even being a Marine. So I didn’t really take on the whole, crazy persona. Most people seeing me now wouldn’t even think I was a Marine at one point.

After four years in the Marines, I wanted to join the Army to be a Ranger. I was a part of the Long Range Surveillance Detachment (LRSD) in the 82nd Airborne Division, and I was on a training mission and I hurt my hip really bad. I had an opportunity to stay in, but if I couldn’t do that I didn’t want to do anything.

So I got out in December ’06 with an honorable discharge. In Feb. ’07, I met [visual artist] Fray Wall at Guitar Center. And then Fray took me over to promoter Ian Ford. Fadia was looking for a photographer for a party she was doing. I didn’t know Fadia at the time. Ian Ford basically introduced me to Fadia and from then on we started doing Broke & Boujee.

How have you used the B&B platform to launch your career?

Broke & Boujee parties kinda helped me to learn lighting and how to shoot portraits of people in that kind of environment. That was basically my learning experience. While I was doing that, I was working for my brother’s paint company and I was painting during the day full-time. During the evenings and the weekends I would rent photo equipment and just basically teach myself how to use the equipment and test shoot my friends for free and stuff like that.

After I was getting paid to do it, I just quit my job. One day I just didn’t show up for work, and my brother was basically waiting for me not to show up to work because we both kinda knew that I could do it. So I just did it.

To all those artists out there that feel like they can’t do what they wanna do with their lives, I hope that’s some small inspiration — because it’s not hard. If you wanna do something with your life, if you really wanna do something, as humans, we will do it.

Do people tip you at the parties?

I used to take tips, but I’m rich now so I don’t. (laughs) Nah, it’s a free service man. I try to keep it like that. Most of the kids are in college anyway, and they don’t have money. Basically, I go to help out Fadia. That’s the only reason I do it, because my friendships are so important and if I can help my friend to be successful by just taking pictures at a party once a month, then there it is.

What’s on the horizon?

I’m doing Asher Roth’s album cover, and another cover for Def Jam for a group called Unlady Like in St. Louis. I’m trying to get as many album covers this year as I can. My goal for this year is 12, and I guess if you reach for the stars you might land in the clouds.

I want to be the go-to guy at labels. I want artists to see something different in my work and call me. As far as film is concerned, I want to start shooting some music videos. I directed a video for Attitude called “First Things First.” It’s produced by Motion Family (Sebastian and David) in Atlanta. I’m doing my first gallery show this fall; it’s untitled.

Who are some of your influences?

Of course Gordon Parks, because of his portraiture and his photojournalistic skills, and his transferring from photography to filmmaking, which is something that I plan to do.

Tony Duran, Elliot Erwitt, Ralph Mecke, Tony Duran. Jonathan Mannion, as far as hip-hop. He did the Reasonable Doubt album cover for Jay-Z.

If Johnathan Mannion is the Jay-Z of hip-hop photography, then Hannibal is — who’s an up-and-coming hip-hop artist? — is the Wale. So, that’s what it is. I’m up-and-coming, and I think people are going to hear my voice. It’s a voice of the underground now, but soon it’ll be the voice of the mainstream because people aren’t going to be able to deny.

Photos by Hannibal Matthews from the August ’08 edition of Broke & Boujee. For more on Hannibal, visit or

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