Contact High: Hip-Hop’s Iconic Photographs and Visual Culture

14 Aug 2017 2017 TALKS

What role did photographers play in bringing hip-hop and music culture imagery onto the global stage and how was hip-hop’s visual legacy created?

Contact High: Hip-Hop’s Iconic Photographs and Visual Culture

Featuring: Vikki Tobak and Young Guru (Moderators), Janette Beckman, Barron Claiborne, Brian “B+” Cross and Ernie Paniccioli

Presented by

Presented by Contact High with support from Mass Appeal and Invictus Black











Saturday, September 16 | 6PM – 7PM
Location: St. Ann’s Warehouse – 45 Water St DUMBO Brooklyn


What role did photographers play in bringing hip-hop and music culture imagery onto the global stage and how was hip-hop’s visual legacy created? Contact High will host a conversation with legendary photographers Janette Beckman, Barron Claiborne, Brian Cross and Ernie Paniccioli exploring the creative process and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the imagery that shaped hip-hop. Co-moderated by writer/curator Vikki Tobak and Young Guru. By celebrating the collective of shooters, pioneering and contemporary, who recognized hip-hop’s importance, we come to understand the documentation of a cultural phenomenon. This is the story of shooters who captured the movement as it evolved from a burgeoning subculture in the late 1970s into the defining culture of today, impacting not just music but politics and social movements around the world.

Hip-hop and rebel cultures have always been about self-definition especially when it comes to visuals and style. For artists, that one iconic pose, press shot or album cover would play a major role in shaping them into icons by any means necessary — skills, style, swagger, bravado and visuals.Through these images –including both celebrated icons of photography and lesser-known images —  we come to understand how photographers thought about sequencing, process and their creative collaboration with the artists.


British photographer Janette Beckman began her career documenting punk rock for Melody Maker and The Face. Moving to New York City in 1983, she documented the golden age of hip-hop, photographing pioneers like Run DMC, Salt-N-Pepa, Slick Rick, etc.

Her work is in the permanent collections of The Smithsonian African American Museum and The Museum of the City of New York. She has published four books. Janette lives and works in New York City.

Barron Claiborne (BC AFRICANUS) was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a self-taught photographer and began taking photographs at the age of 10 after receiving a camera as a gift  from his mother, Betty Lou. He works primarily in large format, 8×10 and 4×5. In 1989, he moved to New York City. In 2001, he began working on a project which involved 8×10 polaroids of the Female Form (Venus Aurea), Women (Goddess), Saints (Muurmaidens and Orishas), and the Twins (Double Duplication). The inspiration for his work is both historical, mythological and imaginary. The symbolic imagery represents dreams, stories, and the oral traditions of his Southern American and African ancestry. His work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Interview, among others. He has photos in museums and private collections worldwide.

Brian “B+” Cross is one of the most prominent music photographers working today. He has photographed more than 100 album covers for artists such as Company Flow, Damian Marley, David Axelrod, DJ Shadow, Flying Lotus, Eazy-E, J Dilla, Jurassic 5, Madlib, Mos Def, and Q-Tip. Cross was the Director of Photography for the Academy Award–nominated documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” and has made several feature-length music films and many music videos. His photos have appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Vibe, the Fader, and the Wire.

B+ is an assistant professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of California San Diego, and cofounder of Mochilla, a production house whose output includes feature-length music documentaries, music videos, music, and photography. A former student of award-winning author Mike Davis and photographer Allan Sekula, Cross was the photo editor of the music magazine Wax Poetics from 2004 to 2010, and Rap Pages from 1993 to 1998. Cross’s 1993 book on the LA hip-hop scene, “It’s Not About a Salary,” was on “best book of the year” lists for Rolling Stone and NME magazines, and Vibe named it one of the top ten hip-hop books of all time. Cross lives in Los Angeles and his new book “Ghostnotes: Music of the Unplayed”will be published by the University of Texas Press in October 2017.

The Wall Street Journal calls Young Guru “the most influential man in hip-hop you’ve never heard of.” Often referred to as “The Sound of New York,” legendary audio engineer, Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton is most known for his work behind the boards with Jay Z. Jay Z would shout out Guru’s name on the records themselves—an unheard of acknowledgement to give to an engineer at the time. Guru’s ability to communicate complex technical terms, not only to artists but students, creatives and business professionals alike, has led to his reputation as the foremost leader bridging the gap between hip-hop and the tech community. Through this love for technology and innovation, Guru cofounded Era of the Engineer, a social enterprise designed to shed light where culture and technology intersect. He was recently acknowledged by Fast Company as one of 2016’s Most Creative People in Business.

Guru puts in the work on the music side as well: he received two Grammy nominations for his work with Common and Jhené Aiko and continues to help artists such as Jay Z and Alicia Keys to craft their live shows.

A lifelong educator at heart, Guru served as the official Artist-in-Residence at USC’s Thornton School of Music where he oversaw the creation of its first-ever Music Production Degree. In 2013, Guru partnered with Hewlett-Packard and The Recording Academy to create The Grammy’s first-ever educational tour, ‘The Era of the Engineer Tour,’ in which he traveled to 13 college campuses, including NYU, MIT, and Cornell University, to speak on “creative engineering”—his cross-disciplinary approach to problem-solving.

Author of “Who Shot Ya? Three Decades of Hip Hop Photography,” Ernie Paniccioli first made his foray into hip-hop culture in 1973 when he began capturing the ever present graffiti art dominating New York City. From there, and armed with a 35-millimeter camera, Paniccioli has recorded the entire evolution of hip-hop. Much in the same way Gordon Parks recorded the Civil Rights Movement, or the way James Van Der Zee documented Harlem in the 1920s, Paniccioli met the energy and spirit of the times head on with his picture-making. From Grandmaster Flash at the Roxy (a popular Manhattan nightclub of the late ‘70s and early 1980s), to the athletic moves of the legendary Rock Steady Crew, to the fresh faces of Queen Latifah, Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, and Lauryn Hill, Paniccioli has been at the forefront documenting the greatest cultural movement since Rock and Roll.

Paniccioli is the recipient of the UNIVERSAL ZULU NATION Human Soul Award and is creator of “THE OTHER SIDE OF HIP HOP” which won the Big Apple Film Festival Best Documentary in 2007. His archive of over 100,000 photographs has been acquired by Cornell University, as part of their Hip-Hop Collection, and he was also inducted into the Hip Hop Hall of Fame. A true renaissance man, Paniccioli is also a painter, public speaker, and historian.

Vikki Tobak is a culture writer/journalist and independent curator. Her writing has been published in The FADER, Complex, Mass Appeal, The Undefeated (ESPN),, DJ Times, I-D Magazine, Dazed and Confused, The Detroit News and Vibe Magazine. She is also the founding curator of FotoDC’s FotoFilm program, which champions photography, documentary aesthetics and the moving image.

Born in Kazakhstan and raised in Detroit, Vikki began her career as Director of Media Relations for Payday Records/Empire Management, working with artists Gang Starr, Jeru, Masta Ace, Jazzmatazz and early Mos Def, Jay-Z and others. Subsequently, she was a culture writer at Paper Magazine covering music, art and subcultures, and the Marketing Director at Ego Trip Magazine. She went on to work as a television network news producer and reporter covering technology, global politics and economy for CNN, Bloomberg News, TechTV, CBS MarketWatch and other leading media organizations. She also served as a commissioner for the Palo Alto Public Art Commission in Silicon Valley. Vikki has lectured at American University, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and Volta New York. Her series “Contact High: Hip-Hop Photography and Visual Culture” will be published as a book in Fall 2018 by Clarkson Potter/Crown/Random House.