A History of Hip-Hop Photography: Encore Episode from November 2017


This episode of the B&H Photography Podcast was originally released on November 10, 2017. We revisit it today in honor of Hip-Hop’s 50th anniversary, and the holiday of Thanksgiving.

With great thanks to Vikki Tobak and the Contact High Project, we welcome three photographers to our studio who are responsible for some of the most iconic images from the history of hip-hop. Janette Beckman, Eric Johnson, and Danny Hastings join us to tell the stories behind their photos of RUN-DMC, Wu Tang Clan, Lauryn Hill, and many others. We also speak about issues important to photographers, from on-set technique, to artistic collaboration and influence, to gear, to networking and, of course, copyright and image licensing. For us, this was a highly anticipated recording, and it did not disappoint. Whether you are a hip-hop fan interested in behind-the-scenes stories or a photographer looking for insight, join podcast host Allan Weitz, founding creative producer John Harris, and sound engineer Jason Tables for this epic chat.

Above photograph © Janette Beckman

Afrika Bambaata, 1983. Photograph © Janette Beckman
Boogie Down Productions - Scott La Rock & KRS-One, 1987. Photograph © Janette Beckman
Beastie Boys with Rick Rubin, 1985. Photograph © Janette Beckman
Jam Master Jay and son, 1991. Photograph © Janette Beckman
LL COOL J, 1985. Photograph © Janette Beckman
Native Tongues Posse, 1990. Photograph © Janette Beckman
Run-D.M.C. Posse, 1984. Photograph © Janette Beckman
Salt-N-Pepa, 1987. Photograph © Janette Beckman
Women Rappers NYC, 1988. Photograph © Janette Beckman
Wu Tang Clan (from "Enter the Wu-Tang"), 1993. Photograph © Danny Hastings
Raekwon (from "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx"), 1995. Photograph © Danny Hastings
Gang Starr (from "Hard to Earn"), 1994. Photograph © Danny Hastings
Jeru the Damaja (from "The Sun Rises in the East"), 1994. Photograph © Danny Hastings
Ice Cube (for Rap Pages magazine), 1994. Photograph © Danny Hastings
Big Pun (from "Capital Punishment"), 1998. Photograph © Danny Hastings
Eminem (from "The Slim Shady LP"), 1999. Photograph © Danny Hastings
Jay Z (from Stress Magazine. Jay Z’s first magazine cover), 1996. Photograph © Danny Hastings
Notorious B.I.G. Photograph © Eric Johnson
Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans, Photograph © Eric Johnson
Lauryn Hill (from "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"), 1998. Photograph © Eric Johnson
Cam’ron (from "Come Home with Me"), 2002. Photograph © Eric Johnson
Juelz Santana and Cam’ron of The Diplomats (aka Dipset), 2002. Photograph © Eric Johnson
De La Soul, "Stakes Is High," 1996. Photograph © Eric Johnson
Jason Tables, Vikki Tobak, Danny Hastings, Janette Beckman, Eric Johnson, Allan Weitz

Guests: Janette Beckman, Danny Hastings, Eric Johnson, and Vikki Tobak

Episode Timeline:

  • 3:30: The genesis of the Contact High project, and Vikki Tobak’s interviews with the photographers at the foundation of Hip-Hop
  • 8:07: Copyright in the photographs, agreements photographers signed with record companies and other clients, and unauthorized use of pictures downloaded from the Internet
  • 14:36: Jeanette Beckman talks about parallels between Punk and Hip-Hop, her career evolution, plus the evolution of Danny Hastings’s and Eric Johnson’s careers.
  • 23:05: Danny Hastings takes us behind the scenes of his pictures with Wu Tang Clan.
  • 31:04: Collaboration, interpreting the music through pictures, plus Hip-Hop style and the evolution of a Hip-Hop aesthetic
  • 43:43: Making distinctions between photographing a musician for a record label or magazine vs. working directly for the artist.
  • 46:51: Episode break
  • 47:18: Jeanette Beckman talks about her photo shoot with Slick Rick in the studio and Run D.M.C. on location in Hollis, Queens.
  • 54:56: Posing musicians, setting the tone for a shoot, and the story behind Danny Hastings's photo shoot for Nas’s I Am release.
  • 1:04:26: Hastings, Johnson, and Tobak talk camera gear—both digital and analog—and technique.
  • 1:19:32: Unexpected successes, and the one Hip-Hop photo at the top of Beckmann’s, Hastings’s, and Johnson’s respective lists of favorites.

Guest Bios:

Janette Beckman began her career at the dawn of punk rock in the U.K., photographing The Clash, Sex Pistols, and Boy George, as well as three Police album covers. Moving to New York in 1982, she was drawn to the underground hip-hop scene and photographed pioneers such as Run DMC, Slick Rick, Salt’n’Pepa, Grandmaster Flash, and Big Daddy Kane. She has published four books, and her pictures are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Museum and the Museum of the City of New York.

Danny Hastings has shot 150 album covers and directed more than 40 music videos. Listed in Complex Magazine as one of the rap photographers every rap fan should know, his most notable album covers include Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Big Pun’s Capital Punishment, Nas’s I Am, as well as album art for Raekwon, Eminem, and Jeru the Damaja. Hastings has also been a director of feature films.

Eric Johnson has created iconic hip-hop images of Notorious B.I.G, Lauryn Hill, Dipset, Li’l Wayne, and newer artists like G Herbo and Cakes da Killa. His work stretches across music genres to include Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, and Maxwell. For the past decade, he has helmed Upstairs at Eric’s, a loft space in Manhattan that is equal parts studio, gallery, disco, lounge, and design studio.

Vikki Tobak is a journalist, correspondent, and former CNN producer who currently writes and produces for Complex, Mass Appeal, and The FADER. She is the author of Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop, published in 2018 Penguin/Random House. A companion exhibition from the book is currently on view at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, WA, through January 7, 2024

Stay Connected:

Janette Beckman Website: https://janettebeckman.com/

Janette Beckman Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/janettephoto/

Danny Hastings Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dannyhastings/

Upstairs at Eric’s: https://upstairsaterics.org/

Eric Johnson Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/upstairsaterics/

Vikki Tobak Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vikkitobak/

Vikki Tobak Contact High Project: https://www.contacthighproject.com/

Contact High Exhibition: https://www.mopop.org/exhibitions-plus-events/exhibitions/contact-high/

Host: Allan Weitz

Senior Creative Producer: Jill Waterman

Senior Producer: Mike Weinstein

Executive Producer: Shawn C Steiner