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On a snowy day in January we visited Ricky Powell’s house. This charismatic photographer whose name also has become well-known in Japan, is famous for taking the snap shots of many celebrities, tour photographs of bands and more. Although I became nervous when I was invited in to the house in which he and his cat lives, his first words "What is the first question?" in a friendly voice relieved me, and it started our interview smoothly.


COOL: What’s new with you recently?

RICKY: Well I have a new book that just came out called “frozade moments”…A postcard book… Just hit on “Ijammy.com”.

C: Could you tell us about yourself?

R: I am a native New Yorker. I am 43 years old. Freelance writer, photographer and I’m also working on a book coming out later this year. It’s going to be called “Public Access”. It’s going to be a 20-year retrospective of my work. And in this book there are a lot of collaborations. I had artists collaborate with me… Here’s the cover for my new book. That’s me (on the cover). This photographer named Spencer Tunic took this picture of me… He shoots all of the people on the street without clothes on. This is a picture of Keith Haring holding up 2 beer cans. And you know Russ from SSUR? He painted that. Dalek painted on this one…(Showing the card) It was called “Funky Dope Maneuvers” where I had artists paint on my black and white photos. I am excited about the book. It will be out in September on “Powerhouse Books”.

C: Which camera do you use?

R: I use a Minolta Auto-Focus. Sometimes I use a Pentax.

C: What was your most exciting moment as a photographer?

R: There are so many…I don’t know the most exciting moment is just when I catch a good shot on the street. Right now my main focus is street photography, so when I catch a moment (and it’s real hard to catch anything on the street) that makes my day. You know, not necessarily shooting one person, especially like a celebrity. I shot a lot [of celebrities] so it’s hard to really narrow it down. These days it makes me happy when I have my camera and I’m walking and I see something on the street…It could be anything, a dog, a person…Little moments like this (showing a picture).

C: Sometimes do people try to stop you from taking pictures on the street?

R: Yes. That happens sometimes. It’s funny. I’ve been taking pictures like that for years
without…well usually I like to ask. This past summer I took a picture of a lady smoking a cigarette on the street and she saw me and I said “I hope you don’t mind”. She said, “I DO mind!” She got real mad. She started screaming at me on the street. “Who do you think you are? If there was a cop here I’d have you arrested! You can’t go around taking pictures of people without asking.” A couple of months later – I’ve been taking this class on TV production. I was talking to this guy who told me “Yeah man, you have to ask people on the street if you can take their picture because their could be some legal problems?” I said “What? I’ve been shooting people on the street without asking permission for 20 years!” He said, “You’re lucky you didn’t get arrested ever.” So for now on I basically ask. You know, ask first shoot second. But it’s funny, you know one of my photographers that I look up to, Ron Gallella. He shoots many celebrities over the years. His philosophy is “Shoot first, THEN ask…” (laughter) So he’s gotten into trouble in the past

C: When you ask people…

R: You loose the moment. Yeah, that can happen.

C: What is your most favorite subject?

R: Animals. They’re beautiful…I don’t know. They’re just natural. I have this special sound I make when I want to get dogs to look at me in the picture like this (tilting his head with a confused look). That’s when I take the picture.

C: What kind of animals?

R: Dogs mostly.

C: How about your cat?

R: Yeah, he’s alright. I had some other cats that passed away. They were real fun. I had a black cat named Blackberry. He was a long-haired Persian, and I used to give him haircuts…So he had the lion haircut…I have a backyard with a garden in the back and he used to go back there and run around. I use to take pictures of him running free. We have some animal shots in this book…Animals are definitely part of the repertoire.

C: Is there anyone who has influenced you strongly?

R: Yeah. Linda McCartney. You know Paul McCartney? His wife... She had a famous book. I like her style because she hung out with a lot of famous people, but she was very humble. She didn’t act like a big shot. I like the little captions next to her photos. That was a big influence on me, that book.

C: You shoot using film, right? Do you use digital?

R: No. 35mm…because I don’t have a computer or anything…I did a campaign ad for Canon Digital Cameras, but they didn’t give me a camera.

C: What’s the reason that you have for producing your book?

R: Well…as a photographer that’s basically what I live for. I don’t get called to do much work, to do shoots…The only time I get paid is when people email my website at RickyPowell.com looking for photos. They’re like “Did you shoot this?” or “Have you shot that?” or “Can I get a print of that?”…A book for me is like -- it gets a lot of people to see your work and it acts like a portfolio for you out there…So books are very important.

C: You visited Japan in 2003? What did you think?

R: I loved it. I did a three city tour – Tokyo, Osaka、Fukuoka. It was nice. I must say. Getting over there…the plane ride was rough. I always have a good time when I go there. Japanese people are very nice, very respectful…Much nicer than the people here. You know, it’s weird. I don’t really like people here.

C: Why?

R: Bad attitudes. Especially the people who just moved here. The new people…Just stupid. They act stupid. That’s why I stay home a lot. That why I basically just photograph animals.

C: Is there any other thing you would like to try?

R: Yeah. A TV Show. I used to have a TV show. I have a new DVD out of four old shows, including the first ever. And some bonus footage of me on some other TV shows. So I want to bring my TV show back. I want to be a host of a talk show. I’m going to start taping at the end of March. We hope to have the show on the air by Summer, and repeated in the fall. I am going to make 13 shows. 13 is a season. It’s going to be a talk show about NYC. I am going to have mostly people who grew up here and we’re going to talk about NYC.

C: Regular people or famous people?

R: Mostly famous, and some not. I want to get high profile people to the show, like Fab(Five Freddy). People like that. New York characters…and just talk about New York City. What happened to it. It’s changed. Change isn’t necessarily bad, but I don’t like the way it’s changed. It’s lost a lot of its flavor. It’s happening around the world though. It’s not just in New York. It’s the modern world. I don’t really like it. In New York when Mayor Giuliani came in I hated him. Because he took out gardens and put up ugly buildings so the rich people could move in. Shit like that….and the new Mayor Bloomberg…Their idea of “quality of life” Is not my idea of “quality of life”. It’s like, where you grow up if you see a change and you don’t like it, you get mad.
Instead of telling my friends on the street corner how mad I am, I feel I need a bigger forum, a bigger audience. That’s why I’m bringing the show on…to put my voice out there and say “I don’t like it.” It’s not going to be a whole negative show. That’s why I want to let people tell there version. Everybody knows my feeling. I want to let people show their feelings.

C: What do you think is the most interesting point of photography?

R: One, the interaction between the subject and the photographer. And for me, the backgrounds. Since the city is my studio the backgrounds are important. I like to use nice backgrounds like brick walls, the park. I like rustic backgrounds.

C: Where do you shoot mostly?

R: Down here. I use to go around a lot but I don’t really go around the city that much anymore. I’ve become reclusive…but I have my good days.

C: How do you think the future will be?

R: Well I hope I’m rich. I’ve been very broke. The last two years I’ve been struggling. No work. It’s been rough. But I’m hoping to make a big rebound. People’s careers…no one stays the same. It’s always up and down. So I’m coming out of a two year low and I’m hoping to come back up. Whatever happens, happens. I’d like to make some money because that’s what you need, but as long as I do what I like I can be pretty happy for that. I don’t really want to have a regular job. I can’t really work. I get crazy. …The only job I can really have is a job as a bike messenger. Doing that you can be free. I was a bike messenger for 15 years on and off. One of the things I am known for in the Rickford Files book, whenever I had a job as a bike messenger or bus boy I’d bring my camera with me. It lightened up the mundane part of the job. It made it interesting.

C: Also the TV show is coming too.

R: So I’m hoping with the TV show and this book, this year in 2005 I can have a rise, because last year, 2004, was the worst year of my life...professionally, financially and spiritually. My show is going to be half in the studio and half on location. My partner, DB Toujani, is my oldest friend. He’s doing the show with me. He’s the technical guy…I’m very lucky to have him. When the show comes out it will be called “Laughing with the Rickster”.

C: We’ve heard that recently you are making your own brand of T-shirts and also sneakers.

R: Yes T-shirts through “Upper Playground”. And sneakers. Only 100 pairs were made.


Then Ricky showed us stylish sneakers covered by his black-and-white photos. After the interview, Ricky said, "All right, let's go to the backyard to take photos!", and energetically ran into the snowy backyard, posed with trumpet in hand. We had a really great time during the interview and were thankful that Ricky welcomed us so openly.


--------------------
RICKY POWELL
He first got attention by taking photos back in the Golden Age of Old School Hip-Hop in the late 1980s, and then got attention again by publishing two collections of photographs, "Oh Snap" and "The Rickford Files", and by touring and private scene with RUN D.M.C, BEASTIE BOYS, LL COOL J and others.
Recently, his postcard book "Frozade Moments" won critical attention.



text by Sayako MAEDA, photo by Naho KUBOTA
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