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Contact High: Photographer Sha Ribeiro Talks About Shooting ‘Master of Ceremonies’ Styles P

In our series, Contact High: The Stories Behind Hip Hop’s Most Iconic Photographs, writer Vikki Tobak talks with those who have played critical roles in shaping hip hop imagery. They offer a rare glimpse of the creative process that went into the making of each photo.

Getting access to the original and unedited contact sheets, we see the ‘big picture’ being created can look look directly through the photographer’s lens. Photographers typically don’t show their contact sheets. They’re a visual diary. Film negatives on a roll of analog film allowed these photographers (and now us) to see the full range of images in order to develop the “money shot.”

We caught up with photographer Sha Ribeiro to get the backstory on the time he shot Styles P sipping juice…

New York, 2011

styles_p_sha_ribeiro_contact_high_main_shotSha Ribeiro is a staunch believer in raw instinct. Over the span of his career documenting music subcultures, he has learned to trust his sense of what is culturally relevant and point his camera towards it. His visual vocabulary has informed projects capturing everything from the New Orleans bounce and London grime scenes to major campaigns for Nike. Ribeiro is fascinated by all of it and it shows in his work shooting hip hop.

The Lisbon-born and Milan-raised photographer moved to New York in 2006 and immediately laser focused on the music culture of the city. With no formal training and roots in graffiti photography, Ribeiro sharpened his skills by assisting various fashion photographers and ultimately mastered the classic black and white portrait style you see in the shot he took of Styles P.

In 2011, Styles P, member of storied hip hop group The Lox and part of the Ruff Ryders crew, was shooting a video for his fourth studio album Master of Ceremonies. The video director was a friend of Ribeiro’s and invited him on set to shoot. Ribeiro shot extensively that day making sure every nuance and mood was captured on film. The resulting image was used for the Master of Ceremonies album sleeve. Note the juice front and center, a nod to Styles’ growing dedication to healthy eating which has evolved into a franchise called Juices for Life (with partners Jadakiss and Angela Yee) with locations in The Bronx, Yonkers and, most recently, Brooklyn on Malcolm X Boulevard, aimed at spreading health awareness in underserved communities.

The Shoot

styles_p_ch_mass_appealI had been traveling for a personal project about bounce music in New Orleans and shot these Styles images on the way back in NY. We shot three locations in one day. First was the juice bar in the Bronx (see the contact sheet), then around Yonkers and then midtown on a rooftop. We had a conference call ahead of the shoot. It was a little weird because I didn’t have a chance to listen to the music or feel the mood of the lyrics in advance of the shoot. I usually I listen to the music pretty deeply ahead of a shoot. Lately everything is so fast and everybody is in a rush. So I suggested something classic. Black and white, rooftop, classic portraiture.

The Shot

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I wanted to capture Styles on top of the city. I sent the entire shoot to his management and they chose the shot. This one was used for the sleeve of the album. Also, sometimes the best shots are outtakes. The shot they use is great. There’s also a great shot of his tattoos and he has this one tattoo that says “Hope for the best, expect the worst” and I thought that was pretty cool.

The Camera Nerd Out

Rolleiflex 6×6 Medium format and a Nikkormat 50mm and 105mm

The Q+A

styles_p_sha_ribeiro_contact_high_albumYou talk alot about your being inspired by subcultures and how societies are shaped by their subcultures. Is that a common thread in your work?

Definitely, I get inspired by many things. Subcultures, in all their diversity,  have an high percentage of raw power and realness. That’s what makes it a big component of my fascination.

You shot alot of the grime music scene in London. How did that come about and what was your inspiration?

In 2003, various friends were talking about the growing scene. Dizzee Rascal had just come out and I was really excited about this new sound. Fast lyrics, hard beats and I was drawn to it for the newness. I went to London and a friend of mine put me in touch with a reporter from Vice and we just got into it, exploring this scene and taking photos. I’m really proud of that series.

styles-p001How do you decide which images to put on social media?

It’s kind of random. I often go through my archives and find things I never noticed before and decide to share them.  I like to post outtakes a lot and show photographs people haven’t seen.

What made you first want to become a photographer?

I started out assisting fashion photographers. I was into Bruce Gilden, Bruce Davidson, Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton. Richard Avedon is of course an inspiration for most portrait makers. But I like the aesthetics of fashion photography.

How to do you stay influenced by the aesthetics of fashion photography and at the same time apply them to your longer form documentary projects?

Artists are really protective of their image now compared to earlier days. The aesthetics of fashion photography is something everyone is aware of whether they realize it or not. So that’s a given but I also focus on the aspect of photography being recorded history. I grew up looking at backstage shots of Public Enemy and Guns n’ Roses and really exploring those candid documentary shots. History is what is going on right now. People are focused on putting out images but sometimes forget about taking time to document history.  I love people, I love shooting portraits and documenting subcultures.  Nowadays, you get so much information online and there’s so much consumption of images that it makes it difficult. Everyone is looking for the next thing.

Additional Contact Sheets

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styles_p_contact_high_3_maFollow Sha Ribeiro on Instagram and on Tumblr.

The Contact High Project, conceived by Vikki Tobak and published exclusively on Mass Appeal, will culminate into a book and exhibition. Check out the Contact High website, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for more info.

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