Seemingly nothing escapes the eagle eye of documentary photographer Brian Finke, whose most recent commissions found him photographing a diverse mix of people and happenings, including the Ms Senior America pageant for Good Housekeeping, poolside loungers for the Standard hotel group and pasta makers for Saveur.
For his latest monograph Hip Hop Honeys, which is released this month by powerHouse books, Brian took a deep dive into the world of hip hop honeys. In 2013, Brian spent three years going to video shoots for Jay-Z, Busta’ Rhymes and Kanye West, photographing not the artists, but the video models who star in their videos. We caught up with Brian to find out more.
Where did the idea to photograph hip hop honeys come from?
Nowadays, story ideas come to me from friends and colleagues. For Hip Hop Honeys, I was at a photo festival in Italy. An editor I’ve worked with at D Magazine told me about a BBC documentary she’d seen called Video Vixens. She thought the subject matter would be a great fit for me, given my interest in documenting people in the realm of their chosen professions and vocations. A photographer can never make it up as good as finding something that already exists in the world. And I’m so drawn to the experience of making photographs. Hip Hop Honeys was an amazing ride. I shot on video sets from Jay-Z to Busta Rhymes, and also experienced more amateur productions, which were equally compelling in their own way.
How did you go about getting access to the music video shoots?
When I came back from Italy, I started reaching out to photo editors I’ve worked with, and they put me in touch with casting directors. Tons of emails and many months later, I connected with a casting director in New York. The following day, he told me about a video shoot he was casting. The set was a cigar bar in Harlem. So I turned up the following day and started shooting.
Tell us about the women you met.
Some of the models were club promoters, others models and dancers. They were as diverse in character as one might expect.
As a man, how did you feel about photographing the models and dancers?
As a documentary photographer first and foremost, I was there to observe and photograph the scene taking place. These are people doing their job, from my perspective. In the beginning, the photographs were glorifying the situation too much. After contemplating this for a bit, I realised I also wanted to show all the downtime, the boredom, all the hours of waiting, doing nothing but being on ones’ phone posting to social media, taking selfies while waiting around for the video shoot to start. I wanted to tell a well-rounded story. I showed the women the images I made of them, whenever possible, to assess their response.
h3.How has the #MeToo movement affected the way in which you approach a shoot of this nature?
The #MeToo movement certainly affects how the project is viewed now, and it is my hope that audiences will understand this project through the broader context of my work, which is grounded in the study of people – men and women – going about their day and doing their jobs. That’s what inspires me. I started photographing the project six years ago and would work on it in between my magazine assignment work and family life-as I do with all my book projects. Like many other of my previous books, when photographing contemporary culture, it often starts to overlap with changes in the contemporary social climate. But it was important to me to include quotes from the models in the foreword to the book. I want people to hear their perspectives in their own words.
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