Hajar Benjida on documenting the overlooked women of US hip-hop culture

Hajar has been working on the project since 2018, when she began photographing dancers at Atlanta’s world-famous strip club, Magic City.

Date
26 October 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

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Born and now based in the Netherlands, Moroccan-Dutch photographer Hajar Benjida found herself behind the camera almost by accident. “I just sort of landed in it, I never imagined myself being a photographer,” she tells It’s Nice That. Growing up, Hajar’s ambitions were focussed on a career in styling or creative direction but, when it came down to it, she wasn’t accepted into the right school to study either. She was, however, accepted onto a photography course.

“I almost didn’t want to go because it was actually my last choice,” she continues, “but my mum told me to do it because I couldn’t stay another year at home doing nothing.” And so that’s how Hajar’s impressive career came to be. “[It] was definitely a risk in my life but I believe I was meant to do it,” Hajar says. “I can’t really explain myself verbally so I love doing it through photography and, at the end of the day, in a way photography is also your own creative direction.”

Quickly, Hajar made a name for herself, particularly in the hip-hop, rap and grime worlds and while she was still a university student, she had already snapped portraits of Skepta, Joey Bada$$, Swae Lee, Lil Yachty, Young Thug and many more. (She had also amassed a significant following on Instagram for her account @youngthugaspaintings which started as a uni project, but that’s another story.)

Her introduction into the world of music was equally as serendipitous and bold as her introduction to photography – Hajar just started turning up at shows and asking artist managers if she could come backstage to take a Polaroid or a portrait. Reflecting on this, it’s one of the things she loves most about her chosen career, saying that “a camera can basically give you access to anywhere you want as long as you have a genuine interest.” That, and respect for whatever subject it is you’re pursuing.

GalleryHajar Benjida: Atlanta Made Us Famous

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Left

Cleo and Andy, Stone Mountain, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

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Barbi Billionz, Atlanta, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

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Barbi Billionz, Atlanta, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

This was certainly the case when Hajar started working on her series Atlanta Made Us Famous, a series which springboards from her music photojournalism career but in a more documentarian manner. The series began in 2018 when Hajar was working at a photography studio in Atlanta. That photography studio was over the road from the world-famous Magic City, “a legendary strip club that should be familiar to anyone who knows anything about rap music.”

Hajar started visiting the club, photographing the women who work there, in turn, highlighting their often-overlooked importance in the Atlanta hip-hop scene. “In US hip-hop culture, strip clubs like Magic City are the launch pad for hit records and superstar careers, and the dancers are a vital part of the scene,” she further explains.

Over the course of several weeks, Hajar “spent days and nights with my camera and lighting rig documenting the club’s dancers.” The resulting images are personal and intimate – a signature of Hajar’s portfolio – something Hajar achieved through the process of getting to know each of her sitters. Through this process, she learned about “how they approached their work, their sexualities, ownership over their images” and, importantly, “their relationships to motherhood.” This is something which features heavily in the series, providing insight into the stories and lives of those so often not given the chance to tell theirs.

On what she hopes viewers can take from the series, Hajar explains that she hopes, above all, “to show that their images hold power and importance beyond hip-hop and its surrounding culture. From my perspective, it’s these women that shine as the stars of the city.”

GalleryHajar Benjida: Atlanta Made Us Famous

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Cleo and her son Andy at home, Stone Mountain, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

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Cleo and her son Andy at home, Stone Mountain, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2020)

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Queen, Atlanta, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

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XTC, Atlanta, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

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Atlanta, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

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Charlene, Atlanta, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

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Barbi and her twins at home, Atlanta, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

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Dior, Atlanta, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2019)

Hero Header

Hajar Benjida: Atlanta Made Us Famous. Thursday Night at home, Atlanta, GA (Copyright © Hajar Benjida, 2020)

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

rbd@itsnicethat.com

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