About This Video
FIT Talks: Jamel Shabazz Interview
April Calahan, Curator of Manuscripts at the Special Collections and College Archives unit of the Fashion Institute of Technology library, interviews street style fashion photographer Jamel Shabazz. Mr. Shabazz talks of his life growing up in New York City as a child of divorce. He recalls how he started learning photography in Germany while serving in the armed forces. He began documenting his world in 1980 when he began taking photographs of young people who reminded him of his own life growing up, and found his camera facilitated his ability to engage with and mentor young people. He talks about the importance of mentorship, the trust that he honed between him and his subjects. He discusses how discounted clothing was often purchased from stores around Delancey and Orchard streets in the 1970s as well as other hubs where urban fashion originated from. He compares the photographic work he's done in the studio to his preference to shooting on the street. Calahan and Shabazz review the specific processes behind a number of Shabazz's favorite photographs. He finally discusses his respect for FIT, and his reasons for donating a collection of photographs to FIT's archive, and how important he believes photography is for documenting history. Alex Joseph, editor of Hue Magazine, joins in as interviewer to ask Mr. Shabazz about his personal clothing collection, which consists of pieces he designed himself or has kept over several decades, and which he uses in his fashion shoots. Finally, Mr. Shabazz recalls how fashion has changed over time.
Jamel Shabazz was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of fifteen, he picked up his first camera and started to document his peers. Inspired by photographers Leonard Freed, James Van Der Zee, and Gordon Parks, he was marveled with their documentation of the African American community. In 1980 as a concerned photographer with a clear vision he embarked on a mission to extensively document various aspects of life in New York City, from youth culture to a wide range of social conditions. Due to its spontaneity and uniqueness, the streets and subway system became backdrops for many of his photographs.
Shabazz says his goal is to contribute to the preservation of world history and culture. In the past 10 years he has had over two dozen solo exhibitions; “Men of Honor”, “A Time Before Crack”, “Pieces of a Man”, “Represent”, When Two Worlds Meet”, “Back in the Days,” and “Seconds of my Life,” which have been shown from Argentina to The Netherlands, England, Italy, Germany, France, Japan and throughout the United States.
An even longer list of group showings include Art Basel; Miami, the Brooklyn Museum, the Newark Museum, the Contact Photo Festival, the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Duke University, and the Adidas Photo Festival in Ethiopia.
Over the years Jamel has volunteered, working with a wide range organizations centered on inspiring young people in the field of photography and social responsibility. In addition, he has been a teaching artist with the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation; the Bronx Museum’s Teen Council youth program, The International Center of Photography, Friends of the Island Academy; and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Expanding the Walls Project.
Adding to his community service he has lectured at the Fashion Institute of Technology, The International Center for Photography, The Brooklyn Historic Foundation, Haverford College and Parsons New School of Design.
Shabazz is the author of 5 monographs and has contributed to numerous others. He is presently working on a new book, titled “The Book of Life”.
FIT Special Collections and College Archives
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