The Lazy Hustler: Ricky Powell

 

He’s real, he’s raw, and he might just be the best-known lazy hustler on the planet. When Ricky Powell blew into Stockholm for a few days in October Södermalm got a taste of old school hip – or maybe that would be hip hop, because Ricky is best known as the unofficial photographer of the Beastie Boys, and has photographed rap legends that run the gamut from Run DMC and Eazy-E to Slick Rick and Public enemy. Not a bad resumé for a guy born and raised in New York City and who has made the streets of that glorious city his own personal studio.

Ricky was in Stockholm to promote his new collaboration with Dedicated Brand, the Swedish sustainable lifestyle brand celebrating creativity and sustainability. Four of Ricky’s most iconic images are gracing a limited run of 100% Organic Cotton t-shirts and to celebrate the collaboration Gallery Steinsland Berliner hosted an exhibition of signed photographs from Ricky’s archives. Savvy Stockholmers quickly snapped up the framed images, giving Ricky and the gallery a near sell out show.

Ricky Powell photographer-8

 

View Stockholm sat down to chat with Ricky the day after the gallery opening and it was as much rollicking good fun as you’d imagine. Time to sit back, grab a drink, and have some fun with Ricky Powell in Stockholm.

View Stockholm:
Welcome to Stockholm, Ricky! Is this your first visit here?

Ricky Powell:
Nah, I was here five years ago. I had designed some headphones for another company and did a slide show at the SNS sneaker store. Now, five years later I’ve met Johan Graffner from Dedicated, worked on the collaboration and now I’m here for a short trip. It’s been a lot of fun. Stockholm is a cool city and people are really nice and friendly.

VS:
So how did this collaboration with Dedicated come about?

RP:
Johan [Graffner, CEO Dedicated Brand] reached out and sometimes it’s just like that for me. A lot of times I try to make things happen and it just goes nowhere, and then sometimes the best things I didn’t even imagine just come at me out of left field.

VS:
When Johan reached out had you heard of the brand?

RP:
No, I hadn’t heard of it but he was proper. He actually came to New York and bought some prints from me and that always scores some brownie points with me! He was cool and the collaboration developed. He said let’s do t-shirts, an exhibit, you show your slide show and I said, sure, let’s do it. I thought Johan had a funny accent – sounded like Kirk Douglas in The Vikings – but what the hell, it’s an adventure.

VS:
How did you go about deciding which images to use?

RP:
We both decided.

Johan Graffner (CEO Dedicated Brand):
Ricky has so many fantastic images and we wanted to find some that had a great flavour but that weren’t over-exposed. I think people are really familiar with Ricky’s work with the Beastie Boys but images like the Eazy-E ones are not as well known, so it was fun pulling those out.

VS:
So you two sat down, went through the images and narrowed down your choices?

RP:
Yeah, we cosied up on a couch on the sidewalk. (laughter). Nah, he just picked – it was nothing mysterious. He told me what he liked and I had them. I’m very lucky that the material I shot has staying power. Here we are 30 years later and I’m still working, the work is taking me travelling and seeing new things. I’m very fortunate.

VS:
Is it surprising to you that a Swedish brand would be interested in working with you in this way, with the t-shirts?

RP:
Yeah! It’s a humdinger, trust me. Anyone who reaches out is making me look good. It’s a beautiful thing. The bottom line is that I get to touch people’s lives and I love it.

VS:
Tell us about the opening at Gallery Steinsland Berliner.

RP:
It was great! Dope! They presented my work ‘dopily’, the people were great, the crowd was fantastic and it was all good. The gallery owner was mad cool, the music was good – I’m just pleasantly shocked. I wish all my business trips were this good. I travel a lot and this was one of my favourites. I don’t mean to pontificate too much but I think with me it’s like this: if you want to categorize me as a photographer that’s fine. I come with a large slide show and do my talk. But really, I’m an individualist.

VS:
But you’ve been called a street photographer.

RP:
Yeah, I like that. I mean, I was known as a celebrity photographer, a hip hop photographer but around 2000 I wanted to shed that and I said, let me just be a photographer. I like being called a street photographer: it has good cred, it’s real, and you don’t need a glamorous studio setup. It’s raw and I think, respectable.

Ricky Powell Stockholm

VS:
Have you taken any photographs here in Stockholm?

RP:
Yeah, totally! It’s for my Instagram. In my 30 years as a pro Instagram is the latest in my lineage. I use it as an outlet, my voice to the world. Before I got it I was on a flip phone and my friends kept telling me to get on Instagram, that it was made for me. And lo and behold, I like the idea of putting my images right up and I can put in my personality with the captions and hashtags. I used it as a gauge, a barometer for how things are received.

VS:
Do you have a lot of followers?

RP:
It’s funny because just today I reached 24 thousand followers – but I block a lot of people. If I think they’re creepy or bullies or if they leave rude comments I just block them. No one needs that stuff. The numbers are nice and look impressive but I’m more into quality than quantity. I like touching cool people and I love making people laugh – not just look how dope my pictures are – so it’s a fun outlet.

Ricky Powell and fans

VS:
How has your work evolved over the past three decades?

RP:
I just shoot, raw dog. If I see somebody or something I just go for it. There is no formula. I shoot what I like to preserve it and whatever happens after that? So be it. The reception of the work is up to other people. I use it to show people how my game is.

Like last night when I was doing my slide show at the gallery a couple of people took my picture, so I took theirs and posted them on Instagram. It shows people what I’m doing, where I’m going, and they’re fascinated to see me in Stockholm doing a gallery show. I’m just a regular Joe. I don’t walk around flashing a camera. I use my phone a lot and just shoot what I like.

VS:
It sounds a bit like [legendary French photographer] Cartier-Bresson…

RP:
Yeah, just take the shot and move on. No bells, no whistles. Just keep it real.

VS:
A lot of people know your story but tell us how this all started for you.

RP:
I had this artsy girlfriend back in the early 80s. New York was really interesting culturally at that time and we’d go to clubs – Roxy, Danceteria – and she’d bring a little camera. So I started going up to couples in booths and ask to take their picture. They were receptive and it was fun: hearing the click and especially the flash. I was using a Minolta at the time.

It was a tumultuous relationship with the girl and when we split she dissed me for some corny dude. I was pissed, furious, insulted. A couple of months later I found a bag of her stuff in my room and there was a little camera in there. I looked at the camera and thought, ‘I’m going to take this camera and I’m going to use it, and I’m going to make her sorry after she did me like a wet tuna sandwich.’ That little camera opened many doors for me.

VS:
When you got the early images back did you say to yourself ‘Wow, I’ve got something here’? Did you recognise your talent?

RP:
Well, my Warhol-Basquiat I shot that right away. It’s kind of like baseball when a rookie hits a home run. I started shooting clubs, gallery openings, and things like that and then magazines like Details and Paper saw me around and I started getting published. When I saw my first photo credit I was like wow! Doors started opening, people liked my eye and persona and things just took off. I was going to college to get a physical education degree and was a substitute teacher for a while but I just became The Lazy Hustler. I did different things, pooled all my resources, and just made it work. And it’s still working 30 years later.

VS:
You’ve become synonymous with New York. Do you consider yourself essentially a New York photographer?

RP:
Yeah, maybe, but I’m just shooting my life wherever I go. If visuals pop up I shoot them. I use my cell phone a lot but still have my old little camera. I’m not into all the fancy equipment. Shooting is about the eye, the heart.

VS:
The images on the t-shirts, tell us about them.

RP:
I love the one of the girl smoking the blunt. I call it my gangster bitch. I took that picture at a Paper Magazine party in Central Park. She came home with me, too! The one with Slick Rick is from a video shoot. Run came to visit the set and I just took that one shot, which is what happens a lot with me. Just see it, shoot it, and keep it moving. I tell people I’m not taking a picture, me and you are creating an image. I’m the photographer, you’re the subject, and we’re doing this together.

Ricky Powell

VS:
So today, what are you into?

RP:
I don’t like being grouped in with other photographers. I’m not trying to ascend the world of photography. I’m just being me. The accolades I get are great but a lot of people want to be famous and use the camera to get prestige. I’m not like that. I do it out of love and whatever happens so be it. I became fashionable by accident and if I can maintain and do what I do I’m stoked. I’m working on a new book – this one will have more text than my last four, as well as plenty of images – so it’s all good.

I’m just a mad happy lazy hustler and the t-shirt collaboration with Dedicated Brand is nutrition for my soul.

The iconic Ricky Powell t-shirts are available from Dedicated Brand. Be sure to get your order in early as the collection is available for a limited time only.

Dedicated Brand

You can follow Ricky, the Lazy Hustler, on Instagram.

 

View Stockholm

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