Sitting Down with Chi Modu — Hip-Hop’s OG Photography Juggernaut
World-renowned photographer Chi Modu — most known for his iconic hip-hop snaps — continues to convey incredible stories, documenting diverse lifestyles around the world, all through the lens of his camera.
Photography and hip-hop have always been deep passions of mine, and two things I’ve always gravitated towards.
The idea of telling a story through a carefully-captured single moment in time was mind-blowing. Equally interesting was the ability to bend the rules of grammar and tell story through rhythm and poetry.
A pillar in the documentation of hip-hop history, Chi Modu comes from humble beginnings. Chi is someone who documented the hip-hop movement, nearly three decades ago, and captured iconic moments and pictures of larger-than-life personas. The legends of the game. He now continues to travel the world and document other movements and stories.
His name may not ring a bell, but his work has left a massive hand-print in the concrete of hip-hop history. A history that continues to grow and evolve daily.
In the same way hip-hop can transport the listener into a world of thought they may not have lived through or have first-hand experience of, photography is able to expose and share insight of a moment in the same way, where the viewer can appreciate the art.
Being a hip-hop head for many years, it always shocked me — the amount of people who knew of Chi Modu’s photographs, but had no idea who took them. It’s often the case, with many aspects of hip-hop and beyond, that the most important figures are often found outside of the picture.
The opportunity to interview Chi Modu came up. In a quest to delve into his thoughts about photography, hip-hop, and life in general —I took it.
Coming up on three decades in the game, you’re considered by many to be the most iconic hip-hop documentary photographer of all-time — a pioneer in your lane. What’s the most gratifying aspect of your success, aside from being able to convey a message or tell a story through your art?
I found that the camera has been an incredible tool for me to help spread the message of hip hop. Photographers have a responsibility with this skill that we have to use it to educate others and take them into a world that they might not know that much about looking at it from a distance. I find a camera takes you little bit closer and once people get a little closer to things, they tend to get a better understanding for them.
I think that brings the world together. Exposing, documenting, sharing, and showing your world opens it up to others to understand it a little better without having to live in it. I think it pushes back on some of the judgment that often comes from a distance once you get a look inside.
Along with bringing the world together, you really love to embrace new technology. How has that changed the way you work?
Well, photography is still photography. That’s what the people get a little bit confused today. Although we now have digital photography and people have camera phones in their pocket, it’s still the concept of using light to illustrate things. Photography is referred to as the art and science of painting with light. The light hasn’t changed in over a million years.
Photography still has the same core concepts behind it. Composition is still the same as it ever was. I think what technology has done for me, it’s allowed me to spread my work farther and wider and made a lot more people aware of what I’ve done.
I mean, it’s gone as far as Southeast Asia, South America, and has allowed me to reach six continents around the globe. The win is when you can use technology to expand the reach of one’s photography. Social media, especially Instagram, has made this possible at a scale never before seen.