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Ben Watts… the 411?

Posted by 18 Nov 2009

London born photographer Ben Watts shows love for people and their identity through his images. Regularly published in The Face, Rolling Stone, Vibe, XXL and Trace to name a few, shooting everyone from Aaliyah to KRS1. Ben became a proud New Yorker in 95 and head straight to the club with nothing but a camera and a backdrop… His first book BIG UP is a journal documenting his experiences of Hip Hop, the club scene and street culture in both New York and London throughout the 90s.

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What was it about club culture that inspired you?

First up I worked in a night club in Australia, while studying photography at school, I worked the door choosing who would come in. I just took pictures of people I lied the look of. Then when I went to New York in 95 this guy I knew did a club night with DJ Red Alert in a place called the Powerhouse which is close to where I used to live, it was a hip hop night and I just took my backdrop along.

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…People didn’t give a damn they were queuing up to have their picture taken, people just thought they were supposed to queue up, and actually the one of KRS1 went totally wrong, I didnt do my exposure right, so I went and got my mate to go and get him back. The only people I didnt get that night, was Eric B and Rakim. Would of been so good they looked they had just come of the album cover, they had all their signature jewlery on.

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What was your soundtrack of the time?

Paid in Full, Eric B & Rakim.

Hip Hop artists just don’t release albums like that anymore. Back in the 90s there was a political message whether you listened to the rhymes or not. But people aren’t interested in that anymore. All the best rappers have definitely come from New York, unquestionably so, well all the legendary ones.

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…I shot these of Aaliyah with her cousins and Missy, in a club in Chelsea, Club Cheetah. We just shot in there, played some music, they are all friends so we all had a lot of fun.

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Which is your favourite sound system at Carnival?

I grew up in London and Carnival inspires me a lot, especially the sound systems. Personally I like Channel 1 and Aba Shanti, I love reggae, dancehall and dub. I was even more interested when these were taken because I had not been living in the UK for so long so it really inspired me to see it all again.

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Do you still continue with your personal work and sketchbooks?

Absolutely. If I see someone interesting in the street I will just ask them if I can take their picture. Its really important to keep taking pictures of the stuff that inspires you, having a day off, go to a museum, walk around a lot keep your eyes open, every time I shoot I always continue with my personal work and then bring it into client work, I always have my camera on me.

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Check out Ben’s latest book LICKSHOT out now…