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Meet Eddie Otchere: Certified b-boy and hip-hop photographer

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Seminal photographer, hip-hop aficionado and professional backstage gate jumper, Eddie Otchere has lived, breathed and photographed some of the most important moments of the Golden Age of hip-hop - all while wearing really cool trainers. 

Biggie, Wu-Tang, Jay-Z, Nas, you name them, and Eddie has most likely photographed them. In the backstreets of South London, the earthy underground clubs in the Bronx and tucked away in the back rooms of The Fridge in Brixton, Eddie was there, camera in hand and knowledge in abundance. 

The first thing that struck me when talking to Eddie was his vast, unending and passion-riddled knowledge of the music industry; a former member of the Metalheadz crew, B-Boy alchemist and beat-fuelled basshead, Eddie knows his roots musically for sure. But he also had a sense of his creative direction at a young age as well.

“There used to be these cameras called 1cam cameras, they basically were a 70s/80s invention with capsules, and they allowed you to take snapshots on these really sexy, sleek cameras with small film…super 8 film I think…

“I remember my mother saying to me, ‘Yo, Eddie, take a picture of me’ and I must’ve been about 6 or 7 at the time. I took this picture and like, you had to wait for it to come out. I never forgot that. I remember when the picture came back my mother was like, ‘Oh, you chopped my head off!’ But all I was interested in was the light in the background, the way the light poured in through the curtains and the way it reflected around her head.

“Images stick in my head and stay there…I’ve got a visual memory.”

But it wasn’t until a little later on in his journey to the documentation of his life that Eddie got his own camera and was able to explore on his own terms; choosing whoever’s heads to chop and finding the best sources of light. At 16, in the midst of the Golden Age of hip-hop, the movement began. 

“I turned 16…and you know, this was the time when every album changed hip-hop. Hip-Hop had a very strong visual identity because it wasn’t just musical, it was a culture. You know, the hip-hop culture is about B-boy-ism, Fly-girl-ism. How to dress, how you walk, how you dance, you how speak, how you collect music. 

“It was a conscious movement was it had its own visual signifiers so, growing up in that, you develop your own narrative of hip-hop which is what went on to become jungle/drum and bass. We went down the rabbit hole and came out the other side on our own.”

Most careers have defining moments. As a foreign correspondent, you can safely say you’ve made it when you break a worldwide news story, as a research scientist, creating a new antibiotic is pretty groundbreaking. You could pack up and call it a day there. But when it comes to documenting an entire culture, an ever-adapting movement, it’s a little harder to define.

“The first venue I managed to sneak my camera into was The Fridge in Brixton to photograph Brand Nubian and when it finished I climbed over the stage, ran past security and took my shots. I was very conscious at the time that this was the very beginning…I still haven’t got my completed set, I haven’t collected everyone I want to shoot. There’s still people missing. You don’t do a show at 25, you do a show at the end of your life. You keep working and working until you complete everything.” 

And while, at the time, something may seem like the big break or an important part of the narrative you were trying to tell, with age comes a new sense of maturity. And that goes for hip-hop too, apparently. 

There’s the things that blow your mind at the time, and then eventually, hip-hop goes through puberty and gets a day job and becomes a bit middle-aged. Then you sort of think, I’ve gotta draw a line in the sand and say, this is my era.

“You’ve got to admire those that keep the movement going. To uplift the next generation. Starting off as a hip movement, you know hip-hop: an intelligent, smart, savvy cultural phenomenon for young people to empower themselves with. That’s really at its core, not capitalism and the desire to exploit young testosterone and love songs and shit like that. I mean…love songs are okay when you’re heartbroken but, come on.”

Eddie plays more of a part in uplifting the next generation of hip-hop lovers and photographers than he gives himself credit for, being heavily involved in youth work across the UK. Steering groups of young people through the V&A’s education programme, specialising in platforms for those interested in developing shooting skills, techniques and editing styles, hip-hop has helped him to look at photography through the paradigm of music.

“I try not to make [photography] stuffy and stale and pale, but actually try and make it dynamic. Right now, I’m trying to make photography bio-dynamic. I’m trying to push things forward and give young people the power to document their own lives, to write their own experiences and their own stories through visual art.”

And his advice for future generations of aspiring photographers? Aside from staying hydrated, trying meat-free Mondays and rocking good sneaks, it’s all about staying true to yourself.

“When I was 18 and I was in college and I had these dreams of becoming an advertising executive. I was gonna make my way through Soho and be this guy doing photography then segway into advertising. Then I went to see Bill Hicks live at some random venue. Now, Bill Hicks was some real don comedian and absolutely funny and he had one of these gags like “anyone in this building right now, if you work in advertising, go and fucking kill yourself because you are the worst, the worst of all people, selling people shit they don’t need”. 

“He really turned my head around, this idea of being a careerist and getting a job and you know, taking that commission from Coca-Cola, it just all went out the window.”

That’s not to say you can’t be a careerist, but Eddie is earnest is reminding me that we should always be making decisions for the betterment of our own, and wider, humanity. 

“I’m saying to every student: always have your own ulterior motive. Always have your own agenda and stick to it. And make sure that agenda is for the betterment of humanity. Make sure it’s not just about cashing a cheque and then buying a house and buying a mortgage, uh god, and then your wife leaves you or you leave your wife because you’re a cunt and not because you are a cunt but because you’ve signed up to this thing that doesn’t quite fit into your humanity. Just be honest to yourself, okay?”

Images courtesy of Eddie Otchere, exhibited at City Life Festival 

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