?UESTIONS: Jamel Shabazz

Heart, soul and community. Jamel Shabazz is a photographer who showcases street style in 1980s New York. Each photo beautifully captures his community with pride. At a time of tension and poverty, Jamel Shabazz documented strength, love and the growing potential of the youth.


Not only an amazing photographer, but a pioneer and mentor who's photographs challenge the history of violence and represent culture to inspire and empower generations.

How has New York treated you, how has your environment influenced your work?

New York is the cornerstone of the foundation for which I stand on today. The environment that I grew up in, had a huge influence on my creative process. For example, Prospect Park, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn is a special place of mine that I like to refer to as "An Oasis in Brooklyn". It became a space that I would visit throughout my life starting from when I was very young to the present, that was and still is a place I go to escape the hardships of the concert jungle, while seeking serenity. The park itself which stretches over 585 acres, is filled with picture perfect landscapes full of lush greenery, lakes, hills, wildlife, and a concert hall, that became my personal space where I would take thousands of photographs during a 40-year span.


What I love most about the park is its diverse and wide range of subject matter that can be seen on any given day. During the early 1980s, I would take a number of my friends from the local high school there after class and have impromptu photo sessions, using the trees and lakes as natural backdrops. This organic environment created a unique feel to these images and upon examining the prints from those sessions, one would never know where we were taken, less lone in Brooklyn.


Another environment that has had a major influence on my work is the Lower East Side of Manhattan, also known as "Delancey Street". Unlike the tranquility of Prospect Park, this area is full of concrete, noise, and large crowds of shoppers on most days. Since the 1970s, Delancey Street was the shopping district where one could find the latest urban styles, at very reasonable prices.


Most of the subjects that are fashionably dressed in many of my photographs from the 70s and 80s, purchased their clothing on Delancey Street; from footwear, sheepskin and leather bombers to Cazal glasses. As a photographer that was an ideal place to capture great photos, because there was always plenty of subject matter that I could identify with. Besides Prospect Park, some of my most iconic photographs were taken in that area. Because that old feel of the 70s still exists today, practically all of my commissioned fashion work is made on there, however it is slowly fading away with each new day.

You served in the U.S. Army, did your experiences have an impact on your creativity? 

Great question. While stationed in West Germany during moments of solitude, especially on lone guard duty I would often heavily reflect on life back in Brooklyn. I would think about all of my friends, along with trying to visualize what the buses, trains and streets looked like. It was during instances of this nature, that I realized that I never wanted to be without memory, so when I returned back to the states with a new perspective on life along with a new camera, I embarked upon a journey documenting all of the things I would often reflect on during my time overseas.    

You have created many iconic images, what was and is your vision? Has it changed?  My primary vision during my early stages of development in the craft was to document the history and culture of life in New York City. I wanted to capture compelling moments that provoked thought and created opportunities for me to use the language of photography to connect with young people. Today my vision and objectives are the same, but now I have extended my journey throughout the country and around the globe.