Sue Kwon – Street Level Book Review – Blog post #600 !!

Despite it’s late 2009 release on NY publishing powerhouse Testify Books, Sue Kwons Street Level: New York Photographs 1987-2007 came to our attention very recently. Bobbitos ‘Where Ye Get Those’ and Vincent Fedorchaks [Fuzz One] ‘A Bronx Childhood’ both had releases on Testify and this latest release is no different to the others, informative and captivating, despite Street Level being a mostly pictorial account of New York City, with sadly, very little text to speak of

I opened the book at a random point as I picked it up for the first time, and discovered this first shot of Ghostface hangin out at some roundtheway spot, but it was the sign just inside the doorway that resonated, one of many BALLS mantras…The official introduction below explains it all, but weve hand-picked and phone-photo’d a few of our favourites in the mean-time and in between time.

There are shots that are informal and unabashed, some beautiful, some dark and depressing. There are shots of Big Pun and a wide-eyed Fat Joey Crack at Chung King back in the mid-90s, Biz on stage at the Apollo, ODB and Meth buggin out in street doorways as well as pics of kids during the summer of 91, hangin out by the monkey bars at an Organized Konfusion video shoot in South Jamaica. There are so many varied styles of shots from all across the 5 boroughs; street-scenes, bodegas, cityscapes, and ball-parks [even one with Prince Vince Gallo lookin like Bruce Forsyth] but they all capture the vibrant nature, beauty and general nature of New York

Who could ask for a more candid and unassuming photo than Geto Boy Willie D ‘dukin it out’ with Melle Mel in the Rappers Boxing Championship at the Harlem Armory from May 92, we’ve gone for Willie and [DJ Shortee Blitz looky-likey] Harry Allen with what looks like a shot taken minutes after Willie took the belt [On a side-note, any further info on the Rappers Boxing Championship would be greatly appreciated, we’d love to know more on that little doozy of a concept].

Photographs of a shaky and delapidated Coney Island, hand-pianted store signs in Harlem, paddling pools on street corners in Little Italy, homey-stromies shoppin’ in goose-downs on Delancey Street and shots of teenage girls braiding each others hair in the Bronx are all inspirational and touching, but naturally it’s the documentation of Hip-Hops’ luminaries are what the BALLS are about.

Prodigy hangin out at Havocs crib, holdin his son Kejuan in 1997, the capricorn Boogie Knight from The Boogie Boys before his passing in 2001, Jiggaman a month after Biggies passing [see below], and equally eery, Biggie opening champagne bottles, on February 26th 1997 at a private listening party at Daddys House studios, only 11 days before his death !

All these make for a great coffee table book of black and white beauty from one of the most exciting cities on the planet, so go cop it/ boost it/ take it out at the library, just do what you gotta do to see this

This shot of Jigga was under-scored with this revealing text

Official Introduction by Hilton Als

Sue Kwon began her career at the Village Voice, shooting subjects that ranged from N.W.A. to Covenant House runaways to underground Jamaican nightclubs in Queens. She went on to shoot primarily Hip Hop artists for record labels like Def Jam, Sony and Loud Records. While much of her current work centers on her own projects, she still photographs campaigns for companies such as Burton Snowboards, Gravis and A Bathing Ape. Kwon lives and works in New York City.

Street Level collects 20 years of documentary and commercial photography by esteemed New York photographer Sue Kwon. Her subjects include some of Hip Hop’s finest, such as the Beastie Boys, Biggie Smalls and the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as portraits and street scenes from New York’s most charismatic neighborhoods–Little Italy, Chinatown, Coney Island, the Lower East Side and a pre-Guiliani

Times Square. These black-and-white images, characterized by an evident fondness for the lives they depict, are populated with recruits from all realms and occasions, from shoe-shiners to inmates at the Rahway State Prison to newlyweds and strippers between sets at the infamous Sue’s Rendezvous. As direct and candid as their subjects, Sue Kwon’s photographs share a kinship with those of the legendary New York documentary photographer Helen Levitt. Although Kwon is well known in the Hip Hop world, this is the first complete monograph to survey her work.

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