Max Colson: Tales

Photojournalism MA student at the LCC

Posts Tagged ‘melanin 9

Playing around – May Edition

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The day after the Champion’s League Final: A pub in High Wycombe, England.

Melanin 9 M9Rapper Melanin 9 and my bicycle

An old cradle in a garden

Pre-pub lunch japes

Written by Max Colson

May 29, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Rappers, photo fraud, and a multimedia video what I made

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When Melanin 9 dropped his High Fidelity mixtape I was about 20, so he must have been 20/21 at the time. He’s easily still one of my favourite rappers and if you haven’t had the experience of listening to his portrayal of a city’s moral subterranea or his views on gun crime I would advise you to check out his videos for Strange Fruit and Shot. Both are pretty hardcore, but the latter is the visual equivalent of being punched through the iris. I’ve included it below:


It took me 3 years to send him the e-mail that would lead to us working together: I would eventually shoot an album cover, his family, freestyle sessions, and his slot supporting the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, amongst other things. He’s also introduced me to a lot of 90’s boom bap hiphop (check out Heltah Skeltah, Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun for more).

I also produced the below video, which I guess is essentially a comment on my approach to representing the whole project. More and more I find myself feeling uncomfortable with the pseudo-authority that the photograph can have over its subject; not only because they are too easily seen as the definitive way to view an event/person (although perhaps less so now) but also because of the ease in which they can be passively, unquestioningly, consumed relative to other more ‘difficult’ media, particularly text. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t mean that those words aren’t generalising.

None of this is new obviously. In fact Mr Roland Barthes summarised the paradox of the photograph as a piece of information in 1980 when he argued that the image, when generalising,

“completely de-realises the human world of conflicts and desires, under the cover of illustrating it.”

But how does one get away from generalising? Shall I read less? Should I research more? How do I escape this nebula honestly!?

I can say from experience that I don’t feel comfortable producing an authoritative portrait of anything, and this multimedia piece that I produced in collaboration with Melanin 9 is an attempt not only to get him to comment on the way he feels rappers are represented by themselves and the media (and me), but also to undermine the authoritative guise that any photo I’ve taken has decided to give itself; particularly when I’ve been photographing him outside his estate. Good or bad, I’d be interested to know what you think of it:

When I was young, I wanted to be a rapper actually…

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Promo photo for my old rap group 'Dark Trade'. Yes I know, the name makes no sense

I’ve always been a fairly creative person, but I’ve certainly never wanted to be a photographer all my life. I didn’t even own a camera until 22 (25 now) and to be honest I really wasn’t interested even then, I always wanted to be a rapper anyway. I was quite serious about it: I went to open mic nights in London, I freestyled in the street ciphers with other London emcees, rapped about being much better than all of the other rappers, and all the rest of stuff that you would normally expect. I even recorded a 5 track EP ‘Something I Made Earlier’ which still lies on my hard drive, completely unreleased  (however two of the tracks on there can be listened to on my old Myspace page. NB: be warned they are fairly cringe, but they’re still kinda funny to listen to now).

My point is is that although I didn’t start photography until much later than most people, I’ve always been trying things out, adapting to different practices, and seeing what works best for myself. I think this experience of trying different things out and being ready to adapt is really key to my practice as a photographer today, and will be even more important in the future. We just don’t know what’s coming next in terms of storytelling technology. Look at transmedia for example, I mean wow, that’s a real opportunity to explore.

Taxi Cab, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 15.03.08

The Babysitter, San Antonio de Arreco, Argentina, 24.03.08

But anyway, back to me. I started taking pictures after buying my first proper camera (a Canon point and shoot) in early 2008 to document my back packing travels in South America and the USA. Needless to say I really enjoyed it, and when I got back I wanted to find something that would keep me going and help me focus on one subject. I would never have predicted that I would literally stumble across a cage-fighting gym near where I live, but obviously I was rather transfixed and started my first project on the UK full contact fighting scene then and there (that was in late 2008 – it’s still ongoing now). I’ve now worked on two proper long term story projects, the latter I’ve just mentioned, and then there’s also one on the UK rap scene and the lives of the artists behind it such as Melanin 9, Chrome, and the members of Triple Darkness. I’m also trying to cover the actions of the anti cuts movement in the UK, which I’m finding quite difficult to do objectively, as I’m a supporter yet have been involved in taking pictures which don’t always tell the whole story about the protests that I’ve attended (obviously this is one of the occupational hazards for any reporter, and I will do my best to dedicate a blog post on it at a later date).

Police wait for more orders in the midst of the 'kettle' on Whitehall, during the protests against the rises in tuition fees, 24.11.10

In terms of my practice up until late last year, I’ve always been focusing on telling quite literal stories: ‘x’ is what happened, ‘y’ is a main character in this story, ‘y’ is related to ‘m’ and they are both heavily involved in ‘n’, which eventually led to ‘x’ happening. Stuff like that. Although that’s important to editorial photography, I would like to try methods of storytelling that aren’t quite so linear in the future and this is something that I’m hoping that I can get started on MAPJD course. Having the privilege of being lectured by such visual and conceptual greats as Peter Fraser is a brilliant way to start. The work of Taryn Simon and Sophie Calle is of influence here too. Due to these photographers I’m quite interested in making work which comments on why and how the photograph is used, particularly in a commercial news context, because I think that is a story that’s seriously worth telling. I’ve made my first baby steps in this area by producing and shooting a short 5 minute film with the rapper Melanin 9, which is a comment on how rappers are represented in media. You can see that here.

PS: My last thing to say is that I’m very lucky that the digital age came along. Digital is intrinsically sympathetic to anyone who doesn’t quite get how the camera works, and I am still embarrassed to say that she has been very sympathetic with me. Technically I am an awful photographer, and have nothing more than a rudimentary sense of how the camera works. Thankfully photojournalism isn’t all about one’s technical ability with the camera, but obviously it’s fundamental to being a professional. It’s safe to say that my technical knowledge of the camera is an area of my practice that I clearly need to attend to. I need to be able to understand all of the possibilities available to be when I hold the camera in my hand, and that’s certainly something I also want to be forced to teach myself on the LCC MA course.

But that’s enough for now. More on me and what I do later….