feature: jamel shabazz – the clarification about new york is inside of his lens.

November 30, 2015

When you take a walk into Jamel Shabazz’s photography, your eyes along with your mind will look & see the moment, pause for a while, attach your concentration while holding on with anticipation to see another moment—you will make this a routine & this is comfortably fine. It is a visual habit for the onlooker to stroll through Jamel’s work, while subconsciously joining in on the healthy exercise of seeing what New York had to offer through the 1980’s, 1990’s & what it has to offer right now.

By Shaun La, AFROPUNK Contributor



Realizing the physical balance that a camera consist of, Jamel’s first instinct to hold this balance in a camera happened when he was 15 years old. New York has always been a unification for many visual sights, loud sounds, active dream-seekers, tourists with wide eyes & residents saluting the New York state of mind. The City that does not sleep will keep the rationale in a belief that the moment can happen at various times during the day or at night. It is this kind of speed that is an aware condition within Jamel’s photographic style.

The native New Yorker (Brooklyn for those who volunteer for the greatest borough debates) & his lens has a visually, distinctive signature that is methodical to the photographic moment—which is visually firm on his behalf, because there is a thorough toughness, confident, fashionable, compassionate, Hip-Hop cultural symbolizing that blends the propulsion in the streets into an unmitigated reality that is not reshaped by commercialism looking to market the “real” New York. There are no walls rising in his photography, no frontier to dictate that the onlooker is trespassing—Jamel’s photographs are invitations to a New York that he is visually at peace with.



Focusing, Evoking:

Photography is a medium, first & foremost. After this, there are brackets that constructs this medium into areas that expound on photography meeting genres. Just as the mediums of music, literature, & painting will interpret a bracket that confirms a style, school, movement or territory for the artist to reside in. If you look at the surface, you will naturally ratify Jamel’s photographic work as judicious street photography; especially, since we are in a world where so many photographs happen to be at our fingertips, giving us free rein to the symptom that confines us to instant gratification.

The merging of the genres in photography can produce a photograph to become unrecognizable, due to the influx of so many photographs not receiving the timely study that it takes to fully mature into its own style or or genre. Therefore, the insensitivity (or misunderstanding) that can come from the onlooker of a photograph, is that they misinterpret their vision into seeing a candid capture of something going on in the street of an inner city, as street photography. An onlooker could see a pornographic photograph & protest that this is an art-nude photograph, because the photographer, along with their following says that this is Art. The shock-value in a photograph can show society how to depend on major newspapers & their codes of photojournalism as the sole, existing news that their cameras will faithfully capture.

With so many tools (mainstream media, commercialism) that can control a photograph to do everything aside from being a praxis directly attached to the heart & brain in a moment. The direction to seeing how photography is used by these major companies as a gimmick, in order to gain a step above its competition & become financially successful with a product or inflate greater fame into the already famous, is a plausible way that the medium of photography is ran through society with a modern rhythm.

There are no gimmicks in Jamel’s photography. You can look into his black-and-white photograph of the legendary photographer, Gordon Parks getting ready to exit a taxi-cab, while a passenger is sitting down next to him, looking straight ahead. The light in this specific photograph is a sign that one powerful photographer (Gordon Parks) has just been photographed by another powerful photographer (Jamel Shabazz) with meditative respect. Even his commercial assignments has the professional skill that his Eye determines to be fascinating. The photograph in color, with five Italian-American men (two standing, three sitting) in front of a window with the words Fine Italian Pastries planted on it, has a magazine quality to it, with sharp color tones, that is uncompromising to his credentials of seeing while photographing the actualities which happens to develop in the streets of NYC. (These two photographs that were mentioned in the paragraph above can be viewed on Jamel’s official website, the link can be found at the bottom of this essay.)

The photographs of residents from New York riding subway trains from the 1980’s, in the Big Apple can make you miss your mental stop, as you experience seeing those who are traveling become an intermission to the moment captured.

His photography extends outside of New York with the same actualizing that is precise. The Million Man March in 1995 encounters Jamel & his lens with a sense that you are in this distinguished march, alongside the people who were there, feeling the togetherness—-his photography of the Million Man March, is beyond photojournalism, because his aware lens does not relax in an objective placement; it is about a subjectivity that is still resonating, 20 years since this powerful march completed a time in Black America with remarkable moments. As you go into his photographs from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the patience from his framing brings you right up to the the relevancy that enlivens, vibes that are positive counters against the mainstream media’s imbalanced perception of Ethiopia & the continent of Africa as a whole.


(Activist Dick Gregory, Million Man March. Washington, D.C., October, 1995)

The ongoing momentum:

The accomplishments that Jamel has earned with his photography is extensive. His native city of New York has embraced his past work with acclaim, & his current work migrates through the doorways that continually welcomes his work onto the walls of galleries for the purpose of exhibiting his aware & precise Eye. Other parts of the United States has congratulated his photography with exhibitions for the adventure of seeing what New York has witnessed. France, England, & Japan are a few of the international countries who has met Jamel’s photography by way of exhibiting his striking work.

Book-work from Jamel is another testament to his work standing up strong, just as the book cover photograph for his Back In The Days (with words written by the artist & major Hip-Hop contributor, Fab 5 Freddy & fellow photographer Ernie Paniccioli, published in 2001, powerHouse Books), representing the 1980’s with a visual basis that is a true portion of New York, City.

A Time Before Crack (with words written by Claude Grunitsky, James Koe Rodriguez, Charlie Ahearn, & Terrence Jennings published in 2005, powerHouse Books) is where Jamel’s photography gravitates into a form that reminds the onlooker who is turning the pages of his book about the societal ramifications that is in concordance with the culture of Hip-Hop, which is a connection to the fashion styles of those who were photographed. When you touch the pages in this particular book, mentally, you may end up remembering where you were while listening to the early Hip-Hop music that could be jamming from the boomboxes which are in view with some of these photographs—these boomboxes were given a neat place in the photographs, as if they were another person being a part of the moment.

Other book-work from Jamel that is worth viewing would be:

The Last Sunday in June (with words from Kelefa Sanneh & Emil Wilbekin, published in 2003, powerHouse Books).

Jamel Shabazz SECONDS OF MY LIFE (with words written from Lauri Lyons, published in 2007, powerHouse Books).

Back in the Days Remix: 10th Year Anniversary Edition (with words written by Fab 5 Freddy & Carlton Usher, Ph.D, published in 2011, powerHouse Books).

Keep Walking:

Jamel Shabazz is still photographing & his precision has continued with the same passion that can be attributed to his 1980’s & 1990’s photography. As street photography carries a crowded community with photographers wanting to find a leeway to dominate, Jamel’s duration is linked to a precision that he has fine-tuned over the years—he is not the overnight photographer who stumbled into success, while bumping into the right person who can boost your career. His photography has prominently merged with hard-work & dedication. I once heard a New Yorker repeat to me what she once heard, “Central Park is New York’s backyard.” If this is true, then, all five boroughs that comprises of New York, City is filled with a multitude of front yards, & if you want to see an unfading, durable NYC, through the streets that will take you into these front yards, the massive backyard called Central Park, & the moments that is a breath of real, visual air, go & take a walk with Jamel Shabazz’s photography. Please take your time with each & every frame from his lens. It is a visual walk, & you will enjoy exercising your eyes.




Jamel Shabazz’s official website:

Shaun La’s official website: