Signs Inside In: Ricky Powell Interview
Photos courtesy of Ricky Powell
Photo Cover by Craig Wetherby
Author Silvia Peron
We could write a lot about Ricky Powell, filling in pages and pages with all the things he has done so far, and they are plenty. We prefer to let him talk by his answers to our questions and by his pictures, shots able to enrapture you, to take you straight to New York, in its streets, parks and clubs, among common people and VIP, today like yesterday at one of the Beastie Boys or Run DMC lives that we’d like to have seen.
Ricky Powell is an institution, to call him versatile is reductive, he’s tirelessly looking for situations and people to take picture of with his unique style, a music and sports fan, madly in love with his NYC, an entertainer worshipped worldwide and courted by prestigious brands. He’s one of those iconic personalities that you believe unapproachable, and that, on the contrary, catch you unprepared with his endless kindness and simpleness. This year he’s celebrating an important goal like his 50th birthday with shows and collaborations. We want to celebrate this lovely man and great artist as well, even if actually he’s the one to give us a present with this interview, that we are very honored to publish.
When did you realize that photography would have become your life?
R.P.: Well, I guess when I made a proclamation, in the Spring of 1985. I wanted to do something, ‘artistic’ maybe, and I figured with Photography. It was something that I could do till the day I die. I thought, and still think/know that when I step out of my door that the possibilities of images to capture would be infinite. So it could never get played out, that there would always be fresh pictures to take. Luckily, it’s turned into a passionate career.
Do you have any idols or people that are really inspirational to you?
R.P.: Idols? Many, of different kinds. From sports, entertainment, photography. I even admire my mail man and local UPS man, for their dedication to their job. I respect people who do extraordinary things, and with class. Those are my idols.
Is there a picture that you’d like to have taken with your camera but you were not able to take, or a picture taken by someone else you’d like to be yours?
R.P.: Well, there are many photographs that I love. It’s difficult to pin point, but I would’ve loved to have photographed the NY Knicks of the early 70′s, and fashion models of the late 70′s-early 80′s.
Do you have a photo that represents you 100% and that you would be remembered for? Tell us why.
R.P.: Again, hard to pin point, but maybe my photo of Basquiat and Warhol together walking to their show at Shafrazi Gallery from the beginning of my career, in Spring of 1985, and the shot of Run Dmc by the Eiffel Tower. They’re both shots of people who were the best in their field and both ‘Street Photography’.
What is your favourite camera?
R.P.: My favorite cameras are my Minolta Hi-Matic(film) and my pocket didi.
If you had to choose a song, a picture and a pair of sneakers to explain the ’80s lived by Ricky Powell to whom was born in the ’80s or after, which ones would you opt for?
R.P.: The 80′s covers a lot. The song, maybe ‘The Message’ by Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five. Picture? Maybe my picture of Run with a kid who has the Adidas logo shaved into the back of his head. And sneakers Hi*Top PONY’s or lo*top Puma ‘Clydes’.
How was your relationship with other photographers of the ‘80s era like Martha Cooper? Was it easy/serene or you felt some kind of competition?
R.P.: Mostly good, but like any industry there are creepy cornballs.
Your love for New York is evident and your street photography is the clear demonstration. Which are the places of your city that you miss the most when travelling and that make you feel home when you come back?
R.P.: When I travel and think about New York I generally think of the nite life and the parks (Washington Square Park and Central Park). And hangin’ out at the Hudson River, which is a couple of blocks from my apartment.
You’ve collaborated with some fashion brands. What is style for you?
R.P.: Well, sometimes I jokingly call my style ‘Bummy Sophisticate’. Meaning, that I like a look that’s stylish but played down. For instance, rock something a lil’ sloppy or with a couple of food stains, or something that says ‘I look good but not like I’m tryin’ hard’, just naturally dope without advertising a label to make me look like I’m cool.
When evaluating a new project or collaboration, what are the features that convince you to take it into consideration?
R.P.: Well, if my name is gonna be put on it I have to relate to it/ like it/ and be proud to rock it myself. Then I’ll be more than glad to promote it. Everything/ anything I do is part of my legacy so it has to be something that I’m proud of, and that I assume people will love as well..feed squirrels..
We’ve read about a 2012 version of Rappin’ with the Rickster. Do you confirm this? What are your next plans?
R.P.: Yes, I’ve continued Rappin’ with The Rickster with a ’2012′ connected to it. I don’t do Public Access TV anymore so the internet is my medium. I’ve filmed a couple of 5 minute segments with my partner/camera man Brian Nobili/ DWELS. One in particular piece that I love that we’ve done is with Jam Master Jay’s son, TJ MIzell, he’s something else, I love him. And I’m hoping to film more segments but it’s challenging with people’s schedules. But I’m on it. I actually want to film a bunch of guests at the same time as we hang out and feed squirrels in the park. Almost did that a couple of times but got side tracked by a parade or something. But I’m on it, it’s something that I love to do.
What about Italy? Are you going to visit us?
R.P.: Italy? Are you kidding? I Would Love to do a show in Italy. That opportunity hasn’t come up/ around, yet. I had a small apartment in Venice in the summer of 1984, and I was in Rome, on business in 2000, for a couple days. I’m actually 1/4 Italian, I love that part.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
R.P.: In conclusion, I guess is that I have kinda commemorating my 50th birthday last November with a year of producing colorful ‘ingredients for the Minestrone, Soup’, meaning that any/ every event / show/ photo shoot/ interview that I do will be chronicled under the umbrella of ‘Ricky at 50′. And so far, it’s when a win*win experience. I was in Tokyo last month and had a Gi-normous event at the Mercedes Benz Showroom and the crowd got crazy amped off my Funky Uncle mix tape during my slide show and it turned into a Big Jam. Mercedes Benz clicked in at about 1400 attendees and they wrote me a letter giving me love for producing a very successful experience. They loved how I did it / my style as well and that was the strawberry on top ofd the
super deluxe parfait. Similar thing happened a month earlier in Melbourne, Australia thru the good people at Acclaim mag/ The Carbon Festival. Anyway, two things you could look out for are my newest/ latest sneakers coming in September via the good peoples’ at PONY. I’m excited. I’m part of their 40th Anniversary and there’s been very nice feedback/commentary on the ‘Slam Dunk’ that I designed. And on mix tape tip, I’m currently putting finishing touches on my upcoming mix tape, titled ‘Loose Joints for The Rickford Institute Lay*Up Liner’, orchestrated / mixed by Petey Pete / DJ SMOKE LES. He’s a beautiful human being. You can peep our first one ‘The Funky Uncle Park Bench Mix Tape’. Big Ups to The Good Life fam.Oh, one more thing. I’m incorporating ‘talking bubbles’ on to my prints for exhibits/ shows now. I wanted to express myself more with the images, than just putting them up, with no voice.I thought the prints were screaming for me to jump in and get Bizzy.
Thank you for reaching out..Much Amore to you…Stay up / Do You..RickyP.