"Hawaii" Mike // Follow
NAME: Chi Modu
OCCUPATION: Photographer / Digital technology strategist
WHY: He's shot some of the most recognizable images in hip-hop from the early '90s including Biggie Twin Towers, SnoopDogg 187, multiple Tupac pictures and many graced over 30 covers of The Source Magazine and several classic albums. His images are legendary, period! Here we show you some of the lesser scene images, we'll do a follow up with the classics.
I landed a job at The Source, which was the definitive magazine of hip-hop culture as the Chief photographer and Director of Photography in the early nineties. It was there that I developed relationships with the biggest icons of the hip-hop movement, including Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, Mobb Deep, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre and others who were not yet famous. In addition to shooting over 30 cover photos for The Source, I was able to capture the musicians in candid, unexpected moments, due to my calm demeanor and unique perspective. I not only chronicled the most important phase of the hip-hop movement, now a global force, I was also able to show the artists as real people, rather than one-dimensional celebrities.
HOW DID YOU FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO FOR YOUR CAREER?
I've always been curious about the world around me. I feel that an image is the most concise way to document and detail what is happening in the world. I appreciate the fact that if I take a picture of a particular scene, it meant I was there to witness and experience it along with my subject(s). This is the part of photography that attracted me the most, to be able to be involved in the action as it is happening. No other medium allows you that same level of involvement, and allows you to be a part of the moment, quite like photography.
MY BIGGEST BREAK WAS…
Receiving my first camera as a gift in college.
TELL OUR READERS WHAT YOU'RE MOST KNOWN FOR...
Taking photographs of hip-hop icons in the early to mid-nineties. I've done a lot of album and magazine covers, some of which I'll share in the slide show. I prefer when people know the image rather than a caption triggering the memory. The whole point of photography is for the image to move you and not the words that accompany them.
WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE MOMENTS, ACCOMPLISHMENTS OR AWARDS SO FAR IN YOUR CAREER?
I like when my images are licensed for other uses years after the shots were created, it speaks to the longevity of my style of photography which I characterize as honest or "straight no chaser." I try to get to the essence of my subject and strip down all that is unnecessary in the image and let the subject carry the scene. When I am asked to do elaborate photo shoots with huge sets and multiple wardrobe changes, I tend to not be as motivated by that as when an artist wants to take a walk around their neighborhood, with me and my camera, to document them in the environment that had a lot to do with shaping who they are. Ultimately, the public is more interested in learning about the person in an image as opposed to finding out how prolific of a consumer they are (cars, clothes, houses etc). I find that when you strip away the props you get a better look into the soul of a subject and that ups your odds of landing an image that will withstand the test of time. I recently got a call from Rolling Stone Magazine to put an image I shot twenty years ago, of Tupac Shakur, on the cover of their 2012 year end issue. This issue hits the stands in a couple of weeks. To me, requests like these are an accomplishment since they confirm what I set out to do the first time I grabbed a camera. I wanted to create timeless images that would withstand the test of time. When my images are requested twenty years later, it makes me proud.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Even light and overcast days. To not get too technical, even light allows a photographer to focus more on composition without having to battle shadows and be forced to bring in artificial light sources. Flash can be an intrusion on a scene and I prefer to have the least amount of impact on my subjects when I am photographing them. Whenever I see even light, it makes me want to go out and take pictures.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF THAT WOULD SURPRISE OUR READERS.
I am a huge technology fan and have been hard at work to bring my two passions, photography and mobile technology, together. We are launching a property later this year, ephotos, which will do just that. The plan is to create a platform to allow people from all over the world, no matter how rudimentary their camera phone is, to share what they see. The goal is to tap into the over three billion camera phones around the world and encourage people to: Show your world™.
In addition to my collection of hip-hop photos, I have a wealth of travel, sports, entertainment, and lifestyle images. Despite the differences in my subject matter, my work has a singular focus – it all reflects my take on the world. Whether it’s a photo of kids at a church in Nigeria, a village soccer match, Tupac caught in an unexpected moment, or on the set with Martin Scorsese, the perspective is always the same.
IF I WASN'T ME I WOULD BE…
You ! If I wasn't me then it wouldn't matter who I was!