Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop Debuts at the Annenberg

Biggie Smalls. Tupac Shakur. Dr. Dre. Snoop Dogg. A new exhibit shows the rise of hip-hop's greats through the unedited contact sheets of hip-hop photographers.
COVER Biggie Smalls, King of New York (1997)
Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop Debuts at the Annenberg Barron Claiborne

Life is all about timing and lighting - and for the photographers who had the sense to document the original greats of hip-hop, they were blessed with both. It is not often an earth-shaking music genre is created - and even rarer to have the visual proof of it, making a new exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography (ASP) in Los Angeles, even more exciting.

Throughout the summer until August 18, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop will be showcasing the photographers who played a critical role in bringing hip-hop's visual culture to the global stage, as told through their most intimate diaries: their unedited contact sheets.

Curated by Vikki Tobak, and based on the bestselling book of the same name, the exhibit's creative director is the legendary Fab 5 Freddy. Contact High includes nearly 140 works from 60 photographers, with over 75 original and unedited contact sheets—from Barron Claiborne's iconic Notorious B.I.G. portraits and early images of Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West as they first took to the scene, to Janette Beckman's defining photos of Salt-N-Pepa, and Jamel Shabazz and Gordon Parks documenting hip-hop culture.

While some of the pictures seem familiar - cleaned up versions appeared in magazines around the world - the exhibit allows visitors to see the entire collection of pictures taken during these legendary photo shoots.

The exhibit also includes a documentary short film – produced by the Annenberg Foundation and Radical Media – featuring a selection of Contact High's photographers at work and in conversation, including Barron Claiborne, Brian "B+" Cross, Eric Coleman, Estevan Oriol, Jorge Peniche, Jamel Shabazz, Janette Beckman, Joe Conzo, Jack McKain, Dana Scruggs, and Danny Clinch.

1. Biggie Smalls, King of New York (1997).
Biggie Smalls, King of New York (1997). Barron Claiborne