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Powell in a New York minute

Hip hop, superstar, street culture photographic narrative at Brave Art

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What: Ricky Powell Slide Show

When: Thursday, April 20, 8 p.m.

Where: Telus Conference Centre

Admission: Free

The John Amos of street photography, Ricky Powell offers an opportunity to witness the grit and glamour of New York in a narrated slide presentation of his works tonight, Thursday, April 20 at 8 p.m. at the Telus Conference Centre.

The New Yorker was originally famous for snapping hip hop culture and celebs, but today’s red carpet royalty are certainly no Richard Burtons, Flavor Flavs and Andy Warhols, Powell says.

"I used to be into paparazism of the 1980s," Powell said from the sunny stoop of his home in West Village, New York City.

"Today’s celebrities are weak and corny."

Characters are what Powell’s lens seeks out on his home turf, whether weathered buildings coming to life, tweaked-out women like Blunt Freak or graffiti legends Zephyr and Futura 2000.

Along with everyday people off the street, Powell has shot the best, including Run DMC, Public Enemy, Rakim, Slock Rick, Eazy E, Method Man, LL Cool J, Fab 5 Freddy, Steven Tyler, Nina Hagen, John Bloodclot, John Lee Hooker, LeRoy Neiman, Martha Graham, Elizabeth Taylor, Calvin Klein, Barbara Walters, Grace Jones, Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Cindy Crawford, Dondi, Doze Green, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.

Instead of looking through the view finder of glossy publications, Powell’s work instead unearths the shadows behind the gliteratti – their true selves and therefore, as an onlooker, you see how that person lives, even just for a moment. A peak behind the reality behind the façade.

"I like documenting. I like putting them together in bits and pieces," he said of his photography. "The next book is going to be unedited. I am going to pick the pictures. It’s all about characters."

Powell has authored three books to date, with another well on the way: Public Access: Ricky Powell Photographs 1985-2005 (PowerHouse Books 2005). Frozade Moments (eyejammie.com, 2005), The Rickford Files: Classic New York Photographs (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Oh Snap!: The Rap Photography of Ricky Powell (St. Martin’s, 1998).

His books are formulated as unconventionally as the images, with his editor picking photos from his fridge and from under his futon.

Even though Powell boasts credits in The New York Times, The New York Post, Time, Newsweek and Rolling Stone, just to name a few, the author of four image-driven books hopes to be remembered, not as a photographer, but more as a historian, a life recorder.

It was humble beginnings for Powell. He shared a point and shoot camera with his girlfriend when he first begun, switching off the shutter release between the two of them at parties. From busboy to bike messenger and dog walker, the strict vegetarian, who launches an animal-friendly Chuck-Taylor-style Converse sneaker made out of hemp later this year, is as interesting as his subjects, with plenty of stories to hustle along with his images.

"I do a Dean-Martin, Red-Fox-style show," he said. "I am kind of like those guys. I have a couple of drinks first, walk out with a big paper bag with a bunch of slides in it, set it up, give a talking about what I am thinking when I look at the slides and put it in and people get a giggle out of it. I get a little loose."

To check out Powell’s images visit www.rickypowell.com.

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