By Risasi Dais
Today as gentrification is occurring throughout New York City and in urban cities across America, our neighborhoods of “back in the Day” are rapidly changing. Therefore, it is important that images of those days be preserved in photographs that tell the stories of the struggles and triumphs of people living in those times.
Jamel Shabazz is a Brooklyn native who has been chronicling the lives of people in his community, the other New York City boroughs and in cities across the globe since the early 80s. In his body of work you’ll find images from his visits to Paris, Morocco, Ethiopia, Italy, Canada, Switzerland, Japan and South Korea. Shabazz’s positive humanity is reflected in his photographs, including images of people in foreign countries.
Recently Shabazz was interviewed by his long-time friend and fellow photographer Akintola Hanif of Newark, New Jersey in an hour long public discussion entitled “Visually Speaking” at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The event was curated by photographer Terrence Jennings.
During the interview, Shabazz spoke from his heart of his genuine respect for all of his subjects he has focused his lens on from homeless persons, drug addicts, B-boys posing with their unique styles & swagger during the onset of Hip Hop, convicted felons locked behind bars at Rikers Island, where he worked as a correction officer for twenty years, to images of Black folks proudly displaying excitement following the election of President Barack Obama, the first Black President of the United States.
Shabazz recalled his reluctance at becoming a corrections officer because of the dangers that go along with the job. However, the progressive conscious community activist that he is, he saw the important need to go behind the prison walls at Rikers Island, “I had to go behind those prison walls in order to educate and save so many of our young misguided Black & Brown brothers, “ he said.
Shabazz was also one of the first responders to go to the World Trade Center following the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 as he put his life on the line to save others.
He spoke passionately about each photo as they appeared in the slide presentation. Many are included in his latest self-published book, “Pieces Of A Man. The photos in that collection date from 1980 -2015.
The book can be purchased from The Schomburg Center bookstore, published by ArtVoices Art Book Publishing. It is a powerful photography book that celebrates the essence, dignity and beauty of our people.