BLAZEDMADE INTERVIEW: ITHAKA DARIN PAPPAS (PART 2/2)
BM: You also shot a series of photos with Eazy-E in Venice, skateboarding, which have become quite iconic. Can you tell me about those?
IDP: Sure, N.W.A were doing a feature on Yo MTV Raps with Fab Five Freddy. He was out from New York and they were working around L.A over a couple different weeks. That particular day, I think it was February 24th 1989, Fab Five Freddy was interviewing the guys in Venice, out in the public, which was super interesting because they were ultra famous by that time. They really caused a scene. Eazy wore a bullet proof vest that day. I don’t think it was a publicity stunt I think he used it for legitimate reasons.
BM: He wore the vest on the outside didn’t he?
IDP: Yeah he wore it on the outside. People were going crazy, signing autographs. Fab Five would interview everybody in the group separately. I was there to document everything, so when guys start wondering off from the group, I wasn’t sure what to do, but obviously I had to photograph the interview with Fab Five and Eazy, two legends of hip-hop. I see Eazy kind of walk over and start talking with all these skateboarders. At that time skateboarding and hip-hop didn’t have much of a relationship, so I was like, what’s going on over there? I followed him over there and then he gets on this guys board and starts skating. He had obviously spent a lot of time on a skateboard he knew what he was doing. He skated goofy, right foot forward. It was quite a surprise.
Eazy-E and Fans, Venice, Contact Sheet by @_Ithaka, 1989.
BM: Did you realize this could be a cross-over moment between two cultures?
IDP: At the time, I didn’t really understand the significance of it. Now that I look back on it, I think Eazy-E publicly associating with skateboarding at that moment, he kind of introduced it as an urban friendly sport to more than just white suburban punks. Like suddenly it was okay for anyone to be a skateboarder. It was a pretty cool moment and it was a case of just being there and I shot some good quality photos. I think they’re the only photos of Eazy skateboarding that i’ve seen. That’s part of the photography thing, you know just being there.
BM: It’s hard to imagine hip-hop culture and skateboarding culture being so seperate. Today it’s hard to find a skate video without hip-hop in it.
IDP: In the 80’s skateboarding was mosty linked to punk rock. But hip-hop is, you know, a different kind of punk rock. It’s rebel music. And people tuned in to that. Thrasher Magazine ran a bunch of my photos of Eazy skating from that day. I’m not even sure how they got hold of them. They used them for an ad and a t-shirt, and that moment became embedded in late 80’s culture.
BM: Did Thrasher pay you to use the images?
ITH: No they didn’t! They actually credited and paid someone else but that’s a subject for another day!
BM: Speaking of licensing, can you tell me about how licensing your N.W.A images works? For example, with the Miracle Mile shot, the image is definitely out there on-on-line so people have access to it. I’ve seen it on t-shirts for sale but to be honest it’s usually cheap looking. It’s such a an iconic image of N.W.A yet I don’t think I‘ve seen a legit brand use it.
ITH: You’re right. In fact, you guys (Blazedmade) are the first to license it for clothing. I think that of the main N.W.A photographs it has been the least merchandised. I’m so happy to have it see some light now.
N.W.A Express Yourself Unisex Tee (above) . . . N.W.A World’s Most Dangerous Unisex Tee (below) . . . Available exclusively on Blazedmade.com
BM: Over the course of a group’s career, there are thousands of photos taken but usually it’s just a handful that come to define the group visually. You have arguably “the one” image that defines N.W.A. How does that feel?
IDP: It’s a really special feeling. It’s a tough thing to top in a career. That’s what I feel like, the Miracle Mile image is “THE” shot of N.W.A. They were inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame two years ago in Brooklyn and behind them, for 25 minutes, was a hundred foot high image of the Miracle Mile shot.
BM: Amazing. It was also up behind Kendrick Lamar when he introduced them, which I thought was really cool.
Kendrick Lamar, N.W.A. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Introduction, 2016
IDP: Seeing Kendrick up there, present the award to one of my images, that was a very special point in my career. I understand what you’re saying, some people don’t understand that it’s a weird period of time for intellectual property. People can and do hijack photos whenever possible, but you know theres so much that goes in to a photograph. Obviously there’s technical ability, but you also need to be lucky enough to have access and then to get the job done. It’s kind of a hidden part of the whole spectrum. I think these days there’s a little more attention coming back to an analog period of time that could have really easily been erased. It’s nice to see credits creeping back in through Instagram. To know who really shot the images and it not being so anonymous. It’s our life and our career, you know, it’s what we live for.
BM: Today with digital cameras it’s easy to bang off a thousand pictures without any thought or financial commitment. But shooting film back in the day, that wasn’t the case at all.
IDP: That’s what I was saying about the day in Venice with Eazy. I had only about six rolls of film with me, which was actually a lot for that period of time for that kind of shoot. I was covering everything pretty well but then Eazy appears on a skateboard! I didn’t know how taking those shots would fit in to the overall film supply for the day but I wish I would have been able to shoot way more of that moment.
BM: Before we wrap things up, I wanted to ask you about a potentially touchy subject. As I understand it, Universal Music has what amounts to a treasure trove of N.W.A photos that no one has ever seen, that you shot during their prime?
IDP: Yes that’s true.
BM: Can you explain why no one has seen these images?
IDP: Sure I’ll explain. I shot all those N.W.A and Eazy-E images as a freelance contractor for Priority Records. The agreement most photographers had at the time for record covers and magazine shoots was that the label would pay you a small fee and also cover the cost of your supplies. After the shoot, they would take the film for a while and they would use the images exclusively for six months to a year. Then they would send the negatives back to you.
BM: So what happenend in your case?
IDP: In my case, a year after I shot my last N.W.A images in 1991, I was no longer living in the country. Whenever I came back to L.A. I would go to the Priority offices and they would let me go to the photo cabinet and use the photos however I wanted. They were still an independent label so that’s just how they rolled. I didn’t really see a need to take the negatives home because they were still being used by Priority and I also was out of the country most of the time anyway. If I needed an image i would go to Priority to borrow a negative and bring it back. Or I would just make a print there, whatever worked.
N.W.A Record Store Autograph Signing Contact Sheet by @_Ithaka, 1989.
BM: So the negatives were safer at the Priority offices then at your home?
IDP: Exactly. That was the way I looked at it. I was living overseas and I didn’t have a physical home in LA. But the thing is, while I was out of the country, Priority was sold to Capitol Records. So the next time I go back there to make a print, it was like, guards up! I couldn’t even get past the front desk. I couldn’t even get in there.
BM: You explained to them that you were the N.W.A photographer?
IDP: Of course, they just ignored me. Then I had to go back to my life overseas. Eventually Capitol was acquired by Universal, so that’s who has them now. I do have access to some black and white images which is why most of the N.W.A images I work with today are black and white but the thing is that eighty percent of the N.W.A images I shot were actually colour. These are the images that are in the Universal vault that no one has seen.
BM: So what your saying is that we’ve seen only twenty percent of the hundreds of photos you shot of N.W.A and Eazy-E between 1988-91?
IDP: Possibly even less. There were times when I didn’t shoot any black and white at all, only colour.
BM: Have you asked Universal to just borrow the negatives and then return them?
IDP: I’ve contacted them several times with the best intentions, talking about collaborating on a book together. You know, culturally these images are really important to the hip-hop community. These are some of the founding fathers of controversial and influential art and hip-hop and most of these images have never even really been looked at before
BM: What does Universal say?
IDP: They don’t give an adequate response or they give me the run around. It’s really a shame because of the times, what’s going on, these images are I think becoming more important. There’s like a gap, an image gap, in the history of N.W.A which can actually be filled.
BM: Why do you think it is that they won’t let you access them?
IDP: I don’t know. I mean, I know it would be good for their catalogue to have those images out there. I know it would be good for the band. And it’s also good for me. So it looks like a win-win situation. You know, these were the images commissioned by Priority and Ruthless, so it’s like the real stuff. We need to get these out there in book form. My immediate goal is to release all those images in a book.
BM: Don’t the rights automatically fall to you in this case?
IDP: Yeah, the images and copyright belong to me absolutely. The second you snap an image without a contract the photographer owns the image.
BM: It’s too bad because this is also the 30th anniversary of the release of Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It, so what a great year it would be to bring those images to the world. Lastly, are there any other artists out there, new or otherwise, that you find really interesting? That you’d love to shoot?
IDP: I’d love to shoot Kendrick. Can you hook that up?
BM: No sorry. How about we send him a tee?