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Podcast Episode 39: Hip Hop Street Photographer Ricky Powell Has Died, Age 59

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Full episode transcript

In this episode, we remember New York City street photographer Ricky Powell

Hey everybody, Keith Dotson here, and in this episode, we remember the work of Ricky Powell who died this week at age 59.

In the documentary “Everybody Street” he described how he got his start in photography. He said he got a broken heart when his girlfriend left him for another guy, and she left behind a Minolta camera in his apartment. He made up his mind to take that camera and make something of himself to show her how badly she’d made a mistake by leaving him.

No word on if she ever had any regrets, but Powell made good on his goal to become an accomplished photographer. He claimed to be a pro photographer by accident, but we all know it takes talent, hustle, determination … and yes some luck.

He was known for carrying a small transistor radio in his hand, because — as he said — he needed a soundtrack.

His first job was working for the East Village Eye. He was wowed to see his name published in his first photo credit next to his photo of artist Keith Haring. When interviewer Cheryl Dunn asked him in Everybody Street, he said his most famous photo was probably his street portrait of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

But of course, he’s widely known for capturing the explosion of hip hop in the 80s and corresponding New York street culture at the time.

A lifelong resident of New York City, Powell went to high school with a member of the Beastie Boys and that parlayed into his first big break when he was brought on tour with the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC in 1986. He went on to photograph LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Madonna, and others.

In 1990 he started a New York City public access TV show called Rappin with Rickster, where he interviewed musical and visual artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sofia Coppola, Russell Simmons, Laurence Fishburne, Sonic Youth, and Cypress Hill. The show ran through ’96. Clips can be found on YouTube and a DVD was released but it seems to be unavailable at the time of this podcast.

Sometimes iconic artists are propelled from being the right person in the right place at the right time. That was definitely the case for Ricky Powell. He was a part of the scene that he shot. His style and aesthetic was perfect for its moment in time. He captured the essence of a very unique and heady period of musical and artistic fervor — something unlikely to occur again anytime soon.

That’s all I’ve got for this episode — thanks for listening.
I’ll talk to you again real soon.


Everybody Street: Ricky Powell

The Guardian, “Ricky Powell, hip-hop photographer who captured New York culture, dies aged, 59”

Wikipedia, “Ricky Powell”

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Keith Dotson

Keith Dotson is a professional fine art photographer who specializes in black and white landscapes, cityscapes, and abstractions from nature.

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