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Name: Adam Bernard
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Behind The Lens w/ Photo Rob
Friday, July 02, 2010

His name is Robert Adam Mayer, but everybody in NYC’s underground hip-hop scene knows him as Photo Rob. He’s the guy who, if you’re an artist, you’ve seen backstage at shows, taking pictures of everyone. Photo Rob’s done a lot more than hang out at shows, though. He’s photographed Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Will Smith, Christina Aguilera, and Renee Zellweger, just to name a few. For Photo Rob, however, his true love is hip-hop. “I’m basically a hip-hop head who takes really good photos,” he explains, “and I wanted to shoot hip-hop.” And shoot hip-hop he has.

This week, with Photo Rob primed to work the next Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, which happens next week and features a plethora of events, I caught up with him to find out more about his love of the scene, some of his favorite shoots, and the many artists he’s worked with.

Adam Bernard: When did you become a fan of hip-hop?
Photo Rob: I think my first exposure to hip-hop came from my brother, who had a cassette of Kurtis Blow’s The Breaks. That must have been in 1980. That was my first exposure to hip-hop, but I think I started to really like it in the summer of ’83 with songs like Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That.”

Adam Bernard: When did you get into the underground and the scene you’re currently in?
Photo Rob: I think it mostly started in late 2006. Actually, the first hip-hop record cover I shot was a Lil’ Dap twelve inch called “Brooklyn Zone” and that was released in 2001, but it was shot in ’00. It was a picture of Lil Dap on the Brooklyn Bridge and the World Trade Center’s behind him.

Adam Bernard: Wow, that’s really historic.
Photo Rob: It’s incredibly historic, and it was really close to the time that the towers came down.

Adam Bernard: Are album covers something you do on a regular basis?
Photo Rob: Well, after I shot that Lil’ Dap album cover I spent some time working commercially, so it wasn’t immediate. I wanted to shoot hip-hop because I love hip-hop. I went directly to all the great magazines and I was like “oh my God, I’m your guy, I’m a hip-hop head, I have a lot of photo experience, I’ve worked some rap guys, here’s my work,” but a lot of these magazines, they’re based on relationships, which I didn’t have. That’s when I started going directly to the artists. Even though I had shot the Lil Dap cover I don’t think I really broke into the independent hip-hop scene until 2007, and it was by shooting at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. One of the first artists that I photographed was Fresh Daily.

Adam Bernard: Other than being at shows, how did you find artists to work with?
Photo Rob: At that time I think MySpace was a really great way to connect with musicians. In 2007 you could literally send a message to any of your favorite artists and say “hey, this is what I do. Do you need some images? I would love to do a shoot with you.” I linked up with some independent artists that way. Then I did the Backstage Project, which started when I went to a Fresh Daily show that Pharaohe Monch was a part of. That was what really launched the Backstage Project because I realized that I could get access.

Adam Bernard: Could you break down what your Backstage Project entailed?
Photo Rob: It was an interesting project where I would try to do studio-like photography backstage. Most photography backstage is on the fly. It’s not really technically interesting. So I would lug a backdrop, and some lighting gear, and try to make some technically good photographs backstage.

Adam Bernard: It is something you put together afterwards?
Photo Rob: Right now it’s just sort of like an online archive, but I think that it’s a tremendous body of work. People have asked me if I’m going to do a book with it. Maybe one day that could be in the works, but as of right now it’s just a huge body of work from these backstage shows documenting a lot of the New York hip-hop scene.

Adam Bernard: What would you consider some of the most memorable moments you’ve photographed?
Photo Rob: One that was fairly recently was photographing Rakim. Photographing Q-Tip for the cover of Wax Poetics #28 was huge. I was so excited, almost embarrassingly excited, but on the shoot, of course, I just pretty much gave him a pound, did my job, and kept my mouth shut. Doing a record cover for Large Professor, that was a big deal for me. I did it for Large Professor’s Beatz Vol. 2. It was a real interesting story. We had collaborated and one of the ideas we had talked about was having a black hoodie in the shot. If you look at the cover it’s Large Pro, he’s in a black hoodie and he’s opening his chest and his chest is the beat machine. It’s sorta like man becoming machine. I had a vision of having Large in a black hoodie. When we were on the way I was like “did you bring the black hoodie,” and he was like “oh man, I don’t have it, but it’s OK, we’ll do the best we can.” A lot of times shoots come together on the fly. We went to the studio and I started to set up and I looked on top of the piano and there was a black hoodie laying there. Large Pro and I looked at it, picked it up, looked at each other, and I got the chills. I really felt there was something greater going on there at that moment.

Adam Bernard: That’s pretty awesome. Moving to events, what are you looking forward to covering next?
Photo Rob: I just photographed The Roots’ show, and the next Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, which is coming up on July 10th, is gonna be a really good one. The whole week of Bodega stuff is really cool. There’s also a Duck Down 15th anniversary event at B.B. King’s on the July 13th.

Adam Bernard: Who are some of the people who have been the most instrumental when it comes to the hip-hop portion of your career?
Photo Rob: Wes Jackson of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, and Greg Trani (who co-founded the festival). Torae (of Double Barrel). Fresh Daily and the AOK crew. I was pretty much there when that was forming and really documented those guys. I would also like to give a shout to Tanya Morgan, DJ Eclipse from Halftime Radio, Sucio Smash, Duck Down Records, and Peter Agoston, who pulled me into the Knitting Factory. I don’t think I would have the same career without him.

Adam Bernard: Is there anyone out there you haven’t had a chance to photograph that you’d like to?
Photo Rob: I’ve done a lot of magazine work, but I would like to grow that on a more international level. After photographing Rakim I really feel like that was like, OK, I’ve photographed my favorite emcee. That was a really big moment for me. There are a lot of really great A-list emcees out there, and it would be great to do a cover of a magazine with some of these humungously famous guys, and I imagine that’s coming, but I’m really comfortable with what I’m doing today. I really love the hip-hop scene in New York, being a part of it, and helping guys without covers. I think there are plenty of magazine covers with the huge acts. They’ve gotten their credit. For me, it would be more exciting to shoot some of these guys I’m documenting right now and shoot their national magazine covers. There are a lot of super amazing poets, emcees, in New York City right now that are really talented. They’re not on the radio, they’re not on the cover of XXL, they’re not on the cover of People Magazine, and they should be.

Related Links

Website: robertadammayer.com
Blog: iamphotorob.blogspot.com


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:57 AM  
  • At 10:20 AM, Blogger Deep of the 2 Hungry Bros said…

    one of my fasvorite guys with a lense, ever. except, i think you interviewed the wrong guy, I'm Photo Rob!!!
    You got a picture of Deep of the 2 Hungry Bros in a white kangol on your article Adam. Deep

  • At 2:11 PM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Ha ha ha! 2 Hungry Bros, one photographic doppelganger!

    (Inside joke. Don't worry, that really is Photo Rob in the pic!)

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