5 Questions with famous hip-hop photographer Lauri Lyons

Categories: 5 Questions

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B Fresh Photography

It was in Minneapolis that world-renowned photographer Lauri Lyons realized she wanted to be a photographer, investigate culture, tell stories, and adventure the world with her camera. She came to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design to peruse her interest in such things as designing albums and posters. But it wasn't until one day in Minneapolis that she realized how much she loved the camera. "I made the decision, by chance, to take a photography course," she tells the attentive crowd at the Walker Art Center, "and that changed everything--instantly-- immediately."

City Pages sat down with Lyons for a brief moment between her artist residency with homeless youth at Kulture Klub and digging for classic vinyl for her sculpture and sound instillation for B-Girl Be. she shares with us what she's been up to since the years when she called the Twin Cities home.

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Lauri Lyons

Gimme Noise: Your portfolio is overflowing with commercial work with celebrities such as Common and Jam Master Jay. Who has been the best subject to photograph?

Lauri Lyons: In regards to celebrity shoots, Common was definitely the most pleasurable to photograph. He is the ONLY rapper I have known to show up early for a photo shoot. Most rappers show up about four hours late! I photographed Common in various locations throughout Harlem and he was a dream to work with.

GN: You will be unveiling a multimedia instillation at "Mama Said Knock U Out" gallery at Intermedia Arts this Friday as a part of B-Girl Be: A Celebration of Women in Hip-Hop. What should patrons expect, and what role have you played in hip-hop culture?

LL: While working in Minneapolis this month, I have taken a step into new artistic territory for my work: 3D environmental sculptures and sound. Intermedia Arts commissioned me to create the installation 'Nefertiti Remixed'. The installation is my first non-photo based work and incorporates figurative sculptures, gold leaf, hair, and vinyl records. All of the work is serenaded by a hip-hop soundtrack.

What are my contributions to hip-hop? On a personal note, I was born in the Soundview area of the South Bronx, which is a stone's throw away from the Zulu Nation organization, that is credited for starting hip-hop. My Jamaican family has a few DJ's that carried on the tradition of 'toasting' (rapping), dub plates, and sound clashes. Professionally, I was the Associcate Photo Editor for The Source magazine and Vibe's 'History of Hip-Hop' book. I have also photographed many hip-hop artists.

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​ B Fresh Photography


GN: When presenting your work with the Kulture Club youth at the Walker Art Center, you brought about laughter, tears and made everyone think hard about global issues, and human connections etc. Can you discuss the concept of responsibility of artists as influential storytellers?

LL: I believe artists are blessed with the talent of expression in many different forms. How we choose to manifest our expressions is an individual choice, however I think it is an artist's responsibility to ask the questions 'why?' and 'why not?'. Examination, provocation, and ultimately transformation are the gifts artists contribute to society. These gifts are priceless.

GN: After being back for about a month, what have you missed most about the city and people?

LL: I have been living in New York for the past 15 years and returning to Minneapolis has made me realize that I am more productive in a slower pace environment. Surprisingly, I feel that there are more support networks for artists in this city, than in comparison to New York. During the time I have been away, the Twin Cities have also become more metropolitan and culturally diverse, which I think is fantastic.

GN: Growing up in a military family must have brought lots of adventures and immersion in different cultures. What is your most memorable experience traveling the world?

LL: Too many memorable experiences to count! Vodoo ceremonies in Brasil, almost falling off a cliff in Mali, getting lost in communist East Berlin, climbing pyramids in Mexico, installing public art projects during a tornado in Minneapolis...


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