As a sophomore at Mount Vernon High School in Iowa, Zach Wolfe took a photography elective to fill out his credits. Despite having grown up painting and drawing under the influence of creative parents and a grandmother who was an abstract artist, he had no desire to pursue the arts. “Once I hit high school, I must’ve thought I was too cool for school,” he says. “I just stopped doing art, period. I didn’t really consider [photography to be] art at the time. I was just messing around shooting my friends in high school; just trying to finish the assignment. I wasn’t really feeling it until I developed that roll of film—seeing the negatives, realizing that was my vision and my hands that developed the film, and my hands putting it into the enlarger and making a print.” To hear a photographer describe the darkroom process is to hear part science, part art, all transformation and mostly magic. Wolfe is no different. “Ever since then, there’s been no Plan B. I never looked back, and I never had any other goal in my life since that day but to do this. My parents bought me a darkroom with the little money they had a couple of months later. The last two years of high school, all I did was shoot and hang out in my little closet darkroom.”
After the jump: Wolfe shares the stories behind his shoots with Three 6 Mafia, T-Pain and Hurricane Chris. Which are not in the magazine and are all pretty much worth clicking for.
Three 6 Mafia:
I got hired by Vibe. It was their “Juice Issue” which highlights the people of that year who did big things. [Three 6 Mafia] had just won their Oscar and I couldn’t believe [Vibe] called me to shoot this. I was really freaking out when I got the call. They wanted me to drive to Memphis and shoot them going around Memphis with their Oscar and I was like, This is a dream come true. I can’t wait.
The funny story is we went up to Memphis to shoot this—we scouted out the day before and we had everything planned out. [Vibe] really wanted to get a shot of all three members walking down Beale Street on their Walk of Fame—they have music notes on Beale Street [so it would be] similar to a celebrity walking down Holloywood Boulevard with the stars—that’s what they really wanted. I can’t remember what else they wanted, but basically everything that was planned came to complete halt when [the group] showed up. We had Beale Street closed off, the cops were cool with it, we were all ready to go, we had lights all over the place. And basically just Juciy J and DJ Paul showed up and we were all like, Where’s Crunchy Black? And they were like, “There’s no more Crunchy Black.” And we were like,What? No one from Vibe knew, not even their publicist from New York knew that Crunchy Black was no longer part of the squad. I was the first person to find out about this and I’m like, “What do you mean?” I’m sitting there sweating because Vibe was like “All three of them.” I’m in the beginning photographer stages where I’m like, Any mistake can be my last mistake ever. I’m worried about the photo editors at Vibe saying “Why did you not shoot Crunchy Black?” After a while they basically looked at me they were like, “Look: no Crunchy Black.” I’m like, Alright, moving on the next. I say, “Let’s do a shot of you guys walking down the Walk of Fame,” and they were like, “Nah.”
Basically, Juciy J was not really responsive at all. I was like, “What’s up, man? What’s going on?” He was like, “Zach, man, have you ever gone out drinking and smoking all night and partying and not slept?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Yeah. Thats where i’m at right now. Can you get me a Sprite?” He was just hanging on by a string. DJ Paul was cool; he was totally into it, but it was a struggle to get them in it together. It was hot out and I could tell I was losing them, so I suggested going into this restaurant and getting some food ’cause they said they were hungry and that’s what turned out to be in the shoot. I was like, “Put the Oscar on the table and let’s just get bunch of food, and just do what you want to do.” I remember after they got done eating Juicy J started falling asleep, which you can see in some of the shots. I was sweating as I was shooting because it was like, Vibe’s gonna… It’s over; I’m done. I remember driving back to Atlanta from Memphis, the whole time freaking out, telling my assistant, “I’m gonna turn around and find them. We have to go and shoot them somewhere else. I’m screwed; it’s over.” And it turned out to be one of the more well-known shoots I did. It’s pretty funny how things end up.
More Three 6 Mafia x Zach Wolfe here.
This was another Vibe assignment. They wanted me to shoot him in Miami and I’d been going down to Miami for a long time now to shoot the Maximo Gomex Domino Park which is full of a lot of Cuban refugees. I had been shooting it just as a personal project for years and for some reason I just thought that T-Pain was the one to do it. I proposed it to them and it was a battle for like two weeks—they were like, No, just shoot him in the studio. Just shoot him outside of the studio. I feel like you can set T-Pain up and get a good shot of him, so my instincts were that we’d probably want to put him in some sort of a situation.
It was pretty cool. He didn’t know what to think of it. He showed up, he was still drunk from the night before, he pulled up in some $120,000 car—all he wanted was McDonald’s and just to hang out ad to stay out of the sun. I was like, “I think you should play dominoes with these guys.” He was like, “I don’t know how to play Dominos.” I said, “You’re a smart guy. You could figure it out.” I got a couple fo these guys that I had met through the years and they remembered me. I gave that guy [in the picture] twenty bucks and this other guy twenty bucks and they were teaching T-Pain dominoes and he ended up loving it. He had a great time.
More T-Pain x Zach Wolfe here.
That guy definitely smokes more weed than anybody I’ve ever met in my life. He takes the crown. He literally smokes non-stop. Like, Lil’ Wayne has four weed rollers and gets handed packs of 12 blunts at a time—no. Hurricane Chris kills them all. That dude doesn’t even breathe air. It was a challenge to shoot him without him smoking. The label was like, We’re not going to use this shit. I was like, Fuck, it looks dope—I don’t give a fuck if you use it or not, I’ma shoot it! Every set up that we would do, he’d have to smoke one to two blunts and he would smoke them by himself—just smoke ’em down. He was pulling such big hits that smoke was like milk and it was making all these crazy textures. That’s all that was—just a simple black and white shot, black background.
More Hurricane Chris x Zach Wolfe here.
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