Terrell Benjamin, better known by his alias Papes, is a Sacramento based photographer working to document a wide range of hip-hop and street culture. 22-year-old Papes, originally hailing from Fort Lauderdale, FL, was first inspired to pick up a camera in his early teens as an outlet for his emotions, onset by a turbulent home life. He has now found that the emotional ties are hard to sever, as photography has transformed itself into an art-form for which Papes has an undying passion.
You don’t have to look too far to see that hip-hop has influenced many aspects of Papes’ career. Papes recalls listening to a lot of A Tribe Called Quest while in school as their music “helped [him] get through a lot of nonsense.” One song in particular, “If the Papes Come,” really stuck by him: “basically if you look at the word Papes, I guess you could say it’s another word for money, cash. It just stuck with me a lot and I started going by that name, and eventually that’s what everybody knew me by.”
The content of Papes’ work ranges from soft landscape images, to dark and intimate portraitures, the latter being his favored style. He has also expressed interest in possibly testing out the world of high fashion photography.
“We’re just a bunch of talented kids trying to make it,” Papes remarks of him and his Fly High crew, and we at RESPECT. think he’s well on his way.
Check out Colby Colodner’s full interview with Papes, as well as more photographs, after the jump.
Colby Colodner: When did you develop an interest in photography?
Papes: I’ve been doing this thing since I was a little kid; I’ve been doing this since I was about 14. I didn’t grow up on the West Coast, I was born in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and was based in Boston most of my life. The thing about that is, I was moved around a lot, because I grew up in an unstable home; my parents were always split up. And the way that I used to get out my emotions, and anger problems from their issues, was taking photos. Cause the thing is with photography, if you really know what you’re doing with the camera, and you really have the art and you really have the passion for it, it’s incredible what you can produce, and the emotion that you can bring out of other people when they see your stuff.
So I was always big on that, I’m always big on the quality of photography. So what I’m trying to do? I’m trying to bring it back to where photography isn’t just a quick snapshot, but is actually about bringing out the personality of that actor, that skateboarder, that figure, into an actual image that allows you to go into that person’s life.
The content of your portfolio varies quite a bit—from landscapes, to hunnies, to intimate portraits—how would you describe your style?
I would describe my style as trying to document hip-hop, and I guess you would say, electro, the whole hipster image of kids nowadays. That’s the kind of people I’m usually around, the hip-hop heads.
There’s so much different content on my website, because I want to appeal to everybody. I have stuff on there that I did for my friend’s clothing line, I have softer images of the beach down in Santa Barbara, and stuff I shot in hood areas. It’s just hard to focus on one thing. And I want people to see me as a diverse photographer; I’m very diverse in my content.
Do you have a favorite thing to shoot?
I enjoy portraiture. I switch around, but when I first started off I was really into portraiture, but also really into landscape. I was into documenting nice scenery. But at the same time I really enjoy photographing people, and as time went on and music started shaping the stuff that I wanted to shoot, I was more drawn to people.
My favorite person to shoot is myself. Its so simple for me to set up my tripod, set up my light the way I want to, and then go in there and do the shoot the way I want to. I’ve done so many self portraits over the years, and people will be surprised, like, “Oh, wow, who shot that?” and I’ll be like “That’s all me, I shot that.” It’s so easy, because I know what I want.
How do you choose the subjects for your pictures? Who are these people we’re seeing?
A lot of the people on there are my friends, and that can be a problem. It’s hard though, finding who I want to shoot, because I’ll shoot with friends and they’ll piss me off because they won’t give me what I want. Some are models, but I want to start putting a lot more women on there. I want women to be able to trust me, and trust that I can take pictures of them well. It’s easy to find attractive women to shoot, but it’s hard to bring out their full personality in a way that they like too, because everyone is so different.
How has your relationship with photography evolved over the years?
My relationship has gotten a lot better. When I first started off, it was fun. I was living in South Florida, and a lot of the older cats were shooting, and it was so appealing to me to see these guys that were so good at it, with such a strong, emotional street feel to their photos. And that’s how I started off: trying to do the street stuff, always going to urban areas. So over the years, having that street knowledge, and bringing it to the camera has helped. Moving to California definitely brought out a new personality in my work. It’s just weird. I have such emotional ties to photography, almost like it’s my daughter. I’m frustrated with it at times, at times it excites me, and there are times when I don’t give a damn about it. It’s always up and down: the rollercoaster of photography.
What is your relationship like with hip-hop, and how has it influenced your work?
My relationship with hip-hop has definitely influenced my work, and there are people from hip-hop that have influenced my work a lot. Definitely number one would be Eminem. I’ve listened to him from the time that he was out, and he’s still doing his thing now that I’m an adult. But just listening to music, music made from where you come from, it talks about the same type of stuff that you go through everyday. The same kind of struggles, the same stuff with girls, and relationships. Music brings that out a lot, and I’m trying to do the same things with my work.
What can you tell me about your blog, Weareflyhigh.com?
It’s me and my crew. A lot of the kids I’ve known since high school. A lot of Fly High is based on rappers here in Sacramento. It’s made up of photographers, graphic designers, rappers, and just basically my crew: talented individuals trying to make it. And there is a lot of respect that people are giving us.
Check out Papes’ Tumblr to see more from the talented young photographer.
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