23 September 2020
23 September 2020 - Written by Laurence Cornet
Vincent Desailly navigates the southern neighbourhoods of Atlanta, United States, to capture the different places that make up the lives of the key actors responsible for the rise of trap music; a tangible cultural movement being written today.
Energetic yet atmospheric, trap music originated from rap in Atlanta in the 1990s and went on to become one of the most popular music genres in the United States throughout the last decade. Aroused by the possibility to witness the making of a myth, Desailly decided to visit Atlanta. There had been boogie-woogie in Chicago, Motown in Detroit, he would not miss the music-city mix of his generation. “Da dope boyz in the trapp nigga / The thug nigga, drug dealer where you at nigga”, sings trap pioneer, T.I., credited for naming the musical sub-genre. As it happens, trap music lyrics are typically filled with violence.
With no surprise, drug, sex and weapons are present in Desailly’s photographs, be them posed or caught in the fly. What is more unexpected is the overall softness of the series. Next to a defying gaze or a pointed gun are metaphors that bring a minute of silent to the eventful series. In the middle of a forest, a shiny red-leafed tree stands as a flame, just like the breath brought by trap to Atlanta’s communities - a colourful, energising outsider that can’t go unnoticed. In another picture, the orange dreadlocks of a man match a balloon hanging at the corner. His eyes are closed, contributing to the aerial atmosphere of the scene.
The contrast inherent to the series comes from Desailly’s process. A portraiture photographer, he first met a lot of trap artists to get their picture – an approach that would not only contribute to the richness of his series, but also grant him access to the scene and the reality of its actors. After the shoot, he would stick around, documenting the surroundings, the neighbors, the everyday. Some of his portraits ended up as album covers, he was part of the community and could document it freely. He went to home studios (with handwritten signs on the doors); mythical clubs where trap blasts; streets where this crowd hang out.
At a time when suburbs and post-industrial cities are as fashionable as they are caricatured, Desailly’s work offers a nuanced portrait of a generation sinking under social inequalities and political tensions. His photos distill this weird mix of raw and lyrical that characterised trap. “When I think about trap I think about something raw. […] Music that sounds as grimy as the world that it came out of”, Desailly quotes trap musician, Gucci Mane, in his autobiography co-written by Neil Martinez-Belkin. And so do we navigate Desailly’s series, passing from rooms filled with drawings of enraged pit bulls and TV screens featuring narcos to a quiet one, poetically lit by the sun filtering through the curtains.
Vincent Desailly is a French documentary, portrait, and fashion photographer.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb.
This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.
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