Big Up Is Worthy of a Pick Up
Jake Weisman
2/2/2005 9:29:59 PM

Big Up [Princeton Architectural Press] is a lively showcase of outtakes and keepsakes from the career of fashion photographer Ben Watts. The photos were taken over the course of twelve years, starting in the early nineties. As studies, Ben Watts is fascinated with the way people, youth in particular, present themselves through music, street fashion and sport, which he lists as his major sources of inspiration and subject matter.

Of flying about the world for photo shoots, Watts says, "To fly into some amazing city in a foreign country and just shoot a fashion story was simply not enough. It was only after shooting my own pictures that I truly felt that I'd made a real connection with the people of the country and learned something about their culture." Through his photos, Watts in turn connects us with: Boys at a boxing gym in Ireland, Puerto Rico Day in New York City, some of the more outlandish fashion of teens in Japan (will someone explain the eye patches to me?), a skate park in Mexico, a plethora of celebrities (mainly from the realm of hip-hop, old school and new, but including a charming page of his sister Naomi, a study of Interpol and one of Supergrass), more than a few B-boys and girls at Rock Steady Crew anniversaries and elsewhere, high school wrestlers poised to take you down, rows upon rows of bust-length portraits from night clubs and boxing gyms, graffiti-bombed delivery trucks, etc. etc. There's lots to look at, and all of it engrossing. Youíll never manage to pick up this book and spend under ten minutes with it.

The photos in Big Up are arranged in a scrapbook-style, adhered by vari-colored masking tapes often upon a backdrop of other photos or pieces from the 'scene,' such as ticket stubs from shows or flights. Sometimes individual figures are cut and pasted. Other times, Watts takes to pictures with red and yellow pastels, warming the entire area surrounding a figure or just sending sparks from a kidís head. One of the most unique qualities of Big Up is that most, if not all of the pictures are Polaroids, allowing Watts to get autographs and inscriptions from the subject's own hands. In one of my personal favorite parts of the book, the double-dutch jump ropers, a girl has written in the margins of her photo, "I bought my hair for $200.00. You don't have hair like me."

Watt's shows us the excitement without ever exploiting it and pays his subjects back in full with dignity and respect, making Big Up the completely genuine, refreshing vision it is.


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