When it comes to strong women, hip-hop doesn’t often open its doors very widely. Almost everybody has heard of Nicki Minaj, whose hard-hitting, empowered raps broke through an industry perpetually dominated by men. Perhaps even more have sung the praises, or bathed in the light of the artist Mary J Blige. Apart from performers like these, hip-hop can be a minefield for women. A rare exception is Lisa Leone, a photographer who has spent her career documenting the aforementioned Blige, Nas, and Snoop Dogg to name a few. Hailing from the Bronx, Leone started her career by photographing musicians, and eased her way into cinematography, shooting videos for the likes of D’Angelo and TLC. Like Bibi Bourelley (the woman behind a lot of Rihanna’s smash hits), Leone has a long list of accolades that would suggest she belongs deeply nestled into the public’s address book of hip-hop.
After working on Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick became her mentor, which is visible in her black and white shots. The contrast of grit and delicacy in her monochromatic stills remind me of Kubrick’s Lolita, blending the disturbing with the beautiful. This is something that makes Leone so important in my eyes; not only has she photographed many household names, but she also has a unique ability to take such huge stars and make them appear vulnerable and human. Though often depicting artists performing or in the studio, there is a constant sense of candidness, the photographer’s presence seemingly absent. They don’t appear staged or forced, simply a personal peek into the lives of these artists. Her photographs are an invitation to spend some down time, away from the expected decadence, with these stars, depicting them as intimately and genuinely as possible.
|Nas by Lisa Leone|
Leone has expanded her work to film, with a number of titles under her belt as cinematographer, writer, and director. Her debut short Exactly was shown at both the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals. Since then, she has directed, or co-directed, four films. In 2014 she released Here I Am, a collection of her photography portraiture. The title reflects the struggle and hard work that involves surviving such a male-dominated arena, to become a name on the tip of everybody’s tongue. As recording artists such as M.I.A and Azealia Banks and others build on the legacy of early women in the art form like Leone, the creation of a distinctly female sphere of hip-hop becomes a reality.
Jessie Florence Jones 22 year-old student based in Leeds currently doing an Erasmus year abroad in Berlin studying English Literature. Was formerly Fashion Editor at the Gryphon, the university newspaper, and have had my illustration on crownrules website.
Editor's Note: We have so many pieces, we've gone past Women's History Month! You can find additional posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives from March 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!