JORGE PENICHE: Leader of the New School
By Bradley Scott & DJ V.I.P.
Jorge Peniche and Tyler, The Creator at Pan Pacific Park looking for mischief. Los Angeles, CA. 2010.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: How long have you been taking photographs for, and how did you get started?
I got involved in photography during the summer of 2006 through a series of events where I met celebrity jeweler Ben Baller who later introduced me to DJ Skee. At the time Skee co-owned an entertainment public relations company called “Hype PR”. I worked with Skee that summer lending my talents to whatever I could at the time. Throughout my months working with Skee I always carried my camera with me to document my experience at Hype. Everything was new and exciting to me, and I felt that photos would help preserve those moments as keepsakes for me later on. After a couple of months working with Skee he asked me if I could take some new publicity shots for him. I gladly accepted his request and in the end Skee liked the portraits I shot of him. A few weeks later I received a call from Skee asking if I was interested in photographing Game and his team for a new project they were working on together entitled “The Black Wall Street Journal Vol. 1”. Again I took advantage of the opportunity and headed down to his office to meet with Skee and Game. That night I shot with Game, Ya Boy, Juice, Skee and a couple of other guys who were present for the studio session. From that night on I dropped by a couple of more studio sessions with Game and began to build a rapport with him. Once I realized that my photographs had something special to them, I dedicated more time to the craft and learned about the art and business of photography. I started shooting regularly and publishing my work online. Soon after, I started receiving commissioned work from different publications and artists. I then took it a step further and implemented my other talents to my work. I think the one that’s complimented my photography work the most is my graphic design talent. It’s allowed me to express myself fully as an artist when shooting and designing projects. The most recognized projects being Nipsey Hussle’s “The Marathon”, DJ Quik’s “The Book of David” and Schoolboy Q’s “Habits & Contradictions. I think those projects earned me recognition and respect on my art and branding execution.
Game sits comfortably at his private estate getting Pharrell’s signature “Star Trak” logo tattooed on his forearm. Glendale, CA. 2010.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: What photographers have been your greatest influences and why?
I admire the talents of photographers such as Mario Testino, Helmut Newton, and Gordon Parks to name a few. These guys are true heavy weights in the game, continuously bringing the world visual masterpieces through their personal and editorial work. When it comes to influence, Annie Leibovitz is at the top of my list. Her dedication to her craft throughout the decades and body of work is incomparable. She’s photographed many generations of American history in a way no one else has before. Rightfully so, she was awarded as a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. Her portrait work is one of a kind and the growth of her work is amazing. I’m personally a big fan of her photo-reportage work from the 1970s for Rolling Stone Magazine. The height she’s reached professionally and artistically is admirable to say the least.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: You've photographed some of hip hops biggest stars. From Kanye west Lil Wayne and Nas, to Rick Ross, Tyler the Creator, Nipsey Hussle, Kendrick Lamar, Game, Black Eye Peas, and I heard even Diddy's talking about you. What do you think has made all that happen?
From the moment I embarked on my journey I took my responsibility as a photographer seriously. I handled it with care and always put my best foot forward to create work I’d be proud of. I think that quality is evident in my photographs. The foundation to my work is the relationships I build with my subjects. This allows us to understand each other and create the most powerful portraits. The artists I work with are usually fans of my work, just as I’m a fan of theirs. That’s always exciting because right off the bat we understand that the images we create together are going to be special. The more we work together, the further the evolution in the work we create together. Diddy’s recognition of my work is really appreciated. He’s someone who’s business acumen and branding genius I’ve admired since I was really young. To know someone you grew up admiring take notice of your work is indicative that you’re doing something right; especially in a world that’s been inundated with photographer hopefuls. When he spoke about my work with Andre Harrell they both understood my vision as I intended it to be understood. Hopefully we can work on something together in the future.
Kendrick Lamar looks out in reflection at his city through the large windows at Tam’s Burgers, his favorite hometown eatery. Compton, CA. 2007.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: We see it on movies and hear it in the music all the time but to understand the gang culture of LA you have to be there to experience it. Your work has seen you in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world - and they’re right in your back yard. How has that influenced your work?
Gangs are as much a part of LA culture as Hollywood. For hip-hop culture in LA, this statement is even truer. Our identity and first imprint on the rap game was through the birth of Gangsta Rap with artists and groups such as Ice T and N.W.A. The genre was a direct byproduct of what was going on in LA with gang culture at its height of its existence. This tradition has carried on to the present era. A lot of the artists I shoot come from different neighborhoods around LA. My camera has given me the license and opportunity to document a lot of the gang culture from an insider’s perspective through working with different artists. The way it’s influenced my work is by reinforcing the notion of always telling the truth. There’s nothing more valuable in the world then the truth, unfiltered and raw. That’s probably why a lot of my work is shot photo-reportage style. There’s no setup, it’s just my camera, my senses, and a heightened awareness ready to capture the next moment.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: Having worked in these neighborhoods has there ever been a situation where you feared for your life?
Fortunately nothing serious has occurred as of present date. There’s definitely a risk I’m conscious of when I’m in a neighborhood that’s active. The biggest nuisance I usually face is the Police interrupting my shoot in a gang-injunction area. In many instances I’ve found myself hand-cuffed side-by-side with my subjects as Police search through our belongings trying to find an excuse to arrest us. It’s becoming something I take as part of the job now in certain circumstances.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: Your work is personal and honest. You have an ability to capture your subject’s personality and environments completely. What goes into planning one of your shoots?
My focus on every portrait shoot is to get something personal from my subject. Before their shoot with me I ask them to be prepared to take me to a couple of different personal landmarks that are significant to them. Somewhere like their favorite hangout or where they go to get inspired. I feel my responsibility, as photographer is to tell the story through my images. I focus as much on context as I do on my subject. There has to be a clear and evident connection between the two. When you allow people to take you where they’re must comfortable at they’ll give you the most genuine representation of who they really are. I don’t give my subjects too much instruction, I let them tell the story and I capture it. The end result is a collection of images that are honest and intimate.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: You had your first billboard on Sunset Blvd in 2011 for DJ Quik’s 8th studio album "The Book of David" that you worked on. How did it feel seeing that for the first time?
I found out about the billboard through a friend of mine who called me to congratulate me on it. It was a great feeling to drive down Sunset and see my work presented at such a large scale. Being a proud Angelino, it was surreal to see my work that big on a street that is synonymous with my city and globally recognized. It was definitely something I was able to check off my bucket list early on. Since then I’ve done another billboard with Nas. Two legends, two billboards. Not too shabby. My eyes are on Times Square in New York City next.
DJ Quik billboard for “The Book of David” sits prominently on the world famous Sunset Strip. West Hollywood, CA. 2011
ALLHIPHOP.COM: Your also write, which makes you a favorite of editors all round. Do u have the same passion for writing as you do photography?
They both hold an important stake in my expression as an artist. I enjoy writing a lot, but the immediacy of photography is incomparable. I feel that I can say things through my photography work that can’t be articulated in words. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things I think these talents compliment each other in expressing my ideas to the world. Having both these skills in my arsenal of talents empowers me as an artist.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: You photographed "God's Son" not to long ago. How did that shoot come about and what was it like working with Nas?
That’s correct, I had the privilege of working with the legendary Nas to shoot a billboard for “Salon Ramsey”, a high-end salon in Atlanta. I was commissioned for the shoot without being told who the talent was due to privacy reasons. Once I agreed to do the shoot they revealed his name and I immediately started brainstorming. The shoot was scheduled for a week from the day I agreed to shoot the billboard. Preparation for the project went down to the last minute. Decisions on whether it would be shot in LA or New York, whether we’d use a female in the shoot, and what the concept would be remained the topic of discussion. All while this was being prepared a terrible flu was going around, and as luck would have it I got infected with the flu 2-days prior to the shoot date. Fortunately I sweated it out and when the shoot came around I was at about 50% better, but still ached and pained by spine tingling chills. Nonetheless, I knew the show must go on. My team and I set everything up, had my shot list ready in my head, and I waited for Nas to arrive. Not a minute late, Nas arrived at the East LA studio - were we shot - only to find out that he too had the flu, and to his luck he had just got infected the night before. It was all too fitting that both of us had the flu, I sympathized for him knowing how he probably felt and I assured him that our shoot would be short and sweet. With Marvin Gaye and Frank Sinatra serving as the soundtrack, Nas got his signature cut with a half moon part as we shot the billboard photos on a milky white cyclorama. I posed our females hands with the straight edge and scissors in different positions, and within 30 minutes we had our billboard. “ILLmatic”, indeed.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: What has been the greatest moment of your career so far?
I don’t know if I can single out a particular moment just yet. I think it’s been more of a culmination of things that have moved me forward in my craft. I would have to say the journey has been the greatest moment. My camera, talent, and hustle has allowed me to meet a lot of very interesting people from all walks of life. Getting a better understanding of the world through these encounters and experiences has enriched my perspective on things which is something I can’t really put a price tag on.
Nipsey Hussle meditates in his car after leaving his last day of probation. Los Angeles, CA. 2011.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: You are business partners with LA rapper Nipsey Hussle. How did that come about and what are you guys working on at the moment?
I first heard of Nipsey’s music in 2008 through a good friend of mine who recommended I listen to “Bullets Ain’t Got No Name Vol. 1”. I played the project from beginning to end and was completely taken aback. It was raw, real, and powerful unlike anything out at the time. It was the new soundtrack for the streets of LA. I followed Nipsey’s music from that point on. Shortly thereafter he released Vol. 2, which further solidified his place in the West Coast rap world as an elite artist in the game. I reached out to Nipsey via MySpace in 2009 to see if he’d be interested in working together on some new publicity photos for his album. He invited me to his neighborhood for the “Hussle In The House” video-shoot which marked our first face-to-face meeting. We shot photos in between takes and during the actual filming of the video. We remained in contact after the shoot, and worked together again on the artwork for “Bullets Aint Got No Name Vol. 3.1”. This was our first time working together on album artwork. In 2010 Nipsey extended the olive branch to work together as a team to create classic projects that would set precedence for the rest of the hip-hop world. In that meeting we talked about music, culture, branding, art, and many other things. It was clear from that conversation that we saw eye-to-eye on a lot of different things, and understood our talents complimented each other. Since then we have had huge success collectively and individually do to our “Marathon” campaign that we created. At the moment we’re currently working on the last chapter of the Marathon series which is appropriately titled, “Victory Lap”. This is Nipsey’s best body of work by far. I’m excited for people to experience it.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: The Internet is a powerful tool; you've capitalized on it and are set to release your own app and emoji language for the Android and iPhone platforms under your creative company “pLAyground App$”. What is pLAyground and what can we expect from the upcoming releases?
pLAyground is a collaborative art duo which consists of myself and ArcherOne. pLAyground App$ is a subsidiary company of pLAyground dedicated to innovative and fashion-forward app development. The first app we’re releasing is #pLAypix, which is a fun photo overlay app that features some of our characters that will be included in our emoji language. We’ll also be selling exclusive artist sticker packs with Nipsey Hussle, Dom Kennedy, Freddie Gibbs and a couple other artists. My very talented partner ArcherOne is the mastermind behind all the one-of-a-kind illustrations. He’s one those talents that a year from now people will be talking about a lot. I’ll just leave it at that. Following the release of #pLAypix this year, we’ll release the highly-anticipated #pLAygroundemoji language, which will feature over 300 never before seen emoji characters such as Hood Rat, Double Cups, Tacos and much more. I think our slogan best describes what we’re doing and why we do it. “Everybody doesn’t speak the same language. Why should you?” The smiley face of the 1960s will be respectfully buried this year. Make way for the Goon, Hood Rat and House Shoes. Leave your generic emoji icons at the door.
Leimert Park’s finest, Dom Kennedy rides his bike to his private studio on a sunny California day. Los Angeles, CA. 2011.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: Your work ethic is undeniable from the countless achievements to your name. How does a 25 year old accomplish so much?
I’ve accomplished a lot of great things early on in my career, but my work has merely just begun. What I’ve accomplished to present date are merely stepping-stones to the things I want to accomplish in the future. The things I have been able to accomplish have been through hard work, vision, consistency, and dedication. I think these are principles that are universally understood and valued when referring to the hustle and success.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: What are you currently working on?
Currently my time is dedicated to getting pLAyground App$ up and running with our first two offerings for the mobile world, #pLAypix and #pLAygroundemoji. I also have a documentary project that I’ve started working on a couple months ago. I’ll get things in full motion for the documentary once my App Company starts to find its own legs. There are definitely some exciting things over the horizon.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: Any exhibitions in the works?
None in the immediate future. I’ve had many proposals recently to do a solo exhibition of my work. I feel it’s too early in my career to really showcase what I have in mind. I want my exhibitions to be comparable to Testino and Leibovitz. They’ve worked hard and long to reach those heights. Once I cross that bridge I know I’ve arrived as an artist. Even then, they’ll still be infinite art to create.
Nickerson Gardens Housing Project kids gather around Jay Rock, the local hero who brings hope to the community. Watts, CA. 2008.
ALLHIPHOP.COM: I'm going to reverse a question on you that you ask at the end of all your articles. When it's all said and done, how do you want people to remember you?
This is great question. I always ask this in my interviews because I’m a firm believer in legacy over personal fortune. In other words how did your personal success and accolades contribute to the world and people you met or who met you. I’d like people to remember me as someone who was honest, loyal, hard working, and innovative. Most importantly, I want to be remembered as someone who never made any excuses and confronted all his battles with his head up. I really believe you can do whatever you set your mind too. I don’t say that to be cliché. I really believe everyone is endowed with intelligence and talent. It’s just up to us individually to key in on these talents, hone them, and remove ourselves from the fear of failure. I want my work and life to embody that philosophy, and act as a reference point for someone with similar ambitions in the future.