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Art December, 22 2010

Curated Q&A | Paul 107

Paul Labonte, who writes under the pen name Paul 107, was born in Montreal. The city continues to inspire his artistic endeavour and is home to Labonte’s production company, Secondhand Projects. In 2003, Labonte released his first book, All City, covering graffiti in Montreal. His second book, Bully: It’s the Pits, followed in 2005.

With a new publication on shelves, entitled Photographs Inspired by the Rap Music that Once Inspired Me, I felt it worth connecting with Paul about his career and experiences.

Our Q&A follows after the jump.

CR: What came first – an interest in hip-hop or an interest in photography?

PL: I started shooting photos when I was twelve. I got into rap and breakdancing when I was seven or eight. Early adopter.

CR: What was your first camera?

PL: Minolta x7-A, followed by Nikon’s F-4, then F-5 and an F-100, followed by a few Leicas and a D2x. There’s also a couple of 70’s Mamiyas in the vault somewhere but I never use them.

CR: Your previous books both have some connections to hip-hop culture. One is about graffiti and the other about Pits (perhaps, hip hop’s favorite dog). How did you pick the central topics of each? And, what is your research process?

PL: Maybe a year before I did All City the publisher asked me if I wanted to do a book about graffiti in Canada. I declined and offered to make a book about slept-on early 90’s rap producers. I signed a deal to make that book. A few months into it I realized that getting the access I needed was going to be really hard. A lot of people had kind of disappeared. So I decided to make a book about street bombing. Researching graffiti is tough but I understood it and had followed it for years. It’s primarily an oral history and there’s a lot of politics involved. I wanted the book to focus on post subway train street bombing. Tags and throw-ups. Taking space. So that book did well and the publisher asked if I wanted to make another book. I agreed to it. They wanted another graffiti book or something related to hip hop. I didn’t want to do that so I pitched the pit bull book. They turned it down. Then, All City won a few awards and they let me do it. I spent two and a half years researching the pit bull book. I was trying to make an unbiased book about a breed that gets a bad rap in the media. That was my only goal. Problem was I didn’t know enough about the breed to get really deep with it. Most books that have been written about the breed’s history are out of print or were banned in the 70’s (when dog fighting was made illegal). I didn’t feel comfortable just making a book that looked good with nice pictures, I wanted the whole truth. So long story short, I spent two and a half years interviewing people that had been involved with the breed for years and finally got my hands on the books. Side note; Malcolm Gladwell wrote a really good piece on the dogs years ago for the New Yorker. Probably the best thing ever written about the dogs from an outsider’s perspective. (http://www.gladwell.com/2006/2006_02_06_a_pitbull.html).

CR: Tell us about your latest book – Photographs Inspired by the Rap Music that Once Inspired Me.

PL: The 381 projects space in Toronto did an exhibit curated by a guy a named Jacob Gavin. He decided that he wanted to get people who make visuals for the music industry professionally, to make stuff that was inspired by the music that actually inspired them. Like what they actually listen to when they work. I was listening to a lot of different music at the time. But when it came down to it, I was always listening to the same rap records when I was working. Fast forward a few years, I meet Harley Smart from Anteism Publishing and he asks me if I wanted do a book of those photos. The photos are pretty literal snap shots of lyrics. The themes in the songs I listen to are pretty much all the same; whatever it takes to feed the babies. Listen to that Freeway record “What We Do.” Possibly the best example of what the photos are about. Rappers story-tell, they paint pictures. My photos are based on there lyrics but are set in my reality. Montreal. It’s
still grimey street shit. Just different.

CR: When did rap music cease to inspire you? And, when inspired, who were the voices?

PL: It still does. I mean I speak in rap quotes most of the time. It’s a bit much. There’s a rap quote for all situations. Who was inspiring me at the time I shot the photos? Mixtape Jay-z “Same black hood again/back to old ladies saying what I could’a been”- that Shawn, Juelz, Cam, all of State Property, Jeezy, Scarface and mixtape Jadakiss.

CR: What does the future hold for Paul 107?

PL: I’m making a documentary short about Football in the spring. The pre-production is done. Just need the snow to melt. The doc is going to be called Had My Parents Called Me Gunner. It’s a look at a grown-ass man with a regular job who, on Sundays, watches football and actually truly believes he could Kurt Warner the game. Still blows me away.

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